How would you write about Donald Trump in a horror story? (part 8)

Trump 1

One of the problems with writing about Donald Trump as a character in a horror novel – or any kind of novel, for that matter – is what would his arc be?

Obviously I’d like it to be one of redemption. Rich man manages to gain himself power beyond his wildest imaginings, and learns how to use it responsibly.

Although I fear that it’ll actually be a tragedy where his main flaw (or flaws, there are lots to choose from) manage to damn us all.

The biggest problem looking from the outside, as someone who has never met and is hugely unlikely to ever meet the man, is that it can be frustratingly hard to get a grip on what his character is.

Obviously he’s an arrogant, conceited, sexist, bullying fool. But the trait that really stands out at the moment is his sheer capriciousness.

He seems to be a string of impulsive whims masquerading as a man.

Earlier this month Trump ordered the bombing of Syria. There was talk of regime change, troops on the ground.

Since then, well, he seems to have decided that he’d much rather have a war with North Korea instead.

Probably if we gather together here in another three weeks, that won’t be on the radar anymore either.

By that point maybe Turkmenistan will find itself on the radar. For some perceived slight to the Easter Bunny or something.

Trump 2

His sheer unpredictably makes fashioning a narrative around him incredibly difficult. Who can say what he might do in any given situation? Obviously he could say, but the chances of him doing the exact opposite are high.

Of course it’s absolutely terrifying to have such a man in charge of the free world and all the nuclear weapons. That’s why I’m thinking of him in a story context, at the one step removed from reality, he’s a lot more palatable.

 

This is an ongoing project that will probably last the next four – although hopefully not the next eight – years.

You can read the previous entries here:

Seven
Six
Five
Four
Three
Two
One

Doctor Who Reviews – Smile

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After being somewhat under-enthused by last week’s opening, I have to say I greatly enjoyed ‘Smile’.

I loved the way it looked: so pristine and futuristic, and yet strangely off-putting. I thought the little white robots (or interfaces) were creepy as hell, and not just when they had their rage face on. Both their big grin and surprised emoji faces were most disconcerting too. Narratively it was great the way the stakes suddenly rose, with thousands of colonists (okay, represented by half a dozen people) thrown into the mix; while the treating all species with equal respect and wrapping up with an amusing peace deal is just so perfectly DOCTOR WHO it sent a huge grin soaring into my cheekbones. As for The Doctor himself, well, the interplay between him and Bill – and for most of the length of the episode it was just the two of them – was absolutely lovely. P-Cap and P-Mac are a wonderful pairing.

It could be that the very scenario of landing in a strange futuristic city and having scary stuff swiftly happen is so much in my sweet spot that I was always going to find it hard to resist. Throw in an amusing script, excellent direction and fantastic design, then I pretty much loved ‘Smile’.

I actually rewatched the Sylvester McCoy story ‘The Happiness Patrol’ recently. That, of course, is also set on a planet where people have to be happy all the time, or else…. Watching that for the first time since the original broadcast, it struck me as a stagey piece of agitprop which – watched with 2017 eyes – suffered from some distinctly ropey performances and a budget obviously not high enough to leave the BBC’s studios. An anti-Thatcher satire, it’s actually really unsubtle and quite a sour piece of family entertainment. I know though that some will compare ‘Smile’ unfavourably to it, because it doesn’t so obviously have the big political message. Yet the optimism of tonight wins for me, and I know which of the two I’d rather watch again tomorrow.

Strangely, I’ve seen more than one commentator say that this introduction of Bill is Moffatt trying the old tried and trusted RTD companion introduction triptych of story set in modern day, story set in the past and story set in the future. But surely Amy’s introduction was ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (present),  ‘The Beast Below’ (future), ‘Victory of the Daleks’ (past);  while Clara’s (proper) introduction was ‘The Bells of Saint John’ (present), ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ (future) and ‘Cold War’ (past). This is the way it’s always done, and really, if you’re introducing new people to show – both characters and viewers – it’s a damn fine system.

