In an effort to catch up on this challenge, I am making my third post on the heels of my second. Hope no one minds! Anyhoo, here’s my third selection for the books that have inspired me the most.
But first, a little book keeping. Here are the rules of this challenge!
Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
Explain the rules.
Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
Explain why it was so influential to you.
Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.
Thanks again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And here’s my second selection for the challenge, the cyberpunk classic Neuromancer!
This book, which was published in 1982, is the first book in the SprawlTrilogy – so named because all three take place predominantly in the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis (BAMA). Also known as the Sprawl, this mega-city extends along the entire eastern seaboard and is contained by geodesic domes. The story takes place in a semi-dystopian 21st century where the world is controlled by multinational corporations, the Cold War continues, their is a massive divide between the rich and the poor, and the criminal underworld consists of cyberjockeys, cyberninjas and Yakuza assasins.
This book was immensely influential on me because it introduced me to the world of cyberpunk, with its combination of high tech and low life! I got an introduction to these elements from movies like Akira and Johnny Mnemonic (which is based on a short story by William Gibson, btw), but it was not until I read this book that I really got what it was all about. It also illustrated for me what Gibson brilliantly said (I’m paraphrasing): “All science fiction novels are about the period in which they are written.”
Also, interesting fact, William Gibson coined the term cyberspace in this novel. Yes, roughly a decade before the internet became a reality, Gibson predicted what a global network of free-flowing information would look like. And his vision was incredibly influential, as exemplified by the countless movies that pictured the internet as some massive virtual environment filled with neon icons and streaming lines of code (think Hackers, the Matrix, and any movie involving internet crime combined). As he described it in the story:
“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”
I strongly recommend this book for anyone who would like to learn where many of the concepts that have become a staple of science fiction came from. And now for my nomination, I choose you, Phyllis Moore, aka. the MythRider!
A few years ago, it was reported that director Ruairi Robinson was going to create a live-action American adaptation of the classic anime, Akira! The project has getting a lot of hype, despite what many hardcore fans have to say about an American version of the anime cult classic. And while the attempts to get the ball rolling have continually stalled, with actors and directors constantly dropping and out of the project, it does seem like this is one project that just wont’ die.
For instance, Ruairi Robinson ceased being attached to the project in 2010, but some interesting concept art from his slated involvement survives. Below, you can see pictures and mock-ups for what the live action of Akira, in his hands, would have looked like. For instance, in the first photo, the casting choices of Chris Evans as Shotaro Kaneda and Jason Gordon Levitt as Tetsuo Shima. In addition, countless pictures depicting Neo-Tokyo.
In many of these, you can see Kaneda’s iconic red bike running through the streets. But the larger focus is on the colorful skylines, complete with skyscrapers, neon signs, multiple languages scripts, and a general gritty, cyberpunk feel. And at the bottom, there is a comparison shot showing a shooting location in New York City above a picture of what the proposed Neo-New York City would look like. That name sound at all believable to you?
Several scenes from the movie are also depicted, which include the battle with the Clowns biker gang, and the sudden appearance of one of Colonel Shikishima “patients”.
But what montage of Akira-related images would be complete without scenes depicting the unleashed psychic Tetsuo, demonstrated his newfound powers? Below are a couple that demonstrate the anime’s antagonist in action, in the first, deflecting a missile attack from an attack chopper, and in the second breaking into the Akira vault and discovering the namesake’s remains.
Not too bad to look at. But with the supposed director, producers, and actors changing every few years, many are wondering if this live-action remake will ever happen. And many fans can see nothing wrong with the idea, provided it is true to the source material. And dropping the whole Americanized angle and setting it back in Neo-Tokyo where it belongs wouldn’t hurt much either! But in the end, it really comes down to being true to the spirit of the Manga, if not the precise format.
Luckily, there is still the crowdfunded live-action Akira Project. This fan-based effort to make an adaptation that is both true to the spirit and setting of the original manga produced a full-length teaser trailer not that long ago that impressed fans quite a bit! So who knows? If Hollywood can’t get its act together and make a decent remake, there’s always the direction and the funding of dedicated fans to pick up the slack! Time will tell which of them will bear fruit…
In the meantime, here’s another look at the Akira Project trailer:
Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is hailed by manga and comics fans alike as being one of the best graphic novels of all time. Similarly, the film adaptation, which was also written and directed by Otomo, is considered a premier example of anime and the cyberpunk genre – one that has remained a cult classic to this day. In spite of that, no one has been able to create a live-action version in the almost three decades since it was released.
That’s where the Akira Project comes in. This non-profit, crowdsourced group launched their Indiegogo campaign in July 2012 with the intention of financing a live-action version of the film that was as true to the original material as possible. After spending three days shooting on location in Montreal, Quebec (go Habs!) and a year and a half in post production, and with the help of some 40 artists in 12 countries, they have finally released their version of a live-action trailer (seen below).
In addition to wanting to see a film adaptation that does Akira justice, this project is also a response to Hollywood’s abortive attempts to create their own adaptation of Akira. These began in 2002, when Warner Bros. declared that they had acquired the rights to the franchise. However, since that time, there has been a constant stream of news that indicate that the people meant to write, direct, produce and even star in the film keep changing.
For example, from 2008 to 2011, it was rumored that the leading roles would be filled by either Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, James Franco, Keanu Reeves, Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Justin Timberlake, Joaquin Phoenix, and Chris Pine have all been said to be the front runners for the lead role of Kaneda at one time or another, while Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were all said to be considered for the role of Tetsuo Shima.
The names of those meant to director this film have also changed repeatedly. Initially, it was said that Stephen Norrington was on deck to direct, but in 2008, Ruairí Robinson was said to be the new front runner. In 2010, Warner Bros. was said to be in talks with Allen and Albert Hughes, but Lazar announced that summer that just Albert would directing. Most recently, Jaume Collet-Serra was said to be committed to the movie.
The only name to stick to this project since 2008 is Andrew Lazar, who is committed to producing it. On top of all that, fans of the franchise have also been frustrated by apparent indications that the live-action Hollywood remake will be set in New York rather than Neo-Tokyo. This, combined with Collet-Serra’s apparent dislike for the original characters, has led to concerns that the movie that might result will be a bastardized, Americanized-version of the story that bears little resemblance to the kick-ass original.
Hence the Akira Project’s stated goal of being true to the original, as well as dedicated to making it happen. I tell ya, its a cool time to be alive when fans don’t have to wait for the major studios to get their heads out of their asses, and can make things happen on their own. For more information on this group and its progress, just head on over to the Akira Project website. And in the meantime, enjoy the kick-ass trailer:
Hey all! I just got in last night from Ottawa and let me tell you, it was quite the trip. We managed to do many things while we were there, including visiting my childhood home, my old neighborhood, my favorite watering holes and restaurants, and visited with many of my old friends! But at the same time, it’s good to be home. Visiting your old hometown and friends can be wonderful, but so can being back in the place you love with your wife and cat.
And I can tell, I have a lot of catching up to do. Seriously, if I thought I was behind before I left, I’m way behind now! Luckily, I have a revised to do list that covers what I hope to do in the coming weeks. While I was away, I actually managed to get some serious reading and editing done, and decided it was time to get back to a few ongoing projects that also begging for completion.
Catch up on sleep
Cut back on beer (sampled too many this time around!)
Watch the season premier and episode 2 of The Walking Dead
Review of the Akira graphic novel
Review of the Batman graphic novels – Arkham Asylum, The Killing Joke, The Man Who Laughs
Review of Rami Ungar’s The Quiet Game (overdue)
Catch up on Yuva stories
Catch up on other people’s posts
Sound like a plan? Good, then let’s get this party started! Good to be home…
Welcome back! As promised, the second half of my nostalgic, cult classic favorites for you to peruse! Let me know what you think, and feel to add some contenders of your own. Cult hits are nothing if not personal, and what constitutes a classic is open to interpretation. Okay, six to ten, here goes:
2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, this movie deserves top billing for being a classic! And yet, the movie really doesn’t seem to garner much appreciation from audiences, not unless they are self-professed film buffs or hard sci-fi fans. Not sure I qualify for either, but I loved this movie for the simple reason that it was packed full of mind-blowing themes. Much like Akira, it was chock-full of things that got my young mind thinking and completely shaped my outlook on science fiction.
