4.26.2019

GARFIELD'S WAR, Part 2

By Anna Blackwell (December 2018 to February 2019, age 11)

NOTE: IF YOU MISSED PART 1, YOU CAN READ IT HERE.

I woke up to find myself kneeling on the ground with my hands tied behind me.

"Uhhhh ... what happened? Where am I?" I said.

"In prison, that's what," said someone.

I spun around. "Clovis, it's you!"

"And its you, Rose," he said back.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Same thing you are," he said.

I was puzzled. We talked and I discovered what had happened. After I had been knocked out by a rat, Clovis' army had started to fall back. Then the enemy started coming from the sky and in the chaos neither army knew who was friend or foe. In the confusion, Clovis sounded a full retreat, but was captured in the process and carried away along with me.

After Clovis and I had talked over what happened, someone came to the door. "Get up you plumb pies!" the newcomer said, opening the door.

Five armed small men came in. "Get up! Lord Garfield wants you in his presence," another of them said.

One of them grabbed me by an elbow.

"The Lord Garfield, the Lord Garfield!" I said. "I'll have something to say to 'His Highness'!"

Clovis and I were taken away. We were brought before Garfield in a very very strange room: instead of a ritually decorated hall, he was in the middle of a large space about  fifty (Season Folk) feet wide and seventy long; everywhere were strange plants.

"Welcome, what a present surprise," Garfield said in a sly voice. "Clovis, I had no idea you would be here, and this must be ..."

He stepped closer to me until I could smell his awful breath. "Rose, we meet again!"

"Yes indeed we do, Garfield-ey!" I said giving him my angriest look.

Garfield flung his tail in the air. "Follow me!"

As we walked I observed out the most hideous thing I'd ever seen: all of the plants were carnivorous plants and on every one hung a Season Folk body or two killed by each plant.

"You know,  really don't like it when people annoy me," said Garfield. "When they do they are given severe punishment. So, Clovis, I want you to call back all your troops and give me those two towns I want then I will let you go along with your 'friend' ... or you both with suffer horribly!"

I looked at Clovis. I could tell he was worried, but I knew he would not give up like this. No, not Clovis.

Finally, he answered, "say all you like cat, until your mouth falls off, but you'll have to do better than that to get the best of me!"

I saw a burst of anger explode in Garfield as he shouted, "take them to the Trumpet Pitchers!"

We were taken up a ramp that led to the top of the plant. I looked in horror at the abyss below. I had learned a little about Trumpet Pitcher plants in my school -- they kill their prey (bugs) by drowning it in a pond of water then digests the remaining soup. Garfield's henchmen pushed me and Clovis out on a plank. Garfield licked at the sweet nectar dripping off the Pitcher Plant.

"Prepare to become dinner," he said.

"What did he --" before I could finish, the plank disappeared and I fell. "AAAAAAAHHHHHH!"

SPLASH!

I was so glad I had practiced hard at my swimming lessons that summer as I hit the water.

"Wait 'till I get my hands on you, Garfield!" I heard Clovis shout.

Garfield let out a loud laugh and left the room, along with his rats and small men. Now I knew Clovis and I were both stuck.

"We have to find a way out of here, fast!" Clovis said. "I know what Garfield's planning. Since I'm no longer at the head of my army, he will attack one of our great cities. If we don't hurry he'll kill everyone!"

I felt a jolt inside me, I wasn't going to let Garfield get away with this! Just then I felt something -- my medallion. I had forgotten all about it since arriving. I pulled it out. My first thought was that I could use it to climb out by using the carven sunbeams like spikes on it as a grappling hook, but then noticed that we had no rope and the walls were too slippery. Then, for the first time, I noticed a tiny button on the side of the medallion.

"Hey, what does this do?" I said, pressing it.

Suddenly a small dagger shot out of the medallion. In no time we had cut through the Trumpet Pitcher -- it must have been a very sharp blade to make such short work of that thick tissue.

"Hurry, we don't have much time," Clovis said.