I look forward to my Victorian adventure next week!

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Monkey god

Nearly everything that’s reported in this book I had no idea of. I don’t say that to give the impression I’m some kind of oracle who should know all things, but more out of sheer surprise. This story is so recent, so big and so incredible that it does feel bizarre I managed not to hear a word about it. I’m a voracious consumer of newspapers and media, so I couldn’t believe it had slipped me by. There was even a moment of doubt when I realised the author also wrote fiction, concern that this was some big spoof I was falling victim of. But no, it really happened and it even made newspapers I read. Although as related in these pages, once the discovery was made there was a rash of academic back-biting – and that’s what was reported over and above the amazing story itself. Academic back-biting really doesn’t interest me, so maybe that’s why I missed it. But I wish I’d stumbled across an article, as this stuff is fascinating.

There have long been myths in Honduras of The Lost City of the Monkey God. A fantastic city built by a culture that seems to be adjacent to the Mayans, but is so under-researched it doesn’t even have a name yet. These stories were dismissed by many, but such is the density of the rainforest in Honduras that a city could easily be hidden away. Although such is the density of the rainforest, that looking for it and finding it was virtually impossible.

A documentary filmmaker named Steve Elkins made the quest for it his life’s work. In 2009, he heard of a new technology called LiDAR, I’m not going to even try a technological description, but suffice to say it’s a kind of laser radar which is able to map landscapes even when they’re shrouded and covered – say, for example, by thick rainforest. Elkins persuaded those in charge to let him use it and chose a couple of sites to map, two of which turned out to contain ancient cities that don’t seem to have been inhabited – or possibly even entered by man – for at least five hundred years.

Author Douglas Preston was there at the beginning and joined the trip to enter the first site. This book is the team’s story, written in an accessible style full of wonder as he details the expedition, the incredible things they saw and the awful consequences of the trip, in the form of a disease that struck half the party. (A truly terrifying sounding tropical illness named leishmaniasis, which is so unyielding there’s evidence of dinosaurs being infected by it. As it mainly effects the poorer parts of the world, drug companies don’t see the upside in doing the research and working on easily accessible cures.)

Popular science like this is great for people like me who doesn’t really know anything about the field, but I’m sure it’s a good target for a kicking from those who are a lot more expert. Preston does write with a great deal of sensitivity though, acknowledging early on what loaded terms ‘civilisation’, ‘lost’ and ‘discovered’ are in a Western society with such a colonial history, but also throwing up his hands because he can’t think of better words to use in a populist account. He is careful, eager in fact, to give all sides of the story, even reaching out to those academics critical of the project to reflect their views. It makes for a rich piece of reportage, which sweeps the reader along in giddy excitement at such a fantastic Twenty First Century story.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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Maybe it’s me.

I can see that there’s a good set up for a story here and the story itself is not without incident. A young woman running away joins the misfit crew of a space tunnelling ship. Without a doubt there’s a good mix of intriguing characters and their inter-relations do head to unexpected places. A lot of thought has gone into imagining what life for this crew would be like. There’s both grandeur and bathos in their journeys through space, and even an arc which reaches for the tragic.

Yet my main emotional response was boredom.

Perhaps the book is a hundred pages too long and so the story unfolds at too languid a pace for my liking; or possibly the characters are intriguing without ever becoming involving; or maybe I wasn’t in the mood for a book that seems to take place to the side of a space opera, rather than at the centre.

Whatever the reason, I’m quite prepared to take the blame and say it was me – because as much as I can objectively see that there’s a lot of good things in these pages, me and THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET just totally failed to click.

Lady in a Cage (1964)

Lady in a Cage 1

Tucked away on Netflix are all kinds of neglected gems. Take this 1964 example, a home invasion movie where Olivia de Havilland is menaced by the young James Caan and his gang of juvenile thugs. It’s a film which manages to be tense and taut, but also distinctly melodramatic, with some scenes where our lead seems determined to eat the scenery, the cameras and all the extras.

