The connection to Melville is spot on target. Mord and even Borne him/her/itself are clear descendants of Moby Dick even if in no way derivative. Much more accurate than the Lovecraft comparisons. After all, Melville was somebody who had dribbled the salt from his body into the salt of the ocean and knew nature. Lovecraft was more like a strange kid who secreted himself in the basement and yelled for you to come down and kill a spider for him. Also — gives climate catastrophe the key role in the story it deserves. Bizarrely all but passed over in some other reviews I’ve read.
I knew I’d seen Steve Bannon somewhere long ago. I paid an intense but brief session of attention to the Biosphere 2 calamities more than 20 years back because it seemed like some muddled sci-fi story come to life. Biosphere 2 did not have clear, compelling explanations of its mission, and it seemed as much con job as science. Had no clue how common its tone and temperament would become in American culture and politics.
Just as quick reminder — all “Alien” themed movies and whatnot, whether they like/admit it or not, derive from two 1939 stories by A. E. Van Vogt — “The Black Destroyer” (giant catlike monster plays dumb and harmless, is taken aboard spaceship, proceeds to start dining) and “Discord in Scarlet” (bizarre, shape-shifting organism plants carnivorous eggs inside space travelers). These were also Van Vogt’s first published stories and they are written with feverish intensity. The humans are no more than stick figures, but the aliens are unforgettable. Both included in the recommended book, Voyage of the Space Beagle.
(Of course it has to be admitted that the year before the Van Vogt stories, John W.Campbell published his masterpiece, “Who Goes There?” — which puts a carnivorous, shape-shifting alien into an isolated polar encampment.)
This was a tweet from me yesterday:
I’m convinced the movie “Arrival” is a big deal, one way or the other. Will try to do some yap about its science and its fiction tomorrow.
A pret-ty obvious notion, I guess —since it’s now been done with more polish and detail than I could ever manage.
Still, I have a few small glosses.
LOTSA SPOILERS ahead — if you have seen the movie and read the novella, no problems. If you need to do either, stop reading.
Ted Chiang’s story is exceptionally smart and inventive, but the movie is a vastly greater work of art — the current-best model for how to expand and deepen source material.
The oddest thing that nobody mentions is that “Story of Your Life” was written in 1998, a far calmer and more peaceable era than today. I agree the military-assault sequence that’s not in the original story feels nailed onto the narrative, but it would seem bogus to be as accepting as the nations Chiang depicted.
It’s smart to make the ships appear only in a few places rather than hundreds. Also to make them colossal and intimidating (though “Story of Your Life” does include its own trick about the aliens’ physical presence).
Yes, Chiang is hardcore computer-nurd. He has the aliens using their own variety of thinking machine. Ho-hummer. The octopus-ink alternative in the film is genius.
Unfortunately, the aliens themselves in “Story of Your Life” are much more cartoonish — based as much on starfish as octopi — and with a ring of “lidless eyes.” I know eye structures reoccur endlessly in evolution, but I thought the business of creatures that suggested a face at times without having one far superior.
As a brainiac run-through, I enjoyed the explication of how Heptapod B was decoded in “Story of Your Life.” Very convincing. But it would have dragged the movie to a brutal halt.
Finally, I think the death of the daughter is handled better in the film. If she dies from a fall during cliff-climbing and it’s made an aspect of her defiant nature, there’s an unavoidable whisper that it’s at least a smidgen her “fault.” Incredibly rare disease indicates the aliens might not have known all the ins and outs of exposure to their environment on human DNA.
I know it’s no more than a string of tweets. But I did almost cry at the end of the flick. And it pulls off one tremendous, very affecting, trick.
Today I ran across my old and worn first-edition copy of Modern Masterpieces of Science Fiction edited by Sam Moskowitz. It’s conceptually brilliant — a breakthrough — and every selection is a dream-beautiful story. I bought it in a bookstore in Hawaii (during my first and only visit) and it was part of a magic voyage. Converted me to the genre and kept me going for decades. Even made me a bit snobbish about fantasy — not Campell-based-enough in science fact. (Though he deserves his fate being put through a wood-chipper in Hell for aiding and abetting the rise of Scientology.)
Anyway, Modern Masterpieces is a flawless anthology, if a faded impossible dream no different from fantasy in many cases. Read in a corner of a sunny bedroom when you’re 14.
Great hunks of the objects presented in this article are currently on display at a special exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And we spent a whole afternoon checking it out. Absolutely overwhelming.
I was amazed how much our fascinations overlapped — esp. up until the start of high school when I was equally obsessed with becoming a painter/comic-book artist and a fantasy writer. (My mother refused to let me take the one art class Park Senior High offered — because “artists starve” — but she couldn’t prevent me from taking English.)
Shortly after I began exploring the, yes, labyrinthine arrangements of rooms and themes, I fell into multiple simultaneous states and experiences:
I was awake and asleep. I relived the dream when I was eight where a giant rattlesnake was coiled in our shower stall and the most hideous creature my imagination ever created blocked my escape into the hall. I was watching TV shows and films that scared me so much I shivered and cried. I was being bitten by the monkey in the rock shop. I was so deep into comics in the sunny corner of my bedroom they felt like films unreeling before me. My father slammed the car door on my hand. I saw a shadow man dancing for many minutes at the foot of my bed. I saw whimsical, slightly scary creatures that nobody else could see scramble across floors and up walls. I poured over stills from horror movies that I longed to view. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad changed my life. Dinosaurs were the perfect obsession because they were monsters that had been real and were hiding somewhere in this current Earth. I was feeding hay to a hippo in a circus that came to town. I was looking at the carcass of a dead sheep as my father skinned it. I encountered Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come To Life. I saw the headlines that a second murder-suicide had happened in our little town in the space of 18 months. I flowed through the hallucinations caused by raw ether when my tonsils were cut out in first grade that prepared me for every drug illusion of my life.
I witnessed a collector who thrilled and gratified my heart.
Like they say, a must-see.