"Okay, okay, give me a minute," I replied, trying to wring out my soaked skirt.

We grabbed our belongings and hastened to get out of that awful place. But we ran into a really bad problem ... we got out of the room with some effort, but found that the weather had turned much worse.

"Snow," Clovis mumbled. "Hurry, we have to see if my army still exists."

"Stop, we'll never make it there in time, and in this weather," I said.

"Listen, Rose, I'm a leader it's my duty to protect my people."

"I quite understand," I said. "But I have a better way to stop Garfield."

I let out a high-pitched whistle. Before I knew it, a score of Blackbirds filled the sky.

"Where did you learn to do that?" asked Clovis.

"He taught me," I said, pointing to a keen, tall Blackbird who had just landed. In fact, it was Raven, who I had met on my first adventure. "Come on!"

I mounted Raven and we were soon high up in the air, going in the direction of Garfield's army. I caught something out of the corner of my eye.

"Clovis, where are you going?"

"I'm going to find my army; I can't let others fight my battles," Clovis said, turning his bird back the other way. "With luck, they are still together and able to fight."

"Luck, you're going to need a miracle," I said.

Raven and I led the Blackbirds to Garfield's army. Unfortunately the snow grew heavier. I was lucky not to get frostbite because it felt like twenty below zero. Raven seemed to endure it better than I did. Soon I could see our destination. I knocked an arrow to by bow; it wasn't much further now. As soon as we were within range of the enemy I let fly. The birds swept down into the heart of the enemy. Three of Garfield's Season Folk fell to the birds' claws. I fired more arrows as Raven circled the enemy.

Shouts and cries rang in the air. The sounds of clashing of claws against shields and weapons seemed endless. Soon it seemed that Garfield was getting the upper hand.

Where is that Clovis? I thought desperately.

Several birds fell to Garfield's thugs. There were fewer than a dozen of us left. Suddenly Raven jerked, sending me flying to the ground. I quickly got up and grabbed my bow and arrows, then took to a rock. As I did so, I saw that Raven was still alive and on his feet. I let my arrows fly through the air and as I did so, I saw movement from the other side of the battlefield. Looking closely, I felt my heart leap up. It was Clovis and behind him were hundreds of Season Folk.

Soon his army had slashed into Garfield's army and the battle lingered on. The sun sunk into the west and the moonlight lit the ground. As I watched, Clovis, riding a white ermine, drew near Garfield. Sword and claw smashed against each other and blood splattered the ground. Just then Garfield jumped up knocking Clovis to the ground and choked his ermine to death.

Clovis, getting to his feet, stabbed at Garfield's flank. The evil cat let out a loud shriek at the blow of the sword. Clovis prepared to strike again but Garfield leapt out of the way. Garfield crouched low then leapt on top of Clovis with a cry.

"No!" I screamed as Clovis went down beneath Garfield's claws.

A second later I loosed an arrow and it flew through the air, striking Garfield right in the side. Then I collapsed to the ground and hot tears boiled out of my eyes.

When I got up, I ran through the battlefield to see if Clovis was still alive. When I reached his side I said, "Clovis, why did you --"

"I knew at the beginning this would end in death," he whispered.

"But you didn't have to be the one to die!" I said.

Clovis gave me a faint smile and grabbed my hand. With his last breath he said, "I have been, and always shall be, your friend."

After that, I never saw my dear friend again.

The battle was over and the army headed back to the village bearing the corpse of their leader. As for Garfield, he survived my arrow but was banished forever. When we got to the town I was so exhausted and famished I think I fainted. The town mourned for their leader the whole day. But since we had won a great victory, the next day there was much to celebrate.  Almost everyone I knew turned out for the party, including Henry'O, the squirrels, Raven, and many more.  There were steaming-hot soups, Season Folk-sized turkey, and the most fabulous desserts you've ever seen.

But I knew I had to return to my normal size, so after all the celebrating, on one snowy morning the Season Folk told me if I go to the middle of the yard and rub my medallion I would return to my normal size in no time flat.