There’s a lot here that’s fascinating. Clearly part of the ‘older ladies in horror movie’ trend started by WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, de Havilland is the over-bearing rich lady who literally spends most of the film trapped in a gilded cage. An elaborate elevator that she’s had installed in her palatial home while she recovers from a broken hip.

A modern interpretation of this would be that it’s about the 1% getting their comeuppance – de Havilland is first menaced by some down and outs of society, before the disaffected youths take over. But nobody here is a social warrior, nobody is any kind of hero. Add to that constant shots of other people just driving past and ignoring the horrible things around them and –  at one point – de Havilland almost bring thankful when she thinks a nuclear war has broken out, and you get the sense that the film is starkly telling us that society is broken from bottom to top. From that reading you might feel that it’s a reactionary film, but I think it’s more in the genre of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other, and that’s always a cracked mirror for the rest of us to look into.

Lady in a Cage 2

de Havilland is always great, although her character is too sympathetic to really make the idea of her comeuppance work; while James Caan is already so skilled at menace that it’s clear why Sonny Corleone became his signature role. Notable mentions should also be made of Ann Sothern as a middle-aged hustler swiftly out of her depth (a character you don’t often see in movies) and Rafael Campos as the kind of loose limbed psychopath who would easily fit into Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

LADY IN A CAGE is a striking and memorable movie, with a twisted sensibility, which makes its neglected status all the more curious.

Foliage by F.R. Jameson

Foliage front cover

My short story FOLIAGE is currently available for free on Kindle in a number of territories. If you have a moment, please download and check it out.

The below is my introduction to the tale.

I can probably pinpoint exactly where in my psyche FOLIAGE comes from. It’s me poking away at the emotional scars caused by seeing bits of the BBC’s adaptation of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS in 1981.

It wasn’t from reading the book. I didn’t read the book until much later. To be honest, since I was only six in 1981 when this adaptation aired, I’m not entirely sure how I got to see any of the TV series (my parents were relaxed with policing my viewing habits, but they surely weren’t that relaxed). But I saw it and I saw the title creatures and I was left with a deep seated dread that there were plants out there who would happily hurt me.

These childhood fears weren’t alleviated by the fact that we had a number of large plants in and around the house. There was a giant Mother-in Law’s tongue just inside our lounge which towered over me and always seemed to be on the point of reaching out its sharp leaves and impaling me; there was a honeysuckle around our front door, the kind of thing which would get out of hand in a fairy tale and seal us in forever; while around our back and front garden was a hedge of conifers that an imaginative little boy could easily imagine upping roots and marching towards the house to do terrible things to me and my family.

In short I didn’t have the mentality of the green fingered. Green fingers were surely what happened when the evil sap of the enemy plants got into our bloodstream.

I was scared of plants and I had the BBC’s 1981 version of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS to thank for it.

What makes this so absurd is if you look at that adaptation now, the effects and the realisation of the Triffids is ludicrously poor. The monsters are clunky, cumbersome and obviously made out of rubber. Even for the time period they seem ridiculously unconvincing. So bad are they that one can imagine the contemporaneous FX guy on DOCTOR WHO shaking his head with disappointment and pity for his poor inept colleague. How it could have created such a reaction in me is unfathomable.

But rewatching it and being amazed was for the future. The 1981 Triffids got into my mind like few other things and the notion of plants not being oxygen producing friends, but instead monsters the equivalent of werewolves and vampires was made part of my DNA.

FOLIAGE is my response to that. A short sci-fi/horror story that I started writing in my childhood nightmares.

I hope you enjoy.

You can pick FOLIAGE up for free on Amazon through the following links:
UK
USA
Australia
Canada

Doctor Who Reviews – The Pilot

Dr Who - The Pilot

I’m a tad underwhelmed, if I’m honest.

