Logan’s Run (Michael Anderson, 1976)

31 March 2009

According to the trailer, this film begins where imaginations ends. That doesn’t sell it, does it?

It’s based on a novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, although in the source people are terminated at 21 rather than 30. There’s been some sort of war, and everyone lives in domes, devoting their lives to pleasure, but to maintain a stable population everyone is invited to join the Carrousel (Carousel?) at 29 and 364 days. Allegedly some people will be reborn, others are killed. It’s pretty clear that none are reborn.

Some people elect to run, and are pursued by Sandmen. Logan 5 (Michael York) has the bad luck to fall in love with Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) who has something to do with a revolutionary movement, and then he is handed an assignment to track down Sanctuary, the place where surviving runners hide outside the city. With growing disillusionment with the city, he sets off, with his Sandman friend Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) in pursuit.

After facing a robot, Box, which keeps runners in cold storage as food, they find their way to a ruined and overgrown Washington DC, inhabited only by a T.S. Eliot quoting Old Man (Peter Ustinov) who they bring back to the city.

I guess this needs to be read as reactionary – it’s responding to the youth culture of the late 1960s and the summer of love, and no doubt the student risings which were confronted by the National Guard (Kent State, etc). The liberation from the dead hand of old people (as it were) is not exactly celebrated – daddy’s dead so we all get to stay up late, do drugs and have sex. Jessica’s just saying no is clearly just a ploy to play hard to get. The situating of a killer cop as the main character – shades of Rick Deckard – is not necessarily guaranteed to get the youth audience on board, although there is the generic requirement for someone to be converted from support for dystopia to become its destroyer. And the world is clearly meant to be dystopia.

Logan is on a mission (although he never seems to explain that to Francis), so his opposition to the system only seems to be stirred by meeting an old man with lots of cats. Bringing down the system is presented as a happy ending, although there is no sense of what the replacement will be. Work will have to start, but fortunately the world outside the city seems green and pleasant.

Inside the city this is the future as shopping mall – the modelling is less than convincing of the outside of the city, and the scale inside doesn’t quite come off. The Sandmen seem to be remarkably bad shots as the runners survive the cat and mouse tactics for quite a long time. Post-apocalyptic Washington is rather more convincing, even if it’s not clear how the cats survived (or indeed the old man).

A tv series followed, riffing off the concept, and a remake has been promised for over a decade. I’m not holding my breath.

The State of the Project

22 March 2009

I see this blog as a thinking aloud space, whilst I research and complete a book on 1970s sf. as such there is always going to be a bit of a trade off – if I include everything then why read the book, but I might want feedback on a key idea or two that shapes the book. Equally, it won’t go in, simply because it’s here.

I note this because of two thoughts I had yesterday. The first is the sausage to fortune, and the role that Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy is likely to play in the introduction – both as a text in Paul Magrs’s Strange Boy, a coming of age novel set in the north east, and as I something I watched in my grandparents’ maisonette. I think that if I acknowledge that I am uncovering my own childhood I might be able to avoid the sense that somehow I am travelling into myself as I conduct the work. Especially as it is very much a text about interior travel.

(We pause and consider how little work I conducted today on the article about queer YA sff I need to write, in which Strange Boy has a central role.)

Secondly – and Invisible Enemy could almost become a subtitle to Solar Flares right now – I was reading the start of a book yesterday that has helped the theme of the book really come into focus. The book, incidentally, is Stephen Paul Miller’s The Seventies Now: Culture as Surveillance, and one sentence in particular leapt out and unfolded into bloom. Certainly it gives me a frame for a good half of the chapters. For now I will pass over the sentence in silence.

But I have for the first time the glimpse of the figures that Michelangelo was to free from the marble blocks.

Meanwhile, here are two things I wrote in my general blog, Mock Mocha Mocker (although it was called something different back then), which was the state of my thinking in April 2007.

http://drasecretcampus.livejournal.com/37521.html

‘SF has not been much fun of late. All forms of pop culture go through doldrums; they catch cold when society sneezes. If SF in the late Seventies was confused, self-involved, and stale, it was scarcely a cause for wonder’ [Bruce Sterling]

And yet, and yet – I’ve been thinking about seventies sf for a number of years now, and I’ve written articles on three neglected figures of the period: Coney, Cowper and Compton. I’ve always felt that there was a book in it somewhere but whether anyone is interested enough to read it remains to be seen.