Sure, there are those who complain that this movie is boring and esoteric, but I found all that a fitting price for the kick-ass subject matter, not to mention the mind-blowing climax. You got a mystery, speculations about human evolution, ancient aliens, space exploration, and existential singularities! All the while, the weight of the philosophical implications are weighing at your mind…
And let’s not forget how inspiration this movie proved to be. Today, the concept of ancient astronauts, aliens who came to Earth millions of years ago and tampered with human evolution, has become all the rage. From Star Trek to Stargate,Battlestar Galactica to Prometheus, the concept of ancient astronauts has played out. And frankly, 2001 has them all beat! Between Kubrick and Clarke, their concept of the aliens and how they altered the course of evolution on Earth was the most realistic I have ever seen.
But I think what I liked best about was the fact that the movie was the subtle nature of the whole thing. At once speculative, philosophical, and visually stunning, this movie was characteristic of Kubrick, who preferred to convey things visually rather than coming out and telling people what was going on. You never really quite knew what happened during that eye-popping final scene, but those who love sci-fi and imaginative filmaking were sure to have ideas!
Alien: Granted, this movie wasn’t exactly under-appreciated, but compared to the lavish attention the rest of the franchise has garnered- even though it was all downhill after Aliens – this first installment truly was the diamond in the rough. Not only did it have a cool concept, awesome set designs and a kick-ass back story, the direction and cinematography captures the story’s sense of dread and claustrophobia perfectly.
Little wonder then why this movie spawned an entire franchise, because it really did have everything. You had your blue-collar peeps working for the major interstellar company (Weyland-Yutani), a frightening discovery made on an uncharted planet, a mysterious derelict belonging to an unknown race, and a terrifying creature awakened from its slumber. And not just any kind of creature, but a complex symbiote that was designed for and possessed of a single purpose.
Or as Ash put it: “Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.” He had a point didn’t he? In fact, all structures in this movie were pure genius, whether it was the Nostromo, the Derelict, or the Facehugger and Chestbuster combo. As with everything Scott does, attention to detail and the careful construction of a universe was paramount. Every set was richly detailed, well shot, and clearly made to elicit the right feel and impressions on the audience.
Much of the credit for this goes to H.R. Giger as well, the surrealist artist who brought Lovecraftian horror to the alien concept and set of the alien ship. Years later, I still find myself tuning in just to get a glimpse of that Gothic reconstruction, or to see the Space Jockey sitting in its chair, the tell-tale hole punching through its chest. Few movies have managed to capture that same sense of awe and wonder for me, with the possible exceptions of 2001 and Akira
Johnny Mnemonic: Some people might think I’m crazy for listing this movie as a personal classic, but it can’t be helped! And my reasons are pretty simple. On the one hand, this movie kind of has that “so bad, it’s good” thing going on, but at the same time, I also felt it possessed some real signs of quality. Sure, the acting was pretty wooden, the fight choreography total crap, and the low-budget nature apparent throughout. But it was still a pretty faithful adaptation of Gibson’s work and introduced to that world at a still-young age. Hence why I come back to it every few years just to see it again.
Filmed in the mid-90’s, this movie is an adaptation of the short story by William Gibson and previewed a lot of what he wrote in Neuromancer. For example, you’ve got the big bad corporations, the cyberspace jockeys, freelance assassins, Yakuza, and the character Molly Millions. Things are also set in “The Sprawl”, the megapolis that stretches from Boston to Atlanta and is contained in geodesic domes, and the look and feel is definitely of the cyberpunk variety.
Into all this, Gibson introduced the revolutionary concept of mnemonic couriers, people who have “wetwire” implants in their brains that allow them to carry vast quantities of data from point A to point B. Basically, these couriers are the answer of what to do in a world where information is the most precious commodity, and all databases are vulnerable to hacking and protected by “Black ICE” – hostile Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics (aka. viruses)
And, in keeping with Gibson’s style, the story involves a titanic corporation that is fighting to maintain its monopolistic grip, while freelancers, smugglers and assorted little people are fighting to undermine them and distribute the information freely. Naturally, the main character of Johnny is an unlikely hero who is forced to take a break from looking out for number one and help others for a change. Might sound cheesy, and a little cliche, but it works and delivers on Gibson’s style. At the very least, it’s a guilty pleasure flick for me.
Screamers: Now here’s a movie that’s high on the pleasure, low on the guilt. While a low-budget sci-fi flick that was (like Johnny Mnemonic) produced and filmed entirely in Canada, it had many signs of quality that immediately made it a cult hit. There’s the post-apocalyptic setting, the frightening tone, and the Cold War feel of the thing, updated for the 90’s. All the while, there is the knowledge that this is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Second Variety, which sort of makes it a must-see of PKD fans.
Much like in the original story, the plot of the film involves a race of self-producing, self-upgrading machines that are designed to infiltrate enemy territory and eliminate all combatants. But of course, things begin to go awry when the people who produced them realize that they have upgraded to the point where they can impersonate human beings. And whereas the original story was set on Earth and took place between the US and Russia, the updated story takes place on Sirius 6b, a pining planet that became the front line between a the political-economic entity known as the NEB and those who chose to resist its rule.
Personally, I felt the updated version works. Not only does the conflict seem more relevant, being between a mega-corporate entity and a coalition of workers and dissenters, but the off-world setting also feels more realistic. Perhaps it was the fact that in the post-Cold War world, nuclear war between two superpowers didn’t seem a likelihood anymore. Or it could just be that the whole NEB angle was reminiscent of Weyland-Yutani and Alien. All I know is, I liked it!
What’s more, a good deal of attention went into creating the setting and modelling the Screamers – aka. the automated machines that kill people. Designed to be the perfect terror weapons, they emit a high-pitched “scream” before making their attack, and can toy with their targets for some time before moving. This concept, combined with some good shooting, really created a sense of tension which is felt throughout. And of course, the paranoia which is engendered by the appearance of human-like machines was a very nice touch! A good movie, and a fitting adaptation which managed to capture PKD’s cautionary tale about the dangers of runaway progress.
Time Bandits: And last, here is the classic time traveling tale that I first saw in my childhood. Recently, my wife was told by a coworker that she should ought to see it, and my memory was jogged! Yes, this is indeed a cult classic, and one which is deserving of plenty of kudos and praise. Well cast, well written, witty and poignant, it’s one of those quintessential 70’s movies which has been rediscovered by several generations of film buffs and sci-fi fans.
The story opens with an imaginative and historically-minded child who lives in an overly-bourgeois neighborhood with his materially-possessed family. But upon realizing that there is a time-portal in his wall and that people from the past and future can come through it, his world is turned upside down. Quickly, he become the unwitting companion in a group of dwarves who are traveling through time, stealing precious artifacts, and being pursued by both the “Supreme Being” and an evil sorcerer.
Immediately, one can see the layered and inspired plot taking shape here. On the one hand, you have some decidedly Judea-Christian elements, plus a tale of childhood imagination and escapism. The dichotomy of the Supreme Being who possesses the power of time travel and the sorcerer who wants it for himself are representative of God and Lucifer, after a fashion. The dwarves who stole this power for themselves are a sort of Icaran allegory, or possibly Adam and Eve once they ate from the tree of knowledge. And ultimately, the way they are saved in the end from evil represents their redemption.
All the while we are left wondering if the boy is merely dreaming, or if what he is experiencing is real, which is an element that is intrinsic to all tales of childhood fantasies. On the one hand, the protagonists flights of fancy are seen as a weakness and immaturity to those around them, whereas we tend to see as it a rare gift to see past the surface. Should it all be a fantasy, then the story is left without a formal sense of resolution; but if it is real, then the hero has been vindicated and proven right. Appropriately, the movie plays with the two possibilities, going back and forth, but then giving strong hints at the end that it was in fact real. So really, you have a story that is inspired, imaginative, and also suspenseful!