In a way that’s odd, as if I were to total up all I liked about this episode, I’d come up with more in the positive column than the negative. Bill is clearly a fun and refreshingly grounded companion, while Pearl Mackie is an engaging screen presence; the horror moments – J-Horror, though obviously with a few nods to ‘The Waters of Mars’ – were really effective (particularly the eye down the damned plughole); and I’m not sure there has ever been a better version of the ‘companion realises the Tardis is bigger on the inside than the outside’ scene. Plus the series is clearly set up very nicely with the intrigue over what The Doctor and Nardole have in the vault.

There are good things here, but I’ll be stunned if I look back on the series and count this as one of the better episodes.

Previous companion introductions in the age of Moffatt have taken place at high speed. Amy in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and Clara (or a version of her) in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ – there was a lot going on, there were a hell of a lot of ideas thrown in and they were cracking examples of developing character through action. This seemed happy to just meander. As I said I liked Bill, but the first half of the episode was a big ask to get us to care about a new character when she’s basically just hanging out. Eventually things do get going with The Doctor making the story his, but even then it seemed a tad inconsequential. I was far more interested in the vault and The Doctor’s secrets than whatever reason was going to be offered for the water girl stopping following them about. Even the contractural obligation appearance of the Daleks failed to add any real jeopardy.

This episode of course represents a soft relaunch of the show, with the title a nod to that. It’s Moffatt inviting those who have drifted away or never been on board, to pull on the handles of those famous blue doors and enjoy the fun. I just hope that having invited them into the warm embrace of DOCTOR WHO fandom, he didn’t lose them again by giving us an episode which had its charms but not really any wow factor.

My increasingly hopeful thoughts about Doctor Who – Series 10

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I did have in mind to write a short piece about why I was so trepidatious about this up-coming series of DOCTOR WHO.

Why was I feeling this way?

Well, let me run through what we’ve had so far in the Moffat era:

  • Series 5 – his first as show-runner, was absolutely brilliant! It was fresh, sharp, entertaining, hung together wonderfully, and in ‘The Pandorica Opens’/’The Big Bang’, gave me what is still my favourite two-parter in DOCTOR WHO history.
  • Then there was series six, which in the intricacies of its series long arc, seemed something more to admire, than enjoy.
  • Series 7, split in two halves is very much a series of two halves, with the Pond segment having run out of steam, while the more understated Clara half does actually hold up. Even if Moffat, immensely talented writer that he clearly is, can never get the mystery girl stuff to really work.

Into the Capaldi years….

  • Series 8 I thought was frequently excellent, but didn’t really work as a whole. No doubt that’s because I wasn’t as much a fan of the two part conclusion as others were. The build up to it, which required The Doctor to suddenly (and conveniently) forget that he mostly likes soldiers, felt forced to me; while I still can’t get over the ludicrousness of Cyber-Brig, I’m afraid.
  • Then it’s series 9, which actually is excellent. A fantastic series which rivals series 5, and in ‘Heaven Sent’/’Hell Bent’, has my second favourite two-parter.

So that’s five series – two brilliant, two flawed but good, one I didn’t care for.

Looking at it written down like that, it really isn’t a bad record. Yet my nervousness comes from the fact that having had a brilliant series last time, the odds are the best we can hope for now is a good but flawed. One whose faults will nag away at me even as I enjoy the best episodes

And yet…

AND YET…

The return of the Mondasian Cybermen, John bloody Simm coming back in a potential Master/Missy mash-up….

It just feels like some really exciting buttons are being pushed. I have no idea how good it is going to be, but instead of nervousness, I am actually allowing myself to feel hope.

Roll on twentypast seven this evening!

 

Addendum One – Curious info from P-Cap’s interviews earlier this week that he’s already filmed his regeneration scene. Given that we know he’s in the Christmas special, how is that going to work?  For what it’s worth, my RIDICULOUS FAN THEORY THAT WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY BE PROVED WRONG is: 

We’re going to get some kind of multi-Doctor episode at the end of the year. Either 12 and 13 working together, or a prolonged regeneration where they keep switching back and fore, one to the other.