But I’m being drawn to the decade again, and I’m looking at this large block of marble, prepared to make the first chip. I’m sure there’s a statue there somewhere, but where?

I’m thinking that the seventies was the period when sf first truly escaped from being the property of white, bourgeois boys – after civil rights, after women’s rights, after gay rights, Something Changed. Sf became a venue for new political visions. The New Wave(s) had refreshed its voice, but now it had something to talk about. After all, it could hardly be about going to the moon.

The last thing I want to write about is the death of sf. (‘It may not be the worst thing that ever happened to sf that it died.’) But certainly the dinosaurs of First Sf were sorry relics who had been out evolved. And with four or five blockbuster films (Star Wars, Star Trek, Close Encounters, Alien) there was sf around, even if it wasn’t the kind we were looking for or (and this is just me thinking aloud here) some of it was all too much like the First SF we told ourselves we’d outgrown. Sf writers weren’t competing for our beer money any more, but for the money we spent on lunchboxes.

What would a history of seventies sf look like, if these are indeed the parts of the statue in the marble? I don’t want to just write about exceptions. The mainstream stuff needs examining too. (‘Obviously the stuff I’m interested in is the radical subversive marginal stuff, because I’m a radical subversive margin.’ And so forth. Special cases don’t make a history, they make a special pleading.)

Is this sf as a postcolonial literature before the neo cons/roms returned in the 1980s?

http://drasecretcampus.livejournal.com/39143.html

So sf is dead, right, it’s in the doldrums by the seventies – after all, we’ve put a man (two men) on the Moon. (That’s where Aldiss and Wingrove begin their account, in Trillion Year Spree, with responses to the moon landing.) Agenda sf, if you will, is dead. But there are those writers of the Gernback-Campbell Continuum who are still writing (Campbell dies in the early 1970s – 1971): Heinlein gets flabby and oversexed, Asimov returns with a singleton before lapsing into silence until the late trilogies, Herbert adds to the Dune mythos, Clarke writes about Rama, one of many Big Dumb Objects of the period, and so on. Business as usual, just less frequently. Even Dick has slowed down.

The British New Wave crowd, faced with the entropy extending even to New Worlds’s circulation, have diversified into novels, which sometimes look less and less like sf as they deal with car crashes and traffic islands, and the alien planet is Earth. Even Doctor Who is Earthbound and paralysed. Meanwhile, a bandwagon is creaking into life: as Tolkien dies so the industry takes off, fueled by the growing role playing game craze and the first of many publications of material Tolkien himself would never have published. There is a fantasy boom – the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, Thomas Covenant, a book about rabbits and another about seagulls. Sf is dead, right?

Well, hardly. It’s not showing the hard sf concerns it once did to the same extent, but instead it takes on a political edge [Okay, yes: sf dealt with McCarthyism and the Cold War in the 1950s, and was hardly ignoring politics in the 1960s, but it takes on a more vital role post-1969 I’d argue.] as a barometer of the times. So, let’s see: the fag end of the Vietnam War, which lurches into genocide in Cambodia. The fall of Nixon. The oil crisis. Carter’s single term in the White House and the hostage crisis. In the UK, growing trouble in Northern Ireland and bombing campaign in England. The three day week. The winter of discontent. The election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister – which is followed by Reagan becoming president and a new twist in the Cold War. (I think I’m going to have to limit it to Anglophone sf – so Australia, Canada and New Zealand need a broadstroke history, too.)

The sf of the age will presumably have reflected these issues – somewhere along the line – and other concerns of the age, such as ecology and environmentalism. Also key to the period is the ongoing fight for equality for women, blacks and gays, with Tiptree, Butler and Delany being vital exemplars. Le Guin really comes of age, although Left Hand of Darkness is outside of the period proper, it only just is, and its ruminations on gender signal the confusions of the age. As do Heinlein’s genderbendings of I Will Fear No Evil and “The Number of the Breast”, for that matter.