Well, that’s my top ten list for the best cult classic movies of all time. What’s yours? I know I have a few in common with some people ’round these parts, and I also know that a few were previously unheard of. Hence why I want to here from others. I have a feeling there are some which I need to see and would very much enjoy. Already, I’m poised to watch Sunshine, A Boy and His Dog, and a few others which I’ve heard good things about. And I hope that in the course of swapping lists, I might be able to find a few more I’d like to see. Take care, and enjoy the rest of the long-weekend, those of who are reading this in Canada. As for the Yanks in the audience, and the rest of the world for that matter, enjoy the work week 😉
It might be that I’m feeling nostalgic, or it might be that since my wife and I sprung for Netflix, I’ve been finding my way back to several of my favorite old movies. Hard to say exactly. All I know for sure is, I want to talk about the cult classic movies that I like best. You know what I’m talking about! Those rare gems, those diamonds in the rough, the movies that few seem to know about, but those who do always seem to love.
Yes, THOSE movies! Sure, we’ve all seen plenty of big hits, but these movies are the ones that occupy a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s because they are not so widely known, like the Star Wars’ and and Indiana Jones‘ of our time. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t get the recognition or the money they deserved, at least in their own time. Or it could be that they were simply the kind of things that got better with time.
In any case, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite cult classics, movies which I saw during my childhood, teen years and even in my twenties, and keep coming back too. Some were adventurous, some were funny, some were downright cheesy. But all have two things in common: One, none of them are known beyond a select group of appreciators, at least in this country. And two, those who like them, like them a lot! Check out the list below and see if you agree, and feel free to tell me your own favorites as well. I know we all got em!
Akira: One of the greatest animes I have ever seen, and with a very poignant and intriguing story to boot, Akira starts this list off right! The movie adapted several volumes of manga to screen, and did so in such a way that didn’t skimp on either story or detail. Even shortened, the plot still manages to convey the sense of awe and dread of atomic war, revolution, and evolutionary cataclysm. And the fact that the bulk of it is told from the point of view of disillusioned orphans who are all part of a bier gang only heightens the sense on confusion and angst of little people being thrown into situations far greater than they can handle.
And then there was the quality of the movie itself. Having seen this movie several times now and different versions thereof, I can tell you that no matter what the format, every single frame was animated in such a way as to be saturated. And not with digital effects, mind you, but with hand-drawn animations that really manage to capture the post apocalyptic and cyberpunk feel of Katsuhiro Otomo’s original graphic novel.
All in all, I consider this movie to be compatible in many respects to 2001: A Space Odyssey in that they both deal with grandiose of questions of existence, biological evolution, and both managed to blow my mind! And having first been exposed to both of them in my teen years, they are partly responsible for kindling my love of science fiction.
Army of Darkness: Here’s a movie I kept being told to see, but did not get around to seeing until I was in university. And truth be told, it took me two viewings to really get the appeal of it. After that, it grew on me until I finally found myself thinking it hilarious, and quoting from it whenever I could. “Come get some!” “Groovy!” “This be my BOOMSTICK!” and “Good? Bad? I’m the one with the gun!” All classic lines!
Yeah, this movie is definitely filed in the guilty pleasure section, the space reserved for movies that are deliberately cheesy, over the top, and have a robust sense of humor about themselves. It’s also one of the many that gave Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) his start, and established Bruce Campbell (who appeared in all three) as a gifted ham actor.
Taking the position that decapitations and flesh-eating demons can be funny, this movie tells the story of a blue-collar, rough and tumble, one-liner spouting man named Ash who’s been sent back in time to fight an army of the undead. Automatically, hijinks ensue as he tries to convince people he’s not a demon himself, but instead chooses to establish who’s boss by demonstrating the power of his chainsaw and “boomstick” (aka. his sawed-off double-barrel shotgun).
But predictably, this anti-hero rises to the challenge and becomes a real hero, and does so with as little grace as possible! And of course, there’s a love story as well, which is similarly graceless thanks to Ash’s lowbrow romantic sensibilities. Nothing is left untouched by the ham and cheese! And all throughout, the gun fights, duels, and confrontations with creepy, evil forces are hilarious, made possible by Campbell’s hammy acting, facial expressions, one-liners and some wonderfully bad cinematography. Think Xena: Warrior Princess, but with guns and foul language!
Blade Runner: Another personal favorite, and one which I wish I had come to know sooner. But lucky for me I was still a teen when I saw this movie, hence I can say that I saw it while still in my formative years. And today, years later, I still find myself appreciating it and loving it as one can only love a cult hit. It’s just that kind of movie which you can enjoy over and over again, finding new things to notice and appreciate each time.
And once again, my appreciation for this movie is due to two undeniable aspects. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a very rich and detailed setting, a Los Angeles of the 21st century dominated by megastructures, urban sprawl, pollution and polarized wealth. It was the picture perfect setting of cyberpunk, combining high-tech and low-life.
On the other hand, there was the story. Loosely adapted from PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this version of a future differed greatly in that the artificial humans, the antagonists of the original story, were about the only sympathetic characters in the story. The result was not a cautionary tale on the dangers of creating life in our own image as much as a commentary about the line between the artificial and the real.
The question it asked was: if you overcome all boundaries, if machines possess memory, feelings and a fear of death, is there anything at all to separate them from the rest of us? Will their lives be worth any less than ours, and what will it even mean to be alive?
Conan The Barbarian: Here’s a movie which has appeared in some friends “guilty pleasure” list, usually next to Predator, Commando and other Anrie classics. But I am here today to tell you it really doesn’t belong. Unlike many 80’s Arnie movies that were so bad, they were good, this movie had some genuine quality and depth to it.
Examples? Well, for starters, this movie was a faithful adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s original concept, Conan the Cimmerian, which was first published in 1932. This franchise, which went through countless adaptations over the ensuing decades, wove real history and myth together with fantasy to create a tale of a bronze age adventurer who traveled across the ancient world, seeking fortune and glory.
One can see this in the movie as well. To create the setting and the various people that make up the universe, imagery, mythology and even names were borrowed from various real sources. For example, the Cimmerians (Conan’s people) were inspired by Celtic and Norse sources. The followers of Thulsa Doom, black-clad warriors from the East, were meant to resemble the Huns, the Goths, and other Eastern invaders. There are also several scenes showing a warlike people meant to resemble the Mongol Hoards, and much of the setting was made to resemble ancient cities of lore – Babylon, Jerusalem, Antioch, et al.
Add to all this some pretty damn good writing and good storytelling, and you can see why this movie has remained enduringly popular with many people over the years. Arnie excelled as the stone-faced barbarian of few words, but who made them count when he chose to spoke. James Earl Jones was exceptional as the amoral, Nietzschean warlord Thulsa Doom, and the production value was surprisingly good for a low-budget flick.
Serenity: Yeah, I get the feeling everybody knows what I’m talking about with this one! After losing the wonderful show in the midst of its first season, every fan of Firefly was pleased to know that Joss Whedon would be making a full length movie. And personally, I th0ught he did a pretty good job with it too!
Picking up where the show left off, we are reunited with our favorite characters as they continue to work freelance jobs and try to stay one step ahead of the law and the expanding Alliance. From the outset, it is clear that things are getting desperate, as the jobs are proving more risky, and the Reavers are moving in from the Outer Rim. At the same time, a new threat has been thrown in in the form of an Alliance agent known only as the “Operative”, who has made it his business to bring River in at any cost.
And I personally loved how all these threads came together in a singular way, showing how the Reavers, River’s condition, and the Alliance’s ultimate agenda were all connected. Not only was it a tight and entertaining plot that captured the same sense of loss and desperation as the show, it also gave a sense of closure to the series, which ended before its time.
Yes, for myself and many fans, this movie is a way of commemorating a truly great show and idea that faltered because of insensitive boobs couldn’t see the value in it. But that seemed thematically consistent with the series itself, which was all about rebels in a hopeless fight against an evil empire. Take a lesson from this Fox Network, sooner or late,r the bad guys lose!
For brevity’s sake and the fact that I’m a busy man, I’ve decided to divide this list in half. Stay tuned for entries six through ten, coming up tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving y’all!
Akira: This futuristic tale takes place in Neo-Tokyo, an ultra-modern city that was built on the ruins of the old after an incident touched off World War III. This is a major them in the movie Akira and manga it was adapted from. Throughout the entire story, there is a pervasive sense of shock and horror over the destruction of the old city, and a sense of dread that it might happen again very soon…
Enter into this story the characters of Kaneda and Tetsuo, two orphan boys who belong to a biker gang that is constantly engaged in battles with other gangs for control of the streets. Being children of the system after their parents died in the war, all they really have is each other and the other members of their biker gang. These surrogate families and their ongoing feuds provide a sense of community and an outlet for their pent-up energies, living in a world characterized by boredom and angst and haunted by a past filled with horror.