 

Addendum Two: The bulk of the above was written earlier this week. I was excited then, but this afternoon, myself, Mrs Jameson and Baby Jameson went to the superb Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay. If you thought my anticipation levels were high Monday, they’re nothing to now!

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

fantastic beasts

I know I’ve given the impression of a one-track cinema fan, but I’m not only going to review horror films here.

I’m sure there will be thrillers I’ll want to say some words about.

I’m very partial to crime movies.

And fantasy is close enough to horror that I’ll have some words to say there too.

Even fantasy kid movies like FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM.

Some background: as yet I haven’t got around to reading any of the HARRY POTTER novels. (Perversely, I have read all of the CORMORAN STRIKES). I have however seen each of the films and, as they progress – basically, as the centre trio get competent and then even quite good at acting – the films do rise distinctly in quality.

I think though that I prefer FANTASTIC BEASTS to all of them.

It doesn’t have the self-seriousness of a HARRY POTTER, wearing its mythology much lighter on its sleeves. Watching it and chuckling away with my wife, it struck us that this might be a better introduction to the whole universe than the POTTER movies, when our baby daughter eventually develops a two hour attention span.

However, I think the film makers did miss a trick.

(Spoilers ahead, I’m afraid).

At the end, when the wizards rebuilt 1920s New York and oblivated the nomaj’s memories, rather than simply have them forget, wouldn’t it have been great if they’d instead convinced them that all the damage had been caused by a transported giant ape from Skull Island?

It would have been fantastic bringing together of two universes, but not in a way that suggested KING KONG was real, merely that he was created by wizards as a distraction device.

There’s already so much shared iconography: the 1920s/1930s NYC setting; the giant and destructive monster loose on the streets who just wants to be loved; and the character of Queenie, clearly style-modelled on Fay Wray.

queenie

 

Why not just go the full ape?

The whole thing would have been particularly appropriate as earlier we had a grand homage to the Peter Jackson version. It wasn’t the monster of the piece, true, instead one of the fantastic beasts – but we did get another sequence where a large incredible creature and the human object of its affection slid around together on a frozen lake in Central Park. In 2005 it was Naomi Watts and Kong, while in 2016 it was Dan Fogler and a giant rhino with both a metaphorical and literal flaming horn. The connection is clearly there.

Now I hated that scene in Peter Jackson’s KING KONG. It was an Indulgent and unnecessary overlong scene in what was an indulgent and unnecessary overlong remake.  But I now feel kind of glad it exists because I had so much fun when FANTASTIC BEASTS did their version.

Obviously the makers of KONG: SKULL ISLAND might have something to say about all of this, but I just hope that when the sequel to this arrives that it has a devilish confidence which lets it homage and reference all kinds of other franchises, no matter who might own the copyright.

How would you write about Donald Trump in a horror story? (part 7)

Trump

Incredibly, the last week gave us something like character development.

Hitherto, Trump gave every impression of basically being everyone else in HIGH NOON. All his rhetoric suggested his logo was a plump, rich looking ostrich with its head buried deep in designer sand, not doing anything, no matter what shitty things took place around it.

America First, and all that.

Assad clearly thought that was the correct reading of the man.

But now, well, Trump seems to have taken a moral stand on something.

He’s looked at terrible world events and decided that enough is goddamn enough.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking that Trump cared about no one but himself and maybe his own family. But now, he does seem to showing sympathy for others, displaying outrage when bad things happen to them.

But is this actual growth?

Or, are these merely the actions of an obviously emotional and volatile guy, who will have found something new (and let’s be honest, probably annoyingly trivial) to concern him by the end of next week?

I’ve always wanted to write a story about a man who makes the correct decision, but the consequences are terrible. If this action – which I believe was the right thing to do – results in a full blown confrontation with Russia, then this might be it.

Obviously, I really hope and pray that that’s not the story I end up telling.