At the same time, the iconography of Agenda Sf was being recycled (very green) in the imagery associated with various branches of popular music and, most visibly, the high concept, blockbuster movie of which Star Wars is the most prominent example, and The Empire Strikes Back forms a convenient bookend for the end of the decade (and a contrast with 2001: A Space Odyssey). The pessimism of the second film in the trilogy perhaps finds other echoes in Blake’s 7 and Battlestar Galactica. Meanwhile there were a whole raft of respected (and not so respected) raft of mainstream writers who were using sf tropes in their novels – Pynchon, Hoban, Burgess and so forth – leaving a sense that sf was going far beyond its fannish base.

Altered States (Ken Russell 1980)

11 March 2009

First let us note the ending, which is eucatastrophic, and which thus fits my gut sense of the decade in film. (Stalker is an exception, I suspect…). I’ll quote J.R.R. Tolkien, from On Fairy-Tales, and thus blame him for the barbarism of the Greek:
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy […] is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
What we have in most narratives is a situation which is threatened, and characters who therefore experience a reversal of fortune, or peripeteia which is then resolved. In tragedy, which Tolkien seems to be placing fairy-stories in opposition to, there is clearly a (dys)catastrophe, a death, but which leads to catharsis in the viewer/reader. For the eucatastrophe, it seems as if a second peripeteia is required, producing not quite catharsis, but the notion of grace and the potential of salvation. My notion of the amphicatastrophe is that there is no second reversal – and no salvation – and if there is catastrophe, it is not accompanied by catharsis. The amphicatastrophe resists any notion of being consolatory.

Altered States is not amphicatastrophic.

It is the tale of a doctor, Eddy Jessup (William Hurt in his first film), who discovers a sensory deprivation tank in the basement of the hospital he is training in. With the aid of his mate, Arthur (Bob Balaban), he attempts to measure his brain waves whilst in meditation. He does have some odd visions, but eventually he graduates and marries and a few years pass. He hears about a drug in Mexico that he want to try – a magic mushroom – and he has some odd experiences on it. This, he decides, need to be combined with a sensory deprivation tank, and he starts to experience a sense of going back in time to something more primal. A sceptical superior intervenes – Mason Parrish (Charles Haid) – and finds it hard to believe the evidence that Jessup is regressing to some kind of hominid. Then Jessup escapes from the tank, whilst still transformed.

In Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Dr Jekyll takes a potion which projects all of his dark side into Mr Hyde – or perhaps represses any notion of conscience and produces a Mr Hyde. After a couple of transformations, Jekyll is at risk of metamorphosis with or without potions. Here the same seems to be true – Jessup becomes more and more like a primitive man, and less and less bound by propriety. The twist is that he can also infect people – which is pushing things a little too far.

A couple of years later – 1983 – we have Videodrome and a (Todorovian?) fantasy as we’re not clear where Max’s hallucinations begin and end. We might want to have that real/hallucination hesitation here only the trips are distinct different from real life. But clearly Jessup has the sort of voyage into the Underworld that cyberpunk is also to engage with. When he becomes little more than a glowing mass of desires he does look like a cross between the characters in Tron and the eponymous Lawnmower Man. But he is redeemed and brought back to the real world – by his wife.

He has been with his wife since college, and I noted early on his lack of response at the moments she said she loved him – he cannot say it back, and deflects the question. From more than one speech it is clear that he is aware of the power of the love:
You saved me. You redeemed me from the pit. I was in it, Emily. I was in that ultimate moment of terror that is the beginning of life. It is nothing. Simple, hideous nothing. The final truth of all things is that there is no final Truth. Truth is what’s transitory. It’s human life that is real. I don’t want to frighten you, Emily, but what I’m trying to tell you is that moment of terror is a real and living horror, living and growing within me now, and the only thing that keeps it from devouring me is you.
He rescues her, and himself, at the moment that he is able to say, “I love you.”

That was the moment I reached for the sick bag.

This is definitely the good catastrophe, the moment of joy the walls of the world.

“Don’t Look Now” (Nicolas Roeg 1973)

22 February 2009

Those who fear spoilers should, er, not look now.

Here we have a classic example of the seventies ending, you know the one where it’s sort of downbeat, but you can’t be sure, because there’s no real sense of resolution. Amidst much waving around of hands. Only it’s a variant, it’s sort of upbeat, but you can’t be sure. Laura (Julie Christie) is on her way to the funeral of her murdered husband John (Donald Sutherland) with her only surviving child. And she’s smiling.

