Category Archives: Films

The Valley of the Walking Dead

In which The Author really can’t see the point

Of the many and varied science fiction/fantasy/horror sub-genres which have grown up over the past fifty years or so, only one leaves me completely cold. Before I come to that one, I’ll get the obvious contenders out of the way first.
If it’s done with intelligence and wit, a reworking of the age-old alien encounter/invasion plot can be a worthwhile diversion from normal life.
I’m perfectly comfortable with the Mad Max-style scenario of every heavily armed man (or woman) for themselves. In fact, my recent proofreading assignment – Gavin G. Smith’s latest novel, coming to a bookshop near you early next year – includes just such a storyline. It’s executed with flair and humour, and makes a nice change from the relentless shoot-’em-ups of much of the sub-genre.
I enjoy having my mind stretched by bizarre time travel adventures, such as the ones Steven Moffat – at his witty and imaginative best – writes for Doctor Who.
The recent crop of superhero movies (with a couple of exceptions) have done a decent job of reviving the characters for a new tech-savvy generation. We’d all like to believe that the guy or girl next door has amazing powers, other than the incredible ability to start a DIY project at 8.30 on a Sunday morning and continue until the sun goes down. (But I digress …)
The war of humanity against the machines has been done to death (no pun intended) over the last nine decades, often with mixed results, but the basic idea stands the test of time. When it’s treated well, as in the original Terminator and Matrix films, there’s nothing better in the cinema.
Even vampires and werewolves, if they’re executed with style (as in the BBC’s original Being Human series), are interesting and tragically flawed characters. Who can’t help feeling sorry for Russell Tovey as George, doomed to change and unleash havoc every time there’s a full moon?
When it comes to heroic fantasy, I still hold to my opinion that nobody – but nobody – will ever hold a candle to J. R. R. Tolkien. All the other massive sagas of fantasy realms are just the book world’s equivalent of tribute bands – decent enough efforts, but nowhere near as good as the real thing. (Incidentally, the Wizards of Middle Earth didn’t become redundant when Sauron was defeated. They just experienced staff cutbacks.)
There have been other clever ideas, too, that promised more than they actually delivered. The brilliant FlashForward, based on an ingenious plot device, was cancelled after one series. That decision raised more questions than it answered – mainly about the wisdom of the studio executives.
The one aspect of the unreal world that I can’t come to terms with is the idea of the zombie apocalypse.
I simply haven’t been able to cotton on to the idea of the dead rising from their graves to feast on the rest of us. George A. Romero’s movies may be regarded as classics of the schlock horror genre these days, but they (and all the variations on the theme) have failed to make any impact on me.
I know The Walking Dead is cult viewing among many of my friends. It’s never appealed to me in the slightest. In Waterstones we used to sell lots of copies of a guide to the zombie apocalypse, a tie-in to something called World War Z. That was another frequent flyer, now I come to think of it; it often used to turn up among the books on World War 2, or in the Reference section, or – worst of all – in the Popular Science section. (Yes, boys and girls, there really were people working in a bookshop who actually believed that the dead would one day walk the Earth.)
With Hallowe’en on the horizon (unless you’re reading this in New Zealand, of course, where it’s already under way), I thought it was a good time to declare my utter scepticism in the face of the doomsayers. In my opinion, the only decent voodoo storyline in a film is in Live and Let Die, where the whole thing is faked anyway. I simply can’t take the idea seriously. I absolutely refuse to read any book featuring zombies, watch a film about zombies, or take an interest in any TV show involving zombies.
And you won’t change my mind on this. I don’t care about the enormous critical acclaim heaped on The Walking Dead. I will never waste a minute of my life on such trash.
After all, why should I bother? If I wanted to see a steady parade of shuffling, moaning, toothless, decaying, barely conscious individuals threatening the peace of the local community, I could just sit in Commercial Street in Aberdare on a Friday afternoon and watch the smackheads going into Boots for their methadone fixes.
A few years ago I started writing a short story called ‘The Valley of the Walking Dead’, which I was going to publish online. I abandoned work on it after a couple of weeks, when truth started to become stranger than fiction.
With all this out of my system, I think it’s timely to mention something I saw on Facebook earlier today. (I hope it’s a spoof. You never can tell these days.) It purported to be a sign at the Pentagon, giving useful advice to follow in the event of a zombie attack.
A few years ago my friend Ian H. did a solo zombie walk through the new shopping centre in Cardiff. He and I were hoping to rope a few people in, and make a bit of a political statement. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it as I had a late lecture. I don’t know what happened to the others, but Ian did it by himself.
Ian’s plan was for us to walk through the new consumer heartland of the capital city. I suggested a neat twist for the climax of the walk. My idea was for us to start off at different points in town and converge on the precinct outside St David’s Centre, where we’d stare blankly at the huge TV screen which shows the BBC rolling news 24/7. I honestly don’t know how many people would have got the message, though.