Once back to normal size, I had to have a long conversation with my family who had no idea where I went. Soon everything returned to normal, but there are still some times when I sit by the window with my dog Snoozer on my lap and think about how both Clovis and I ended Garfield's War.

fin.

4.24.2019

Movie Review: Alien (1979)


Review by: Godfrey Blackwell
Title: Alien
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Excellence: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A terrifying and subtly themed classic of sci fi/horror; a masterpiece of filmmaking that is certainly not for the young or the faint of heart.

WARNING: I know that some younger people read this blog, so up-front I need to warn that this film is rated R and should only be viewed by adults.

May the 26th of this year will mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Alien, the all-time classic sci-fi/horror film, and this will be marked on April 26th by the release of a new 4K Blu Ray on "Alien Day". I therefore thought it fitting to (for the first time ever) write a review of this film that has fascinated me for decades. The film has apparently fascinated many, as it is said to be the film most studied by academia.

The film was not originally intended to be so deep and thought-provoking; 20th Century Fox was just looking for a way to cash-in on the success of Star Wars and happened upon a script that had been around some time. The film is quite simply summarized as the tale of a group of "space truckers" hauling goods back to earth who are re-routed to investigate a suspected distress signal. Investigation of this signal leads to an alien being brought aboard which sets about killing-off the crew one-by-one while they in turn try to destroy it.

On its face this is a rather simple story-line and I have often thought that it could have easily been trash, but instead it is one of the great classic science fiction films thanks to comprehensive world-building, exceptional camera-work and atmosphere, memorable characters, a deeply resonant musical score, impeccable set design, and a patient "slow burn" pace that draws the viewer right into the film.

I mention that patient plot ... some viewers might, with some justice, say that "nothing happens" for the first 40 minutes of the film and, admittedly, not a lot happens aside from setting the stage for the action and terror that is to come. The first time I saw the film I actually thought it a bit boring. But after many viewings I now consider those first 40 minutes among the finest in film. It really sets the atmosphere and tone, makes the viewer care about the characters, and perfectly builds tension and "sets the table" for all the action which is made 100x more potent by that "preamble".

The atmosphere/set design/world-building is one of the parts of Alien I have loved most over the years. Better than any other film I can think of, the Commercial Star Ship Nostromo feels like a real place and the characters feel real ... mostly because the ship is very well-worn (in fact it seems a bit junky) with lots of evidence of being "lived in". There is also a tremendous attention to detail, down to crew and national patches on the crew's flight uniforms, and a custom set of "standard semiotic" pictograms as labels of places and things throughout the ship -- all of which contribute to the feeling of "immersion" in a real world.

It is worth noting that another thing that makes the film so masterful is that despite having a reputation for being gruesome and violent -- with the exception of one very memorable scene -- there is actually almost no violence whatsoever on-screen. The eponymous alien itself is only partially glimpsed for split seconds and the viewer doesn't get a decent look at it until late in the film. You never actually see what it does to the characters and this actually makes the film more terrifying, in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock who also showed almost nothing -- and let the viewer's mind create more horrifying images than anything shown on-screen. This is MUCH better than the "cheap thrills" of many movies that use gore and surprises that make you jump instead.

Apparently one of the reasons the film was rated R in the UK was because censors saw it as presenting a "perverse view" of reproduction. I had always taken the alien creature to be in the nature of a parasite "infecting" its host rather than as "impregnating"/reproducing per se. That said, as an adult studying the film further, I understand that there is certainly intended to be such an undercurrent and this would explain the reason the film has always been "disturbing in a non-specific way" (to quote the aforementioned censors). That said, given the destruction wrought by the alien creature, I am satisfied that if the film has any message beyond making the viewer terrified on this score, it is that unnatural or perverse reproductive practices/attempts result in destruction which I believe to be true.