Here we have Roeg’s editing technique used on a psychic thriller, an adaptation of a Du Maurier novella – which annoyingly I do not seem to possess – in which a holidaying couple rebuild their lives after the death of a daughter. In the story it is meningitus, in the film it is a drowning, which adds a layer of symbolism of water throughout the film as the main action is in Venice. John is looking at a slide of a church he is to restore, Laura is researching a question for their daughter, whilst John jr cycles across glass and Christine drowns.The intercutting links the characters, as if John knows what is happening outside, anticpates the space he is to go to, and includes a shot of Laura – leaving the house? going to her daughter’s funeral? going to her husband’s funeral? Spilt water across the slide leads to a dye bleed in the shape of the Venice lagoon.

In Venice – John packed off to a boarding school – the couple rebuild their lives and a church, only to run into two old dears, one of whom, Heather (Hilary Mason), is blind and psychic, and can see Christine. Laura is keen to learn more, whereas John is sceptical – Laura feels reinvigorated and secretly stops taking the medicine, but may be the victim of a con trick. John, meanwhile, is clearly psychic and some of the things we see him see have yet to happen. Heather wants him to leave town – but she is too late as he runs into the red coated dwarf who has been murdering people.

Prevented from following John by a gate he has locked, Laura can but yell after her darlings – John and Christine. We can but speculate as to why she is smiling – perhaps she has been reassured of her husband’s happiness by Heather, perhaps she is pregnant from the show-stopping sex scene from earlier in the film.

The film was released at about the time as The Wicker Man – in fact they played in a double bill – and The Exorcist, and anticipates The Omen in John’s accident in the church. It is definitely disturbing – although the climax is just a little ridiculous, albeit very European.

Jargon

18 February 2009

I felt I needed a phrase for “the seventies ending, you know the one where it’s sort of downbeat, but you can’t be sure, because there’s no real sense of resolution.” Amidst much waving around of hands.

I pondered the model of eucatastrophe and its twin, dyscatastrophe, coined unless I miss a guess in Tolkien’s essay on fairy stories. What I’m after would appear to be ambicatastrophe. Only that slots together Latin and Greek (like television), which is a no no. Amphicatastrophe seems to be the beast – although as a tame Greek colleague spluttered, none of these words are legal. You can’t shove a prefix like that on an already compound word.

I’ve muttered something about it being good enough for Heidegger, but that might not be company I wish to keep.

18 February 2009

Edited to add:

I’ll quote J.R.R. Tolkien, from On Fairy-Tales, and thus blame him for the barbarism of the Greek:
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy […] is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
What we have in most narratives is a situation which is threatened, and characters who therefore experience a reversal of fortune, or peripeteia which is then resolved. In tragedy, which Tolkien seems to be placing fairy-stories in opposition to, there is clearly a (dys)catastrophe, a death, but which leads to catharsis in the viewer/reader. For the eucatastrophe, it seems as if a second peripeteia is required, producing not quite catharsis, but the notion of grace and the potential of salvation. My notion of the amphicatastrophe is that there is no second reversal – and no salvation – and if there is catastrophe, it is not accompanied by catharsis. The amphicatastrophe resists any notion of being consolatory.

10 March 2009

Colossus: The Forbin Project (Joseph Sargent, 1970)

25 January 2009

Remarkably straight-faced precursor to cyberpunk, filmed by the future director of The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974), and based on a novel by British writer D.F Jones. (Jones was to write two sequels, The Fall of Colossus (1974) and Colossus and the Crab (1977), neither of which I have read). Dr Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) has built a computer that will bring peace to the world by monitoring intelligence, and by being ready for attack and defence at all times. Shortly after being switched on, Colossus finds a second computer, Guardian, designed by the Russian. At first both superpowers try to keep the computers apart, but the machines hold the world to ransom until the humans conform – threatening to explode nuclear missiles. All the president (played by one Gordon Pinsent) can do is wring his hands, whilst Forbin tries to find a way into the impregnable device. Forbin has a distinct German accent, I suspect a nod to the German Nazi rocket scientists.

For once the film makers play fair – there is no attempt to get a computer to define love, or to deal with a paradox, although they do try to flood it with too much data. Nowadays, they’d just update it to Vista. For a group of people who are being monitored by a supercomputer, the scientists don’t half talk on a lot of microphones and telephones, but their plot is hardly a secret to Colossus anyway. On the other hand, unlike Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968), it doesn’t learn to lip read.