The War Against the Machines

In which The Author is on the winning side

You probably don’t need me to tell you that I’m a huge fan of The Matrix and The Terminator films (except the most recent two in the series – but that goes without saying). What self-respecting Science Fiction fan wouldn’t be turned on (intellectually) by the idea of self-aware artificial intelligence deciding that it represents the next stage of evolution?
Just this week, an open letter from a thousand respected researchers in science and technology – including Professor Stephen Hawking, no less – warned of the potential dangers of letting autonomous weapon systems loose in combat situations. If you’ve seen the third film in the Terminator trilogy, you’ll remember that that’s exactly what happened: the Pentagon decided to hand the entire US military-industrial complex to a cybernetic system called Skynet, which quickly assumed control and declared war on the human race. While the film may be fiction (now), the possibility of self-aware battlefield weapons is a very real one, and the note of caution sounded by experts in the field probably shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
About this time last year, I wrote a post briefly summarising the development of robots in SF, from Karel Capek’s original play R.U.R., through the Daleks and the Cybermen, to The Terminator and beyond. (I can’t insert a link to it here, because I’m using a public access PC in Aberdare Library, instead of my Netbook, and Internet Explorer won’t let me open the archive.) Now, it seems, the real world may be about to catch up with the fiction.
I should explain that I’m only using Internet Explorer because Firefox crashed when I tried to access the Guardian crossword in its PDF version about half an hour ago. Normally, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole.
In turn, I’m using a public access PC because the wifi in the library isn’t working. I wasn’t at all surprised when I failed to connect this morning. I was here yesterday too, and it took a call to the No Help Desk and about a forty minute wait before another regular and I were able to log in. When the entire public access network started to collapse, at about 3.30 p.m., I knew we’d be in for a blackout today. I know some of the local authority staff have taken reduced hours as part of staff cutbacks, but I’ve never before encountered a piece of fucking computer hardware that only worked a four-day week.
Even when I have been using my Netbook, I’ve been forced to use an external USB keyboard. The built-in keyboard died a fortnight ago. Fortunately I had an external keyboard at home, so I’ve had to cart that around with me ever since. Once I got used to having a numeric keypad where there isn’t usually one, and got over the habit of taking screenshots by mis-hitting the keys, it’s a decent compromise until I can fit a new keyboard.
Even before my Netbook started playing silly buggers, the flat screen monitor attached to my desktop PC had gone on the fritz. There must be a loose connection in there somewhere, as there was an unpleasant crackling sound from within whenever I switched it on, and I had to fiddle with the mains cable to make it stay on. After a while, I couldn’t even switch it off – it just went into self-test mode and cycled through a series of pleasant colours until I switched it off at the plug. Now it seems to have died entirely. There’s a similar model in the library displaying exactly the same symptoms. Still, I shouldn’t grumble, as my friend Jennifer gave it to me a few years ago when my old CRT monitor bit the dust. I’ve seen one in a second-hand shop, so I’ll probably be able to pick up a replacement fairly cheaply.
The final insult came during the early hours of Sunday morning. At precisely 2.11 a.m., in fact. My Nokia semi-smartphone (ringtones, camera, Internet capability) was sitting on the shelf above my bed as usual. It beeped once. I wasn’t asleep anyway. Graham, the hero of H. G. Wells’s novel When the Sleeper Wakes (see Another Security Leak From the Future) stayed awake for six days and nights before falling into his 200-year coma. Only six days and nights? When it comes to insomnia, that’s strictly fucking amateur league.
It wasn’t the sound it makes when I receive a text – as happened a fortnight earlier, when Anna decided to text me in a drunken rage at about 5 a.m. It was the electronic equivalent of a hungry baby’s cry – it wanted me to charge it up.
I wouldn’t have minded normally. I knew the battery was fairly low, as it had been bleating plaintively all through Saturday morning. I gave it a quick burst before heading to Cwmbach in the afternoon, and then forgot to plug it in when I got home. I switched it off (the equivalent of an old school mother giving her baby a drop of gin?) and gave it a full charge in the afternoon.
On Tuesday it went flat again.
It did the same on Thursday afternoon.
After getting a full charge from zero yesterday morning, it’s now firing on about half a tank. I’m going to London on Tuesday, so I’ll have to make sure it’s fully charged on Monday evening, otherwise I could be stuck without a timecheck when I’m wandering around the city.
Skynet is still displaying evidence of its presence in the library IT network, by the way. The crosswords from the Guardian and FT were sitting in the print queue, waiting for me to ask Judith to release them, when the printer suddenly came to life just now. I thought it must have been something which Judith herself had requested – but no, my crosswords appeared as if my magic. (Or, maybe, as if by potentially hostile AI software.)
Considering what a terrific job I’ve done in the past few months of rendering various pieces of electronic technology all but useless, I’m thinking of changing my name. I can’t decide between Thomas Anderson or John Connor. Personally, I think you can just call me Neo and have done with it.