Finally, the film is considered "feminist" by many because of the role Sigourney Weaver's character takes on towards the end of the movie. However, I think that if the film were made today it would be condemned as "misogynistic" because Warrant Officer Ripley is not the super-powered better-than-all-the-men-at-everything female lead that is de rigeur (or even mandatory) today. I actually find the film to be rather anti-feminist since it is Ripley's female vulnerability that is used to ramp up the terror of the film since she can (and does) cry, sob, scream, and flee in terror the way a male protagonist cannot. That said, it's true that as a "reactionary" I'm not a fan of sending women into deep space, but I recognize this film does not take place in a Catholic or "conservative" setting.

4.22.2019

SANGUINARY GUARD

By Godfrey Blackwell


For the "uninitiated", you may wonder what are "Sanguinary Guard"? Games Workshop, in its typical over-the-top style describes them as "the uttermost elite of the Blood Angels. They fight with wrist-mounted Angelus boltguns that leave both hands free for the wielding of crackling power glaives. The Sanguinary Guard are a brotherhood of mortals-become-gods and their deeds the stuff of legends." Their elite status is the reason for all the "bling" and why I love their look so much. The utter impracticality but aesthetic grandeur makes them the epitome of a lot of what I love about Warhammer 40,000.




The glowing blue weapons, "crackling power glaives" are weapons that can ignore all but the strongest armour making these guys a dedicated close-combat unit. Their fancy armour is also strong in its own rite, tough enough to withstand their own weapons (except the big fist directly above which makes mush of everything). The checkerboard shoulder pads are part of my army's unique heraldry since they're not actual Blood Angels but a successor chapter.

4.19.2019

GOOD FRIDAY

No fiction today in honour of the anniversary of the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

4.17.2019

Music to Write By



In an email exchange Dad recently had with a fellow writer, the use of "background noise" came up. This friend said he always writes with either a movie or music playing in the background. Others have said they would find it too distracting.

Dad/Godfrey certainly falls into the group of writers who almost "need" some background music while writing. Mood-appropriate music can really help get into the right frame of mind. As such, he listened to a LOT of Star Wars soundtrack while working on his space fantasy novel (which is in final re-writes so consider this your first "teaser").

Lacking time for any more substantive posts, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite writing music -- maybe if you're a writer you can make use of it too:

Fantasy

General - Snow White and the HunstmanGladiatorGame of Thrones, Lord of the Rings soundtracks, Saints and Sinners: the Ultimate Medieval Music Collection
More upbeat/heroic - Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez; Fantasía para un Gentilhombre
Epic - anything Wagner, but especially the selections found in Excalibur's soundtrack

Science Fiction

General - Inception, Interstellar, Star Trek Soundtracks,
Space Opera - Star Wars soundtracks, Holst's Planets
Darker/"Cyberpunk" - Blade Runner, Alien Trilogy soundtracks

Dad listens to music more since he owns his own devices, but Anna listens a lot while writing. Her favourites are "Saints and Sinners" and the "Snow White and the Huntsman".

4.12.2019

GARFIELD'S WAR, Part 1

By Anna Blackwell (December 2018 to February 2019, age 11)

It had been a year since my first adventure with the Season Folk. I seemed to forget slowly about it, 'til one day our neighbours' pesky cat Garfield killed Shoot, a mouse, that I had made friends with. I felt so upset that when everyone went to bed I had planned to trap Garfield. I was so upset I couldn't sleep.

I suddenly heard something. I got up and looked out the window which overlooked the backyard and I saw something very strange indeed. Just near our ditch was Garfield; he seemed to be attacking something as he growled and batted at the ground. I opened the window to hear soft shouts and crashing. Then something began to pull me by the neck: it was my medallion*. I tried to take it off, but as soon as I grabbed it, a great light blasted in my face. I didn't know what happened next, for I was knocked right out.

I woke up to find myself lying on a pile of weeds. As I looked around I was shocked at what I saw; I was outside but it wasn't the same. The trees were gigantic and the grass was taller than me!

"Not again!" I said to myself.