In addition, you have Colonel Shikishima, a man who witnessed WWIII and has dedicated himself to the rebuilding and ensuring that it never happens again. In addition to being a main character, he is representative of the generational gap in the story. As a stern, disciplined military man who was shaped by apocalyptic events, he is appalled by the sense 0f self-indulgence which he feels has set in with the younger generation.
And the apocalyptic nature of the story is something which is demonstrated over and over through intense scenes and nightmarish visions. In short, it’s an awesome take on the post-apocalyptic scenario, which could only come from firsthand experience.
Alas, Babylon: This 1959 novel by Pat Frank is one of the first post-apocalyptic stories of the nuclear age and has remained a science fiction ever since. Taking place in small town in Central Florida, Fort Repose, the story opens with a veteran-turned-lawyer named Randy Bragg who gets a cryptic telegram from his brother who works for the Strategic Air Command. He informs his brother that he will be sending his wife and kids to stay with his Randy, and ends it with “Alas Babylon”, a biblical reference which his brother uses as a euphemism ford disaster.
In time, he learns that the bad news concerns a potential Soviet attack, which inevitably takes place after much escalation. After bringing his sister-in-law and her kids to their home, they are all awoken in the night to the sounds of Miami being bombed. They residents awake to witness a mushroom cloud forming over Tampa shortly thereafter, and the events which characterize the following 24 hours they come to name “The Day” – i.e. a one day war.
The story delves into the effects of “The Day”, which are felt differently by people in Fort Repose. Tourists are trapped in their hotels, convicts escape from jails and prisons, the local retirement homes are filled with panicked people, and just about everyone tries to withdraw their money from the local bank and buy up supplies. The only reliable means of news comes through short wave radio.
As chaos begin to set in, Randy begins to organize neighbors to provide housing, food, and water for themselves and organizes the community to defense itself against highwaymen. As an active Army Reserve officer, Randy learns that he has the legal right to exercise martial law, and an order comes in over the short wave from the acting Chief Executive (who is governing from a bunker in Colorado) for any surviving officers to form local militias.
In the end, military helicopters arrive to evacuate people, but are refused as the locals tell them that they want to stay in the new home they have built. They learn the war is over, that the USA prevailed, and that country is now being run from Denver. However, the victory came at a tremendous cost, Millions are dead, entire stretches of the country are irradiated and won’t be habitable for a thousand years, and the US is now a third-rate power that is dependent on third world countries for aid. Faced with this prospect, the people of Fort Repose settle in and decide to face the “thousand year” night that is coming.
This book not only introduced readers to the likely prospect of what would happen in the event of WWIII, it also presented a likely scenario of how that was going to happen. While it the Soviets were apparently planning an attack in the first place, it was an accident that touched everything off. And in the end, how people went about rebuilding and trying to restore some semblance of normalcy was quite classic. In addition to inspiring numerous generations of nuclear holocaust fiction, numerous apocalyptic franchises owe an allegiance to him, not the least of which is the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica.
The City of Ember: This post-apocalyptic story, written by Jeanne DuPrau in 2003, takes place in an underground city named Ember. After many years of continuous habitation, the city is slowly running out of power and supplies. Similar to in tone and structure to Suzanne Martel’s 1963 story The City Under Ground, this city was apparently built to ensure that humanity had a place to live and wait out the effects of nuclear war.
The story begins when a two protagonists, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, receive a message which is apparently left by “the Builders” containing clues that could lead them back to the outside world. This message was kept in a box that was passed down from mayor to mayor, with instructions that it be opened after two hundred years. Until recently, the box had been lost, but as soon as Mayfleet and Harrow find it, the race is on to decipher it and find a way to the surface.
In the end, the children follow the note’s instructions through a series of caves that lead them towards the surface. When they see the city from above, they realize that they are underground, something which they never knew before. This scene, which calls to mind Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, provides the story’s big revelation. The story then ends on a cliffhanger note with the girls trying to alert the other inhabitants of what they’ve found.
The Matrix: The setting and back story of the Matrix revolve around two fundamental facts: One, that a terrible war between humanity and AI’s took place in the future; and two, that what is left of humanity lives underground due to the devastation wrought on the planet’s surface. Enter into this the concept of the Matrix, a simulated reality where humans are kept docile by being fed the lie that they live in the pre-millenial world, at a time when human’s were still in charge.
But of course, not all human beings are able to accept the program and experience a sort of existential crisis as a result. When Mr. Anderson, hacker alias Neo, is presented with the answers he so desperately seeks, he is horrified to learn the terrible truth. Not only was it the year significantly later than he thought, but the world as he knows it was destroyed long ago. All major cities reduced to rubble, the sky itself has been “scorched”, and the surface rendered a cold, uninhabitable shadow of its former self.
This is a crucial element of the Matrix, which is not just a sci-fi story set in a post-apocalyptic world, but a metaphor for truth and “false consciousness”. With reality so displeasing and harsh, there are many who would prefer the warm comfort of a simulated world, which just happens to be a recreation of happier, stabler times. The metaphor is not just thick, but multi-layered!
It is for this reason that the majority of human beings accept the programming of the Matrix, even if they are only aware of this acceptance on an unconscious level. It is also the reason why those who choose to opt out of it, due to an innate feeling that their reality isn’t real, is a choice which must be made many times over. As Cypher himself demonstrated in the first movie, not everyone has the stomach for the real world, and will willingly betray their comrades for a chance to be put back inside. Others however, find hope in the prophecy of “The One”, the person who’s arrival will herald the end of the war and peace for humanity at last… or so it seems!
The Omega Man: Released in 1971 and starring (once again) Charlton Heston, this movie post-apocalyptic film is a classic amongst film buffs. Based on the 1954 novel, I Am Legend, this story has gone through many adaptations over the years and has been spoofed and imitated endlessly. Though the plot was updated for the most recent version (2007, starring Wil Smith), much of the elements – a post-apocalyptic world, a lone human survivor, fighting against mutants – have remained the same.
Essentially, the plot takes place in a world that has been devastated after a terrible plague was unleashed and wreaked havoc on the world. In the film versions, this involved biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China – or a mutated cure for cancer – but was only hinted at in the book. In any case, the story revolves around a man named Robert Neville, a doctor who seems to be the last man on Earth, hence the term “Omega Man”.
Though technically not the last living creature, Neville appears to be the last human being who has not succumbed to the most dreaded aspect of the plague – transformation into a flesh-eating mutant. Whereas most of humanity died after exposure, a small minority was converted, leaving an even smaller minority of infected to be hunted as prey. Living in a fortified apartment with an arsenal, Neville spends his days patrolling the abandoned city and killing members of “The Family” – the albino mutants who are hunting him.
At the same time, Neville is dedicated to finding other survivors who have not turned. Eventually, he is saved by one such group of people, but discovers that they are not immune as he is. He decides to treat others using his own blood as a serum, while at the same time escaping to the wilderness to start a new life while leaving the mutants to die in the city. Ultimately, Neville is forced to sacrifice himself to stop the Family from overtaking the rest of them, but the survivors make it out, carrying with them a vial of his blood.
Though significantly different from the original novel, all versions of the story deal with a world in which all of humanity has been wiped out by a biological agent, not nuclear war or a natural disaster.
The Road: This 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, which was adapted into a 2009 movie of the same name, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a father and son wander the landscape together. Though it is not specified what caused the destruction they are forced to witness and endure, what is clear is the effect it had on the survivors. Most people have given up hope in the ashen landscape, while others struggle to stay alive and some even turn to cannibalism to survive.
The plot involves an unnamed father and son who are venturing south towards the coast because they have realized that they will not survive the winter where they lived. Though the father is dying and they have barely any possessions to speak of, and the land in between is filled with horrors, the two keep going, fending off roving bands of cannibals and raiders and maintaining hope that the coast will be their deliverance.
All along, is father assures his son that they are the “good guys” who are “carrying the fire” through a dark terrible land. In the end, they find no refuge when they reach the sea and are forced to venture back inland, but the father finally succumbs to his illness and dies. He tells his son to maintain hope and to speak to him in his mind after he is gone, and the boy holds a vigil for days over his father’s body when he finally passes on.