By taking over control of the Earth’s weapons, Colossus can bring peace to Earth – is this such a bad thing? Dr Forbin designed it for world peace – and this is what it brings. (His character is too young to have been a Nazi rocket scientist, but we perhaps think of scientists, post Einstein and Von Braun as Germanic.) There’s an allusion to Frankenstein, of course, another creation out of control. Colossus says: “We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you lose your freedom, freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as bad for human pride as to be dominated by others of your species,” but the characters at least hate their new big brother.

Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)

20 January 2009

Ecological dystopia (loosely) adapted from Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! (1966). Charlton Heston needs a chapter to himself as veteran of two Planet of the Apes films, The Omega Man (Sagal, 1971) and Earthquake (Robson, 1974). Here he is Thorn, a policeman in an overcrowded, near-future Manhattan, where people are forced to sleep on staircases of tenements for want of a better habitat. Crops and lifestock have all but failed thanks to pollution, with the population fed on various products of the Soylent company. (Soy – soya; lent – lentils.) With the brutal murder of wealthy Simonson (Joseph Cotten), Thorn finds a case that threatens to get to the heart of a starving and doomed society.

There are plenty of good world-building touches – an opening montage offers a technological history of the city from pioneer to contemporary times, the designated and rentable prostitute/lovers are referred to (in suitably sexist terms) as furniture and rioters are scooped up by JCB-like vehicles. Special effects seem to be kept to a minimum – mostly matte shots of the city, and a greenish fog to suggest pollution.

Thorn feels at times like an earlier version of Deckard in Blade Runner (Scott 1982); a detective character of course is able to visit all levels of society from the dregs to the upper echelons, and acts conveniently as a moral barometer. As he investigates, so we the audience learn about his world. On the other hand, it is his cohabitee, Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson in his 101st and final role) who first discovers the truth about the supposedly plankton-based soylent green. This is enough for him to decide he no longer wants to live, and commits suicide.

And what to make of Sol? He has memories of the old days, when food was real, and is dispirited by the dystopia he finds himself in. Sol – sun, wisdom of Solomon – with Roth it feels Jewish in origin (a reference to Ashkenazi Jews?), which might make the suicide even more horrific. He’s referred to as a book – a sort of police researcher, presumably a (euphemistic?) term like furniture. A bells rings from somewhere – am I thinking of Shepherd Book from Firefly? The most curious thing is the comments from both Sol and Thorn that they love each other – I suspect Thorn’s relationship with Simonson’s furniture, Shirl Leigh (Leigh Taylor-Young), is there in least at part to alibi Thorn against suspicions of homosexuality. I don’t read this as father and son though.

And so the final, highly telegraphed, climactic revelation is that Soylent Green is people. This is the ultimate ecological recycling, ensuring that nobody goes to waste. This works slightly better than humans as Duracells (in The Matrix trilogy), but surely runs into loss of energy from the equation rather quickly. Let’s take it as a metaphor for consumption – and no one ever complains that Swift’s A Modest Proposal would have a similar failure – rather than a serious proposal. It’s the 1970’s ending – there’s no guarantee that the truth will out, as everyone else who has discovered it has been killed off.

Harrison gave it 50% – the acting and production was impressive, despite shoddy behaviour towards him by MGM and what he perceived as a stupid script with a dreadful title.

Harrison, Harry, “A Cannibalized Novel Becomes Soylent Green“, in: Danny Peary, ed. Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies: The Future According to Science Fiction Cinia, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984, pp. 143-146.

Joanna Russ, And Chaos Died (1970)

18 January 2009

Russ’s second novel, after Picnic on Paradise (1968), and read now as part of my research into homosexuality in 1970s sf. In Jai Vedh we have a character who declares himself a homosexual – a rare usage of the word, and let down by the fact that his sexual partners through the novel are women. Maybe there is no essentialism in sexuality here. It’s possible to ponder about his relationship with Ivat on his return to Earth, but it doesn’t feel quite right.

Existentially flustered Jai is travelling through space when the ship he is in crashes on a planet of telepaths. The aliens teach him to teleport and to influence matter, a skill he takes back to Earth when they are rescued. He plays with the boy Ivat, jumping around Earth, and is reunited with his mentor/lover Evne.

The aliens attack Earth – but only after they have been attacked by humans – and it transpires that they themselves are colonising humans, educated by now-extinct aliens.