I was shrunk down to the size of a mouse. I wondered how it came to happen. Suddenly I remembered about the night before and everything pieced together. The medallion was probably trying to tell me that the Season Folk village was ...

I took off at lightening speed toward the village. Thankfully my trip was not as unfortunate as last time, but as I drew near I met with an unpleasant surprise. Instead of seeing a lively town I was met with burning wreckage. I got into an empty rowboat.

"Hello? Hello!"

Hello! Hello! Hello!

I moved planks and shouted if anyone was there. Soon I realized I had been there for four hours. I felt awfully hungry so I helped myself to whatever I found.

When I finished I began to think it was over and I was too late. But as I walked to the ditch I thought I heard something crack. I turned around; something was moving in the weeds. I stepped forward to get a closer look. Then a squirrel jumped out, knocking me off balance. It began to snap and squeak at me. I had learned some animal language on my last adventure so I carefully translated.

"Back, back, intruder!" the squirrel yelled at me.

"I am Rose, and I mean you no harm," I said.

Before he could say anything else I showed him my medallion, thinking that if anything would get me out of this it was the medallion. The squirrel leapt back.

"Forgive me for not knowing I --"

"Don't let it worry you, friend," I said, "but tell me why were you trying to repel me?"

"I shall speak later, first we must go to Pine Haven."

I leapt onto the squirrel's back. We soon came to a tall tree with branches spreading out like massive arms. We entered through a hole in the centre of the tree; it led into a large, hollowed-out room. As I dismounted I couldn't help but stare at the beautiful architecture and paintings in the room. As I looked around I noticed a large group of rodents surrounding a large throne with engravings of battle scenes and victories on it. Seated on it was a large, red-furred squirrel. He had a large scar over his left eye and part of his ear was bitten off. On his head was a wreath of clover with a large gold jewel that twinkled in the fire.

His gaze turned to us. "Dark Shadow, who is this? Do you have the right to invite trespassers?"

The squirrel who had brought remained calm, answering, "Your Honour, I believe I have done nothing wrong for this is Rose of the Season Folk."

Strangely, the large red-furred squirrel did not seem to react. Instead his stare grew colder and he said in a dark tone, "Dark Shadow, you had no right to let in trespassers. But I see this may be something consequential. Take her to the guest chambres."

"But --"

"DO IT!"

Dark Shadow turned gloomily away and signalled for me to follow. I thought the red fur was rather rude, which was surprising to me. I expected a warmer welcome. All the same, I followed Dark Shadow until we came to a room. I thanked him and closed the door behind me. By the time I had dressed into new clothes and eaten some roasted nuts and salad, I felt rather tired and drifted into a long sleep.

I woke up to the sound of tapping at the window.

I hope they don't have giant moths in this place, I thought. Ugh!

When I looked, it was Dark Shadow. I opened the window.

"What are you doing? It's past midnight!"

"Come quickly," he said softly.

I quickly grabbed a cloak and crawled out the window. Soon the exciting idea of a midnight escapade made my sleepiness vanish.

"You'd better lead the way," I said. "I don't know these passages."

"We're not going through the tree, you shall ride me. Let's scurry."

Before I knew it, he had jumped from the window ledge. It was a rather bumpy ride. The night air, rather cool and damp, flew around my face. Soon we were no longer hopping from branch to branch, but were galloping along the ground. After running through tall grasses, passing empty fox dens, and onto frost-touched fields we came to a tall, old willow tree.

Dark Shadow, who was going much slower now, climbed up the tree. We squeezed through an ivy and cobweb covered opening. Inside was much bigger than I expected. There was a thin opening which led to a large room. There were about twelve squirrels in the room. Two were red-furred, the rest were either grey or black. I had no idea of what was going on; all the chattering and squeaking made my head spin.

"Excuse me, squirrels!" I said. "But I don't have the faintest idea of all of this. Why did you bring me here in the middle of the night?"

One of the red-furred squirrels who I had heard everyone calling Fire Tail broke up the chattering place and headed towards us. He was much older than I thought when I first saw him. His narrow face had an elderly look and his walking was rather unsteady. His tone of voice was much lighter than the other squirrels when he spoke.