With no idea what to do or where to go, he is eventually found by another family who claim to have been tracking them. The father of the group assures him he is one of the “good guys” and asks the son to join them. With no other options available to him, he agrees to join them and they set off together to find a new home.
Inspired by McCarthy’s own relationship with his son, and a great deal of speculation about what the apocalypse would look like, this story is a very personal take on the end civilization and the struggle to survive. Whereas a great deal of the survivors have resorted to unspeakable acts in order to stay alive, McCarthy redeems humanity by showing the lengths to which regular people will go to protect their families and ensure that good people live on when all the world goes to hell.
The Scarlet Plague: Here we have a post-apocalyptic classic that predates the nuclear age. Written by Jack London and published in 1912, this story was the original “last man on Earth” scenario which inspired such works as I Am Legend and many others. In addition to being based on the idea of a plague wiping out nearly all of humanity, the stories resolution involves the main character imparting his knowledge to others to ensure that something survives when he is gone.
The story is set in San Francisco in the year 2073, sixty-years after a terrible epidemic, known as the Red Death,has depopulated the planet. Enter into this the story’s protagonist, a man named James Howard Smith, a survivors from the pre-plague era. As an aging man living in the San Francisco area, he is faced with the unpleasant question of what will happen when he dies. As one of the few people who is old enough to remember the pre-plague days, he possesses rare knowledge which will be lost.
Through Howard’s narrative, we learn how the plague spread throughout the world and of the struggles of the handful of survivors it left in its wake. This is apparently being told to his grandchildren, who he has decided to teach everything he knows to ensure that his knowledge will not be lost.
Much like the novels it helped inspire, the Scarlet Plague’s real value lies in its personal nature, relating how the struggle to survive goes beyond the mere physical. In the end, it is when people are facing death that what is most important in life is realized and affirmed. Or to put it is as Commander Adama did, “It’s not enough to survive. One must be worthy of survival.” Sorry! My mind keeps going back to BSG with all this post-apocalyptic talk. More on that one later…
The Terminator: Central to the story of the Terminator franchise is “Judgement Day”, the day when humanity was nearly destroyed in a nuclear holocaust that was triggered by the sentient machine known as “Skynet”. This serves as the backdrop to the story, along with the ensuing war between the human resistance and the machines its spawned.
Though the majority of the story takes place in modern-day Los Angeles, a great deal of attention is dedicated to the war in the future and what life is like for those who survived Judgement Day. Kyle Reese described his life in the following way: “There was a nuclear war… There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines… I grew up after. In the ruins… starving… hiding from [Hunter-Killers]. Patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal. ”
Eventually, these camps were liberated by John Conner, the leader of the Resistance. After training and equipping the survivors, effectively turning them into a fighting force, Conner led them in a protracted war against the machines. For the most part, the resistance lived and operated out of underground facilities and went out at night to fight HK’s and Terminator’s, guerrilla-style. Survivors and refugees were gathered in these facilities, and their defenders were forced to constantly be on guard against infiltrators. Eventually, John Conner organized all his fighters into a massive offensive force and led them against the Skynet’s central HQ, destroying it and winning the war for humanity.
It was for this exact reason that the machines built their time machine and began sending Terminators back into the past. Since they could not defeat Resistance in the present, they reasoned that eliminating their commander before he was even born was their only recourse. This provides the set up for the entire franchise, with both the machines and the Resistance sending people back in time; the former to kill him and the latter to protect him and ensure that the war could be prevented.
The Walking Dead: Fans of this franchise will know instantly why I’ve chosen to include it on this list. Not only is it a gritty, realistic take on the zombie apocalypse, but it also manages to capture the essence of survival and the struggle to stay human when everything around you has fallen. Part of what makes this show so bang on is the fact that the character’s personal struggles go well beyond the need to stay alive.
In addition to finding food, ammo, and a place to set down, there’s also the constant battle to keep hope alive. This takes them at first to the CDC, where the expect to find answers, a cure, and some protection. But of course, all they find is a single scientist who can explain how the zombie illness works, but has no idea how to cure it.
And of course, the familiar and realistic themes of loss, suicide, procreation, betrayal, and brutalization play a central role to the development of the story. Everyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse has lost people near and dear to their heart. As a result, many people have a hard time going on, some of whom commit or actively contemplate suicide. Rick and Sarah, the show’s main protagonists, also face a tough choice when they realize she is pregnant. Essentially, they’re not sure it would a good idea to bring a baby into this post-apocalyptic world. Much like the decision to carry on, it often seems that embracing death would be a far more merciful decision.
Amongst the other main characters, there is also the extremely difficult choice between survival at all costs and maintaining one’s humanity. Whereas Shane seems to favor survival, and becomes a hardened, amoral man who will kill anyone who gets in his way, the elderly Dale is committed to not being pulled down into a world of misery and letting it change him. With everyone else, the decision is the same, with people falling to one side or the other and divisions setting in.
Awhile back I caught this amateur music video that a certain anime/heavy metal fan managed to make. Not only was it an awesome visual experience, but I found that it masterfully mixed two of the most awesome things ever! You had scenes from the landmark anime Akira with “No Leaf Clover” by Metallica. What’s not to like?
ARASKANA HLR-12x: Finally, I’ve found it! After much searching and digging, I finally found my way to the lasergun from the Akira movie. And I got to say, between anime, live action, and the gaming world, this weapon is about the most realistic take on a lasergun I’ve yet to see. Used initially by military forces in Neo-Tokyo to stop Tetsuo (unsuccessfully, I might add), the protagonist Kaneda would later use one as his personal weapon.
Powered by a portable battery pack, this weapon would fire a lancing beam of focused energy at its targets. In addition to being able to cut through metal and concrete, it was also capable of hewing off limbs. And it did too! Seriously, that scene where the army opens fire on the mob, ick and whoa in equal parts!
EM-1 Railgun: Even thought I didn’t think the movie was that hot, these guns did inspired to learn more about coilguns, gauss rifles and EM technology. Known as the EM-1, this weapon was a prototype railgun that was featured in the movie Eraser. Basically, it was this advanced technology that set up the plot, and provided Arny with an excuse to do some Terminator-style double firing!
Running on the concept of a coilgun, the EM-1 would use a super-charged magnetic tube to accelerate a caseless slug to hypersonic velocities. This gave it incredible punch as well as range, and could eviscerate man, machine and solid matter with ease. An x-ray scope was also attached to let the gunner see through solid objects, which was handy considering that this weapon was designed to punch through obstacles and kill whatever was on the other side.
Guitar Case Rocket Launcher: Here’s a movie I never expect to take anything from. Desperado, the Mexican western-style shoot-em-up directed by Robert Rodriquez, featured a lot of cool guns. But in the end, I’d have to say the coolest were the ones sported by his band members, which came embedded in their guitar cases. Where one man relied on cases that had built-in automatic weapons, the other fired rockets out the front!
I’ve looked it up and can’t find any info on how they rigged this case to do this. Probably just a launch tube and some fire crackers. But it was still pretty cool, and not entirely ludicrous either. Assuming you don’t mind ruining a few guitar cases, this weapon would probably make a great conversation piece and its owner a hit at parties!
Joshua: Ah, my favorite of the bunch! Known as Joshua, this BFG is named in honor of the Hebrew warrior who led the Israelites to victory over the Caananites, in brutal, genocidal fashion! It’s essentially a massive long slide, chambered for the mighty .454 Casull round which is used primarily for hunting wild game. BIG wild game!
In Alucard’s case, the gun was also fitted with silver-tipped bullets for hunting vampires and demons. So in addition to packing a massive punch, it could also turn the undead into ash with a single blast. And of course, Alucard’s super-human strength gave him the ability to endure the weapon’s massive kickback! Jackal: What do you know, it’s two for one day! Here we have Alucard’s second gun of choice, known as the Jackal. Officially, it’s known as the ARMS 13mm (.51 cal.) Anti-freak pistol, and in many ways represented a step-up from the earlier Joshua. Also produced by Walter, the Hellsing organization’s own gunsmith, this weapon was made in response to Alucard’s request for something “bigger”.