Of course, this must have been written in the 1960s, and is odd in the Russ canon for having a male protagonist. Of course, as she went on to write The Female Man next, this is something “fixed” by that book.

The Man who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)

18 January 2009

This is a remarkably faithful adaptation of Walter Tevis’s novel. To summarize: something crashes in an American lake, and a hooded figure struggles across a landscape, making money by selling gold rings. This is Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), who buys the services of a patent lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) to launch a series of new technological inventions upon an unsuspecting public. As the increasingly wealthy Newton starts a life with former hotel maid Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), a chemistry professor Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn) is first employed by and then fascinated with Newton. Both Mary-Lou and Nathan discover the truth: Newton is an alien, funding his trip back to his drought-stricken home planet. Before the launch can happen, he is captured by government agents and Farnsworth is killed.

It is the final third of the film that is most changed – the mechanics of the unravelling of Newton’s plan, and the moment of capture. There’s a sense of a longer timespan, as all the characters save Newton age significantly. One piece of future world building is having a senior agent (Bernie Casey) as African American with a white wife; the establishment of Farnsworth as homosexual but not criticised as such is perhaps also along these lines. Mary-Lou had been Betty-Jo, and the more philandering Bryce meets  Newton at the latter’s invitation rather than by a trick. Toward the end Newton’s contact lens are fixed onto his eyes, rather than blinding him.

Roeg’s style – which he had displayed to even more complexity with Donald Cammell in Performance (1970) – is to intercut quite different materials: typically sex scenes unfold in parallel with other actions, and flashbacks and anticipations become indistinguishable. It is ambiguous, say, whether Newton is remembering his home life, or these are parallel events. He is able to see pioneer era America alongside the present. And when his family are looking at a kind of flexible television screen, it almost feels like they are watching the events of the film.

Surveillance is a recurrent trope – and watching: obviously in Newton’s eyes, but also in glasses, mirrors, telescopes and cameras. Newton sells his first ring in a shop that also sells television, and a television is the first thing he asks for. He has learned about Earth from watching television, and continues his education by watching about nine at once. It is his own technology that betrays him to Bryce, just as a book of (photographed) paintings first link the two. Newton is of course under surveillance – his driver is an agent – but this seems to be from the moment he crashed on Earth. Was he tracked through space? Were the authorities told he was coming? Or do they just spy on everything?

The painting Bryce looks at is Brueghel’s painting of Icarus, a man who fell to earth and drowned, whilst everyone else goes about their business (we are able to read Auden’s poem “Musee des Beaux Arts” which in part describes the canvas). Newton has fallen to earth – the name suggests gravity – but there’s perhaps also the sense in this version that he is also Fallen; Mary-Lou’s Eve introducing him to alcohol and sex. Eventually, he is betrayed, of course.

Bowie is excellent – and brings his various personae with him. As a Brit in the US he is of course an alien (and director Roeg, producer Deeley and the crew were also aliens). Roeg had worked with a rock star in Performance – Mick Jagger – and cast Art Gunfunkel in Bad Timing (1980), which I can live without. I guess I ought to take a look at Don’t Look Now (1973), although that’s more fantasy than sf.

Sally Miller Gearheart, The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women (1979)

18 January 2009

I have a sense that I read a review of this with more or less the single word “unreadable” about twenty years ago.  I tried to read the volume without this in mind, but found that difficult, as there was little ongoing plot to hold onto and it is of a flavour of feminism I’m not exactly sympathetic to. I need to go away and read Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will to get a better grasp of the feminism of the period which I suspect lies under the book.

There’s been some kind of disaster and/or revolution, and the women all live in the hills outside of the city, in harmony with nature and in telepathic communication with each other and animals. Men are confined to cities, and their machinery will only work there. A few select women enter the city to try and re-education men, but mostly life is happy (for the women) in a separatist utopia. To the extent that there is a narrative uniting the chapters/vignettes, it the sense that this can’t go on forever, and the men are not to be trusted not to spoil things. 

The temptation here is to fall back into the essentialism that other feminists undercut – women are allied with nature and men with machines, women with the ciuntry and men with the city. I can see how – after several centuries of patriarchy – women may wish to take their lives elsewhere, but it feels in the realm of the lousy solution. Readable, but uncomfortable.