"So this is Rose, isn't it?" he said to Dark Shadow, how only nodded. Then he turned his face to me. "I see you don't understand the purpose of this meeting."

"Well I jolly well don't," I said grumpily. "And at this time!"

"You see," Firetail explained, "if we met in the bright of the sun many will see and know what we are about. But at night everyone is asleep."

"But why?" I asked.

Fire Tail began his story: "on one splendid brisk evening, when all of the squirrels went to the Season Folk town to deliver food, is what it all happened. When they had finished their task, they saw the cat -- known as Garfield -- coming towards the town. But there was something strange about him; he was slowly crawling as if ready to pounce. The squirrels stood still. Suddenly, without warning, he let out a loud meow which shook the earth and attacked. Two Season Folk men fell dead at his paws. Soon blood and sword flew in the air. Only a few squirrels escaped. No one in the town survived."

I knew it, I thought. I always despised that cat since he killed my mouse friend.

"Why didn't your leader explain this?" I asked.

"Because when Clovis came from another town to fight Garfield, the battle seemed long and pointless. Our leader, Crimson Feather, gave up too quickly and left the war all to the Season Folk. If he knew we were meeting he accuse us of treason."

I felt frozen in my seat. What a great time to come, I thought. Right in the middle of a war!

Then one of the black squirrels spoke up: "You must go and help Clovis win."

"What? But I just got here, and I don't even know how to fight. I'm a girl."

The squirrels seemed to be frustrated at my response. Fire Tail hastily replied: "I have a mind to think that there shall be no fighting for you, but Garfield's weakness must be found."

"Well, okay," I said. "But you don't think that I can just walk there?"

Fire Tail seemed to look more grumpy. "I'm afraid you shall have to go by foot. If you ride on one us there is sure to be an ambush. If you go alone that will more stealthy and unexpected."

I wanted to protest but knew nothing was to be done. I was taken back to Pine Haven to collect things for my journey. It must have been around sunrise, so I was very tired, but I knew it was more important to reach Clovis than sleep. Once I had finished packing, Dark Shadow took me to the edge of the line of pine trees.

"I'm afraid you must do the rest of the journey yourself," he said, letting me down.

"Yes, well, thanks for the ride," I said. "Take care of Fire Tail."

Dark Shadow made a small smile, then disappeared into the trees. I walked for the rest of the morning and half of the afternoon. By about four o'clock I had arrived, but at a really bad time. I saw before me a huge battle! Sparrow Riders were filling the sky, while below, Battle-Minks, chipmunks, and squirrels fought against evil-looking rats, ferrets, and beetles. In the midst of the chaos I saw Clovis himself. I had met him in my first adventure -- a kind village leader. Now he was a fierce warrior, in fact we was really good at fighting. As I watched my eye caught someone else I knew very well indeed: Garfield.

But not the same Garfield as I remembered; something seemed to give him an ugly expression, and his golden fur was scarred with scratches and blood. By now I had grabbed my bow and arrows and began to shoot at the evil cat. As I did so I did a foolish thing I will never forget. Seeing that my shot was pretty good, I got closer -- BIG MISTAKE. As I did so, Garfield saw where I was shooting from. He got closer. Knowing that his henchmen would start firing at me, I hid behind a rock and resumed shooting.

I'm getting pretty good at this, I thought.

I spoke too soon! A paw rose over my head and I was out like a light.

TO BE CONTINUED IN TWO WEEK'S TIME ...


________________________________________________________________________
* The medallion that Clovis gave me on my first adventure -- See "Small of All", my first adventure with the Season Folk.