And that’s precisely what he got! In addition to having less kickback than its predecessor and firing spent casing to the left (so as not to obscure Alucard’s view of the target), this gun also fired 13mm (.51 cal) bullets and came in a sleek, black gunmetal design. In addition, it also had the words “Jesus Christ is in heaven” scrawled on the side, no doubt a comical reference to the man Alucard intended to use it on!
Leonhearts Gunblade: Is it a gun, it is a blade? Well… yes. The property of Squall Leonheart, from Final Fantasy VIII, this weapon is basically a stainless steel broadsword with an inset .44 magnum revolver. Firing this gun off in the midst of a sword fight not only has the potential to punch a big hole in the enemy, it also produces a wild vibration in the blade that makes it cut even better.
Much like Cloud’s Blade from FF VII, it is heavily oversize, though not as much. Though even the designer claimed that it had an “odd appearance” in hindsight, and the configuration makes it look a little unwieldy, you can’t deny that its pretty damn cool!
Prosthetic Leg Gun: Now here’s a novel take on both movie guns and prosthetics! Taken from the movie Planet Terror, is essentially a Bushmaster Carbine with the addition of an M203A1 grenade launcher.
This gun made its appearance when the character Wray gives Cherry Darling (played by Rose McGowan) the assault rifle grenade launcher combination as a replacement for her prosthetic leg. She put it to good use, alternately kicking and blowing bad guys away with it!
The Robocop franchise was nothing if not good at popularizing cool guns! And this one was no exception. Known as the P50, this .50 cal semi-automatic sniper rifle was featured repeatedly throughout the film. Intended as a shout out to the “Cobra Assault Rifle” from the first movie, this weapon had the same things going for it, namely explosive, punchy firepower!
It’s first appearance was during the robbery of the gun store at the beginning. It later appeared in the hands of some of Cain’s thugs who used it to blow Robocop’s hand off during his initial confrontation with the crime boss. It was then used by those same thugs later on Robocain himself. Robocop then confiscated it and used it against Robocain during their final confrontation. With one clean hit, he managed to destroy Cain’s autocannon’s with this baby. Always great when accuracy and firepower come together!
The Samaritan: Named in honor of the fact that it puts monsters out of their misery, Hellboy named this one “The Samaritan”. Although the caliber is not listed, the bullets appear to be at least one inch (25mm or 1.00 cal) in diameter, glass tipped, and filled with holy water.
In addition, the construction of the gun is heavily consistent with the name. The metal is forged from a combination of Irish church bells, cold iron from crucifixes, blessed silver, and other mystic metals. The handle wood of the grips is believed to be that of the cross of which Jesus Christ was crucified on. Holy religiosity Batman!
It weighs ten pounds, making it double effective as an impact hammer. And of course, the size of the gun also gives it a kickback which would be capable of breaking a regular man’s hand off. Hence, nobody but Hellboy even takes it out for an evening of monster killing!
Wow, a third installment! Did NOT see that one coming. And I’m really trying to get off this guns and robots kick, I swear! I’ll be back tomorrow with something else… maybe!
Well, after many, many suggestions on how my list of dystopian franchises could be augmented – this mainly consisted of poeple asking me “what about (blank)?” – I decided there were a few that I really couldn’t proceed without mentioning. This will be my last tour of the dystopia factory, lord knows that place gets depressing after awhile! But one thing at a time. Here’s my final installment in dystopian science fiction series, a hybrid list of novels, graphic novels, and movies!
A Clockwork Orange: This dystopian novella was originally written in 1962 and was adapted into film by the great Kubrick almost a decade later. In addition, it was adapted into play after the author realized he didn’t like how the adapted movie ended. Having experienced all three, I can tell you that the movie was probably the best. In addition to the rather ingenious ideas presented by Anthony Burgess, it also benefited from Kubrick’s directorial genius and the superb acting of Malcolm McDowell.
Set in the not-too-distant future, the story revolves around a British youth named Alex who is growing up in a world permeated by youth violence. He is the leader of a group of thugs known as “The Droogs”, young men who go about committing acts of “ultra-violence” which consists of them beating up homeless people, random strangers and other gangs, as well as committing theft and gang rape.
In time, Alex and his friends go to far (even for them!) and an innocent woman is murdered during a break-in. His friends, who are already angry over his bullying and strong arming of them, decide to betray him and leave him to the police. Once in prison, Alex decides to cut his sentence short by undergoing a radical government experiment – an artificially created conscience through Pavlovian conditioning!
The result of this conditioning is that Alex is no longer capable of committing any acts of violence. In fact, even the mere thought of violence produces a reaction so strong that he breaks down and is overwhelmed by nausea. This renders him benign, but also helpless. And in time, all his past crimes begin to catch up with him and he is nearly killed. Once he wakes up in the hospital, he discovers the conditioning has worn off, and he can either resume his old ways, or strike out on a new path…
Another interesting side effect of the conditioning is that he can no longer listen to Beethoven without getting sick either. This has to be one of the most curious and intriguing scenes in the movie, where a restrained and helpless Alex begs the doctors to turn off the symphony because he can’t stand the idea of not being able to listen to it. Much like everything else he does, it speaks volumes of his sociopathic nature.
Ultimately, the movie differed from the novel in that the final chapter was omitted. Immediately before this, we see how Alex is now freed from the conditioning. He also seems intent on blaming the current government, which will oust them from power. But beyond that it not quite clear what’s going to happen. However, the following chapter shows how Alex has realized, independently, that he doesn’t want to live a life of violence anymore. Human freedom, he’s determined, is the ability to make choices for oneself, free of persuasion and operate conditioning.
As I said, I truly think the movie was an improvement on the novel, which is a rare thing with adaptations. Still, it is was in the film that the point of the story really came through, thanks to Kubrick’s usual attention to detail and subtlety. Whether it was through those long, close-up shots of McDowell and his crazy eyes, the combination of wide angle action shots in slow motion, or the way that it played to the tune of Beethoven, you really got a sense of the odd combination of genius and madness that is the anti-hero Alex. The reliance on white, sterile settings also helped to punctuate the sociopathic nature of the story – how underneath the veneer of domesticity, brutality and violence can exist! And last, by leaving the ending a mystery, the moral was more ambiguous, which made for a far more effective dystopian feel!
A Scanner Darkly: Next up, we have Philip K Dicks seminal novel about drug abuse, self-destruction and the various hypocrisies arising out of America’s war on drugs. In this near-future scenario, which takes place in California in 1994 (seventeen years after it was written), a new drug has hit the streets known as Substance D – or SD, which stands for Slow Death. This powerful hallucinogenic is a great high, is violently addictive, and can render users brain damaged after too much use and abuse. And as a result of its popularity and impact, society is gradually becoming a full-blown police state, where cameras – or “Scanners” – are on every street corner and in the home of every suspected dealer.
Written from the point of view of an undercover narcotics agent, the story follows his descent into addiction and his eventual inability to tell reality from fantasy. Through repeated use of Substance D, he gradually becomes brain damaged himself, is released from the police department, and must go to a privately run recovery-center known as “New-Path”. There, he discovers that these centers, which operate like franchises, are actually growing the plant that Substance D is synthesized from. An interesting twist in which we learn that the people profiting from the side effects are the one’s providing the drugs. A stab at strong-arm governments or the pharmaceuticals industry, perhaps?
For the sake of adapting the movie to film, director Richard Linklater shot the entire thing digitally and then had it animated through the use of interpolated rotoscope. The effect of this was to render every single image in a vivid, almost cartoon-like format, which could only be interpreted as an attempt to mimic the effects of hallucinogens. This animation also came in handy with the rendering of the “scramble suit”, a sort of cloak-like device that PKD invented to ensure that undercover agents in his story could completely disguise their appearance, voice, and any other identifying characteristics.
In addition to being science fiction genius, these cloaks were a clear allegory to the anonymity of undercover agents and a faceless system of justice. While responsible for infiltrating and busting up the narcotics subculture, PKD clearly understood that this sort of profession can lead to an identity crisis, especially if the agents in question find themselves using drugs and becoming over-sympathetic to the people they are spying on. This, of course, is precisely what happens to the main character in the story!