4.10.2019

Book Review: The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe



Title: The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe
Authors: George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier
Publisher: Spectra Books
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A Fantastic Resource for Science Fiction Writers, providing excellent tools for realistic world-building

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in writing in the genre because of how it has helped me with my world-building and is a reference I return to time and again. It is not a "how to write science fiction", but rather a handy reference book for the various areas of science that a science fiction writer might find useful, with chapters devoted, inter alia, to: space and spaceships, planets and planet design, aliens, designing a future setting, nanotechnology, intelligent machines, bioengineering, and alternate universes.

I found the book to be well-organised and easy to read. All sections are written in a clear, easy to understand manner, assisting the non-scientist layman (like me!) in writing convincing science fiction. One of the best features, in my view, was that the authors point out all the "wrong science" blunders common to science fiction, thereby helping you to avoid them. They also point out examples of excellent science fiction and how those authors used known science in a convincing manner.

The only significant shortcomings of this book relate to its age: it was printed in 1993 so the science risks becoming dated as we move further from its publication. Additionally, this means that it has gone out of print and one can only obtain used copies. However, there is nothing newer out there that covers all the areas that The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe does, so it is still well worth the effort of obtaining it.

I have also read the Science Fiction Writing Series (edited by Ben Bova - to be reviewed eventually) World Building and Space Travel and I preferred The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe. There is nothing wrong with the Bova books, they were excellent as well, but I found Messrs. Ochoa and Osier's book easier to read and more insightful. Plus, it is very convenient having everything in one place. On the other hand, the Science Fiction Writing Series books are more comprehensive and still in print.

4.03.2019

The U.S.S. Cygnus and "The Black Hole"


I mentioned the U.S.S. Cygnus in my post "5 Most Ridiculous Spacecraft in Film" and feel it deserves a special post of its own, along with some ruminations about the film Black Hole, in which it appears. Having acknowledged that it is, from a hard science fiction point of view, an absurd vessel, I reiterate my comment that the Cygnus is a darkly gorgeous, truly awesome spectacle of a star ship and one of my favourite space vessels ever in film.

It has a certain gothic feel to it, almost like a cathedral flying in space, yet with a touch of Victorian/Steampunk with all the glass and lights (in my view) . What makes it silly from a hard sci-fi point of view is what makes it so magnificent: it is not merely functional, but a work of art. Here area  few more pictures:


Considerations of taste aside, it's an impressive example of how much more real a model ship can look than the CGI contraptions modern audiences must endure. Although, it must be admitted, that reading about all the work involved in building/filming/maintaining the thing helps one understand why the CGI "easy way out" is invariably taken these days. From the Starship Modeler site:
Volume 9 No.3 of "Cinefantastique" magazine published when "The Black Hole" was released contains the best sources of information and pictures I have yet seen on the original models. There were two full models of the Cygnus built at a little over twelve feet long, with other sectional models built to a much larger scale for certain close up shots. The twelve foot miniatures weighed 170 pounds each and were constructed primarily of brass and completely made from scratch, with EMA tubes and domes used for detailing. Under this brass exoskeleton were sections of translucent plastic built in sections which housed about a hundred and fifty automotive light bulbs. The two models cost $100,000 and took a crew of 12 to 15 people approximately a year to build. One of the two models were completely destroyed filming the story's ending sequences. The other model went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a time after filming. It's fate since then remains a mystery.

"According to an ex-Disney employee, the model was stored in a crate in the 'Boneyard', where old props and such are stored on the Disney lot. It was rained on a great deal, and, one day, smashed to pieces by a poorly-driven forklift which accidentally backed into the crate. Pieces of the model were taken by various folks as souveniers."
Here's a shot of what the model looked like next to film crew:


 Without writing a full review of The Black Hole, it's worth mentioning that the film has generally been much maligned by critics and viewers over the years. I personally really enjoy it as a sort of sci-fi "spooky castle" film heavy with atmosphere. The big problem with it is that it attempts to be, at the same time, a kid's film with some comic elements which clash with the sense of foreboding that is steadily built up during the film and the darker aspects of the film (such as the horrible revelation that the entire crew was lobotomized and made into zombie slaves to Dr. Reinhardt). Still and all, a worthy film -- and certainly a very unique one.
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