In short, the novel was a commentary on the dangers of recreational drug use, but also on the reasons for why such subcultures come into existence in the first place. In addition to ruining lives and causing crime, repression, domestic surveillance, and other extra-legal practices can become quite commonplace. All of this mirrored PKD’s own experiences with the drug subculture and the law, which is why he dedicated the book to all the friends he had who succumbed to drug abuse and died as a result. Very sad!
And let’s not forget the name, a play on the words from the Biblical passage, 1 Corinthians 13:12 : “Through a mirror darkly.” In this day and age, where “scanners” are the means for monitoring society and police officers spend hours looking at their feeds, the scanner has become a sort of means through which people attempt to gaze into other peoples’ souls. But, as with the Biblical passage, this title is meant to refer to how, when we look at the problems of drug use in our society, we are seeing it all through a haze, the result of our own prejudices and preconceptions.
Akira: How the hell did I forget this one last time? I mean seriously, this is one of my favorite movies and one of the most inspired Mangas of all time! Not only that, it’s a pretty good example of a dystopian franchise. And yet, I forgot it! WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?! But enough self-flagellation, I came here to talk about Akira! So, here goes…
In 1988, famed Japanese writer, director and comic book creator Katsuhiro Otomo undertook the rather monumental task of adapting his Manga series Akira to the big screen. Though some predicted that a two hour movie could never do justice to the six-volume series he had written, most fans were pretty pleased with the end product. And the critical response was quite favorable as well, with the film being credited for its intense visualizations, cyberpunk theme, its post-apocalyptic feel, and the exploration of some rather heavy existential questions.
To break it down succinctly, Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo, a massive urban center that was literally build up from the ruins of the original. According to the story’s background, WWIII took place in 1989, and after twenty years of rebuilding, the world once again appears to be one the brink. However, as we come to learn, the destruction of Tokyo was not the result of the nuclear holocaust per se. It’s destruction merely heralded it in after the world witnessed the city’s obliteration, assumed it to have been the result of a nuclear attack, and starting shooting their missiles at each other. The real cause was a phenomena known as “Akira”, an evolutionary leap that scientists had been studying and lost control of…
Quite the story, but what I loved most about the adapted movie and the manga on which it was based was the level of detail. Set in 2019 (the same year as Blade Runner, coincidentally!) this series incorporated a lot of concepts which made for a far more intricate and interesting tale. First off, there’s the concept of a post-apocalyptic generation that is filled with unrest and angst, having grown up in a world permeated by the horrors of nuclear war. Second, there’s the ever-present element of gang warfare that has sprung up amidst the social decay. Third, there’s a government slouching towards dictatorship in response to all the protests, unrest and chaos that is consuming the city.
Into all this, you get a secret military project in which the Akira phenomena is once again being studied. Though motivated by a desire to control it and prevent what happened last time from happening again, it seems that history is destined to repeat itself. Once again, the survivors must crawl from the wreckage and rebuild, their only hope being that somehow, they will get it right next time… A genuine dystopian commentary if ever I heard one!
But what was also so awesome about the series, at least to me, was the underlying sense of realism and tension. You really got the sense that Otomo was tapping into the Zeitgeist with this one, relating how after decades of rebuilding through hard work and conformity, Japan was on the verge of some kind of social transformation. Much like in real life, the characters of the story have been through a nuclear holocaust and have had to crawl their way back from the brink, and a sense of “awakening” is one everybody’s lips and they are just waiting for it to manifest.
A clear allusion to post-war Japan where the country had been bombed to cinders and was left shattered and confused! Not to the mention the post-war sense of uniformity where politicians, corporations and Zaibatsu did their best to repress the youth movements and demands for social reform. Well, that was my impression at any rate, others have their own. But that’s another thing that worked so well about Akira. It is multi- layered and highly abstract, relying on background, visuals and settings to tell the story rather than mere dialogue. In many ways, it calls to mind such classics as 2001, Clockwork Orange, and other Kubrick masterpieces.
Children of Men: Made famous by the 2006 adaptation starring Clive Owen, this dystopian science fiction story was originally written by author P.D. James in 1992. The movie was only loosely based on the original text, but most of the particulars remained the same. Set in Britain during the early 21st century, the story takes place in a world where several subsequent generations have suffered from infertility and population growth has dropped down to zero. The current generation, the last to be born, are known as “Omegas” and are a lost people.
What’s more, the growing chaos of the outside world has also led to the creation of a dictatorial government at home. This is due largely to the fact that people have lost all interest in politics, but also because the outside world has become chaotic due to the infertility crisis. Much like in V for Vendetta, the concept of “Lifeboat Britain” makes an appearance in this story and acts as one of the main driving forces for the plot.
In any case, this also leads to the birth of a resistance which wants to end the governments tyrannical control over society, and which comes to involve the main character and his closest friends. In time, the plot comes to revolve around a single woman who is apparently pregnant. Whereas some of the rebels want to smuggle her out of Britain and hand her over to the international Human Project, others want to use her as a pawn in their war against the government. It thus falls to the main character to smuggle her out, protecting her from resistance fighters and the military alike.
Naturally, the movie drew on all the novels strongest points, showing how society had effectively decayed once childbirth effectively ended. It also portrayed the consequences of impending extinction very well – chaos, withdrawal, tyranny, etc. However, when it came time to adapt it to the screen, Mexican film director Alfonso Cuaron (who brought us such hits as A Little Princess, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), also used a variety of visual techniques and sets to convey the right mood.
For example, most of the sets were designed to look like near-future versions of today. In Cuaron’s estimation, all technological progress would have ceased once the implications of the crisis had fully hit, hence all cars, structures, weapons and gadgets were only slightly altered, or used sans modification. So while the billboards, newspapers and signs were all updated and carried messages appropriate for the period, cars, guns and other assorted background pieces looked entirely familiar.
In addition, much of the movie is shot in such a way so that the images are grey and the light effect seems piercing. This conveys a general mood of drab sadness, which is very accurate considering the setting! Last, Cuaron and his camera crews made many continuous action shots using wide angle lenses in order to capture a sense of crisis and how it effected so many people. Never was there a sequence in which you only saw the main actors and their immediate surroundings. The focus, like the scope of the story, was big and far-reaching.
Ghost in the Shell: Much like Akira, this franchise comes to us by way of Japan and is cyberpunk-themed. In addition, it also came in the form of a manga, then onto a film, but with a television series to follow. And in many respects, it qualifies as dystopian, given that it took place in a dark future where technology has forever blurred the line between what is real and what is artificial. In addition, it also tapped into several cyberpunk trends which would prove to be quite apt (i.e. cyberspace).
Again, this story takes place in Japan in the early 21st century, a time when cybernetic enhancements and technological progress have seriously altered society. The main character is named Motoko Kusanagi, a member of a covert operations division of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission known as Section 9. She is affectionately known as “Major” given her previous position with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. And did I mention she’s a cyborg? Yes, aside from her brain and parts of her spinal cord, she is almost entirely machine, and this plays into the story quite often.
In addition to facing external threats, Kusanagi and her companions also face conflicts that arise out of their own nature. These deal largely with issues relating to their own humanity, whether or not a person and their memories can even be considered real anymore if they have been replaced by digital or cybernetic enhancements. These questions were explored in depth in the movie, where events revolve around a sentient program that was developed by the government, but which has since gone rogue and is seeking an independent existence.
However, another thing that makes Ghost in the Shell a possible candidate for the category of dystopia is the setting. Whether it was the manga, the movie, or the television series, the look and feel of the world in which it takes place is quite telling. Always there is a dirty, gritty, and artificial quality to it all, calling to mind The Sprawl, Mega City One, and Neo-Tokyo.
As in these settings, things look futuristic, but also rustic, poor and improvised, hinting at extensive overcrowding and poverty amidst all the advanced technology. This is a central element to cyberpunk, or so I’m told. In addition to being futuristic, it also anticipates dystopia, being of the opinion that this “advancement” has come at quite a cost in human terms.
Logan’s Run: Considered by many to be a classic dystopian story, Logan’s Run takes place in a 22st century society where age and consumption are strictly curtailed to ensure that a population explosion – like the one experience in the year 2000 – never happens again. In addition, society is controlled by a computer that runs the global infrastructure and makes sure that the all the dictates of population and age control are obeyed.
In any case, the story revolves around this concept of an age ceiling, where people are monitored by a “palm flower” that changes color every seven years. When they reach 21 – on a person’s Lastday – the crystal turns black and they are expected to report to a “Sleepshop” where they will be executed. Those who refuse to perform this final duty are known as “Runners”, and it falls to “Deep Sleep Operatives” (aka. Sandmen) to track down and terminate these people.
The main character – Logan 3 – is one such operative. On his own Lastday, he is charged with infiltrated the underground railroad of Runners and finding the place they call “Sanctuary”. This is a place where they are able to live out their lives without having to worry about society’s dictates and controls. However, in time, Logan comes to sympathize with these people, due largely to the influence of a woman named Jessica 6. In the end, the two make plans to escape together for Sanctuary, which turns out to be a colony on Mars.
Right off the bat, some additional elements can be seen here. In addition to the concepts of Malthusian controls and ageism, there is also the timeless commentary on how rationalization and regimentation can lead to inhumanity and repression. Much like in We or Anthem (by Ayn Rand), people do not have names as much as designations. All life is monitored and controlled by a central computer, and it is made clear towards the end that the computer is in fact breaking down. I can remember this last theme appearing in an episode of Star Trek TNG, where a planet of advanced people are beginning to die off because their “Custodian” is malfunctioning and no one knows how to fix it.
Metropolis: A true classic of both film and expressionist art, this movie also has the added (and perhaps dubious) honor of being a classic of dystopian science fiction! Created in Weimar Germany in 1927 by Fritz Lang, this movie tells the story of a dystopian future where society is ruled by elites who live in vast tower complexes and the workers lives in the recesses of the city far below them where they operate the machinery that powers it all.
This physical divide serves to mirror the main focus of the story, which is on class distinction and the gap between rich and poor. To illustrate this artistic vision, director Fritz Lang relied on a combination of Gothic, classical, modern and even Biblical architecture. In an interview, Fritz claimed that his choices for the set design were based largely on his first trip to New York where he witnessed skyscrapers for the first time. In addition, the central building of the futuristic city was based on Brueghel’s 1563 painting of the Tower of Babel (right>).
The theme of class conflict is further illustrated by the fact that the workers who live in the bowels of the city are also responsible for maintaining the machinery that makes the city run. One is immediately reminded of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and the divide between the Morlocks and the Eloi. This comes through even more when the workers decide to revolt and begin ransacking the neighborhoods of the elites. Ultimately, it is only through the love of the two main characters – Freder and Mariah – that the gulf between the two is sealed and order is restored, a fitting commentary on how society must come together in order to survive and achieve social justice.
In another act of blatant symbolism, we learn early on in the movie that the workers have taken to congregating in a series of tunnels that run under the city. It is here that they meet with Maria, their inspirational leader, and makes plans to change society. So in addition to tall, Babel-like buildings illustrated the gap between rich and poor, we have workers who are literally meeting underground! Wow…
In addition, several other dystopian elements weave their way into the story. The line between artifice and reality also makes an appearance in the form of the robot which the movie is best known for. This robot was created by Rotwang, a scientist who is in the service of the main character’s father – Joh Fredersen, the master of the city. Apparently, this robot is able to take human form and was created to replace his late wife. Once this robot was released into the city, she began sowing chaos amongst men who begin to lust after her, and is the very reason the workers began revolting in the first place. She even causes the character of Rotwang to go insane when he can no longer distinguish between the robot and the woman she’s impersonating.
Neuromancer/Sprawl Trilogy: Gibson is one of the undisputed master’s of cyberpunk and future noire lit and it was this novel – Neuromancer – that started it all for him. In it, he coined the terms cyberspace, the matrix, and practically invented an entire genre of Gothic, techno-noire terminology which would go on to inspire several generations of writers. His work is often compared to Blade Runner given the similar focus on urban sprawl, cybernetic enhancements, the disparity between rich and poor, and the dark imagery it calls to mind.
The first installment in the “Sprawl Trilogy”, this book takes place in the BAMA – the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis (aka. The Sprawl). In this world of the 21st century, cyberspace jockeys or cowboys use their “decks” – i.e. consoles – to hack into corporate databases and steal information. The purpose is, as always, to sell off the information to the highest bidder, usually another corporate power. In addition, guerrilla tactics and domestic terrorism are often used to get employees out of their contracts, seeing as how most companies have no intention of ever letting their talent go!
Also, there is the massive gulf that exists between the rich and the poor in these novels. Whereas the main characters tend to live in overcrowded tenements and dirty neighborhoods, the rich enjoy opulent conditions and control entire parts of the world. In addition, the richest clans, such as the Tessier-Ashpools and Vireks, actively use cloning and clinical immortality to cheat death, and often live in orbital colonies that they have exclusive rights to. Much like in his “Bigend Trilogy”, much attention is dedicated to the transformative power of wealth and how it affords one better access to the latest in technology.
But always, the focus is on the street. Here, jockeys, freelancers and Yakuza agents are at work, pulling jobs so they can buy themselves the latest enhancements and the newest gear. In the case of Molly Millions, a freelance lady-ninja, this includes razor nails that extend from her fingertips. In the case of Yakuza enforcer from the short-story (and movie) Johnny Mnemonic, it consists of a filament of monomolecular razor wire hidden inside his thumb. For others, it might consist of artificial limbs, new organs, implants of some kind. Whatever ya need, they got it in the Sprawl. If not, you go to Chiba City or Singapore, chances are it was made there anyway!
*Interesting Fact: according to Gibson, Blade Runner came out when he was still tinkering with the manuscript for this novel. After seeing it, he nearly threw the manuscript out because he was afraid Ridley Scott had pre-empted him! Funny how things work out, huh?
Final Thoughts: Gee, there really isn’t much more to say is there? One thing I have noticed is that much of modern dystopia comes to us in the form of the cyberpunk genre. Though the definition of cyberpunk appears to constantly be evolving, it is generally acknowledged that it is a postmodern form of science fiction that combines “high tech and low life.” Having sorted through several modern examples of dystopian sci-fi, I can say that this is certainly an apt description.
In essence, it assumed that the presence of high tech would entail the emergence of a dystopian society, that the endless march of progress would lead to the destruction of the environment, the devaluing of human life, the elimination of privacy, and the line between real and fake. This last aspect was especially important, embracing cybernetics, virtual reality, and things like cloning and clinical mortality. Since the 1980’s, all of these notions have infiltrated science fiction movies, television, and have even become cliches to some extent.
This genre has given rise to new kinds of science fiction as well. For example, it is generally acknowledged that a sub genre known as post-cyberpunk emerged in the 1990’s which broke away from its predecessor in one key respect. Whereas it too focused on the rise of technology, it did not anticipate dystopia as part of the process. This is best exemplified by books such as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, a 21st century bildungsroman which predicted vast social and political changes as a result of nanotechnology.
Other sub genres that have emerged in recent years include “Steampunk”, a literary form that combines Victorian era technologies with the punk genres noire sensibilities. Other derivatives include Dieselpunk, Nanopunk, Biopunk, and even fantasy-punk crossovers like Elfpunk. Yes, like most things in the post modern era, it seems that literary genres are becoming fragmented and tribalistic!
But alas, I still feel the need to ask the question, what’s happened to dystopian literature of late? In my initial post, I got a lot of people asking me if I could include some more modern examples. You know, stuff that’s come out since 1984 and The Handmaids Tale. But unfortunately, what I’ve found tends to be more of the same. Just about every example of dystopian fiction appears to draw its inspiration from such handy classics as the one’s I’ve already mentioned, or is in some way traceable to them. Does this mean that we’ve hit bottom on the whole genre, or could it just be we’ve moved away from it for the time being?
Well, I recently learned from an article on IO9 that Neal Stephenson himself stated that science fiction needed to stop being so pessimistic and had to start getting inspirational again. Perhaps he’s onto something… Maybe we’ve gone too far with the whole cautionary tale and need to steer things back towards a brighter future, urging people on with common sense and technological solutions rather than laments. Maybe we need to let them know that such problems as world hunger, overpopulation, pollution, climate change, poverty, war, licentiousness and greed can all be overcome.
Then again, I’m working on a couple dystopian tales right now… Is it too much to ask that this craze last just a few years longer?
Thanks to all who’ve written in and “liked” my dystopian series! Hope to see y’all again soon as I get into ore cheerful things…