Thursday, 21 May 2020

Covid–19 & The Spread Of Future Fears

While the two superpowers snipe childishly at each other, while the number of global infections from the Coronavirus climbs into the millions and while more areas around the world are set to open up and relax restrictions, minds are beginning to turn towards what life will be like post-Covid19 Pandemic.




It almost feels normal now to see people wearing face masks, having temperature checks and undergoing testing for the virus. It seems that people are prepared to trade some of their individual freedoms and personal privacy in exchange for improved community health and safety. For instance, many are more than willing to have apps downloaded to their smart phones allowing them to communicate with other phones of people they engage with or pass by via Bluetooth. Data involving such encounters are then stored thereby enabling health authorities to determine if an individual has been in contact with someone who has tested positive to the presence of Covid-19, where the contact took place and for how long. One would hope that there are laws governing the use of such technology in terms of access to the data and its use. 


On the surface, such technologies seem to be a useful tool for the containment and eventual eradication of the viral pandemic. What is worrying though are other more dubious uses that such tracking technologies are put to by authoritarian regimes that do not respect their citizens’ rights and liberties.

In previous posts I have covered some of the ways in which our personal freedoms and liberties are being eroded by both authoritarian governments and by so-called liberal democratic governments. From the use of physical hard-copy forms of identification, to personal data stored on credit cards and mobile phones, to surveillance and monitoring via CCTV cameras, to government and corporate access to personal data from our internet use, to facial recognition technology and more recently to bio-metric identification technology such as retinal and palm print scanning.

Much of the above, once the province of science-fiction has crept into our way of life quite stealthily but even more disturbingly with our willing compliance. We have simply allowed this intrusion into our lives to happen often for the sake of personal convenience. It has become such a part of our lives now so much so that we find we are unable to function in our society unless we are prepared to hand over control of much of our personal lives to corporate, government and bureaucratic entities.





Not only is it becoming a normalized part of our lives, it is actually becoming gradually integrated within each of us – literally! The Covid-19 pandemic threat may provide the above entities the means and justification to increase their level of intrusion into and invasion of our very minds and bodies in order to better control us and ensure compliance. Sounds like science fiction?

Well, don’t be surprised if you find yourself fronting up to your workplace and having to undergo regular thermal imaging temperature checks. Don’t be shocked if you find yourself excluded from services and activities unless you provide proof of negative medical test results for the presence of Covid-19 or other medical conditions. 


I remember a time when the only people who checked my temperature were my mother or the local doctor who actually made house calls. Soon we might be having businesses, corporations and retailers assessing and administering all kinds of medical checks to people. Would this be desirable?


What about when working from home becomes more widespread? Have no fear, for your employer will likely have recourse to remote monitoring of your activities! He, she or gender neutral will be able to monitor your key-strokes, your mood during Windows Meeting sessions, your location, your level of productivity, your emails and certain key words and phrases that provide vital information about you and your state of mind. Failure to comply may cost you your job or that promotion you are after.

Still sounds like science fiction? All this capability and more exists. All that’s needed is the justification to put it to use. I just hope that we haven’t found that justification in the form of a pandemic. Even worse, it may turn out to be a future consequence of it, one that we once again will wind up sleep-walking our way into and one like the current pandemic we cannot honestly say is totally unforeseen!

************ 
Speaking of technological intrusion into our bodies, my next post will feature the 1966 sci-fi classic, Fantastic Voyage in which a scientist develops a blood clot in his brain. The only way to save him is by using the very technology he developed that can miniaturize matter, a technique that will allow a team of experts to enter his body to help him.

Stay tuned also for a post featuring a recommended book for film buffs, and not just lovers of science fiction.

I've been a bit slow lately while playing at being handy man (badly), wrestling with technology that doesn't like me, avoiding electrocution while repairing a vintage radio and trying to switch over to our country's new national broadband network.

See you soon! Stay healthy and safe!





©Chris Christopoulos 2020

Monday, 4 May 2020

Sci-Fi Stories That Inspired Classic Sci-Fi Films: 'The Body Snatchers' by Jack Finney (1955)



In the small Californian town of Santa Mira, medical doctor, Miles Bennell begins to notice that something is not quite right with its inhabitants. On the surface, the good folks of Santa Mira seem to be themselves, but in ways that Miles can’t put his finger on they are definitely not themselves.

Miles, together with his high school sweet heart and returning divorcée, Becky Driscoll and good friends Jack and Teddy Belicec, soon uncover an alien plot involving an invasion of this slice of small town America. They discover that people are being copied by means of large pods and replaced with duplicates who appear and behave just like them but who display no discernible human emotions and seem to lack human spirit and soul.


Can the invasion be prevented before it spreads beyond the borders of Santa Mira?

Can the surviving humans of this town resist the invaders and avoid the fate of their fellow townsfolk? 

Will human individuality be crushed by the forces of alien conformity?



Trailer


Spoilers follow below…..

'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' (1956)

Broadly speaking, there isn’t a great deal of difference between Finney’s novel and Don Siegel’s screen adaptation. One difference involves the Belicecs and Becky who in the film version succumb to the alien pod plot.

Unlike the start of Finney’s book, the film opens with Miles in a hospital emergency room. His appearance is disheveled and his behavior suggests insanity, even more so considering his wild story concerning an alien invasion. The tale he tells doctor Hill is the subject of the film’s plot.

The ending is also different in the film version whereby Miles (the lone voice of truth) is seen desperately flailing about in the middle of the night on a highway screaming at oncoming traffic and directly at the audience, "They're already here! You're next! YOU'RE NEXT!"

Back in the hospital emergency room, evidence comes to light of a crashed truck carrying what appears to look like giant seed pods. Upon hearing this, doctor Hill leaps into action and notifies the FBI who no doubt will get to the bottom of all this and all will be well soon. A relieved Miles has finally managed to persuade the doctors who were about to have him committed that his story is true.


***********************

Finney’s story and the original film adaptation have been viewed by many as being a commentary on Communism, the conformity of 1950s America or even on the paranoia of McCarthyism at the time.

On a more universal level, the story can be viewed as being an examination of the loss of human individuality, sense of identity, and all that constitutes who we are as individuals.

Whatever the case, Finney’s story in whatever format it appears maintains its relevance as it can be viewed through the unique lens of any particular era thereby giving it an enduring quality.

PDF LINK

Audiobook

Film Blog Post



"They're already here! 
You're next! "

With the current Carona-19 global pandemic, you will have already been a part of or at least viewed many Zoom, Facetime or Skype video chats.

Have you noticed what's been going on in the background of so many of them? It would suggest that the alien body snatchers have returned to Earth and taken over the bodies of humans in lockdown, forcing them to feature bookcases in the background of their video sessions!

My guess is that these aliens in their pursuit of trying to imitate our emotions, have somehow turned into anally-retentive entities with a weird obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

How else to explain the plethora of coloured-coded books arranged according to size and other strange criteria? What is it with that?? Could it be that........

"YOU'RE NEXT!" 


Note: Check out the Double Feature Page for a new collection of classic sci-fi films featuring: 

UNINVITED GUESTS FROM SPACE!!!

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)


A wonderfully produced, directed, photographed and well-acted sci-fi film containing a fast-paced witty script, characters with depth and a frightening believable plot. 


Directed by Val Guest
Produced by Val Guest, Frank Sherwin Green
Written by Wolf Mankowitz, Val Guest
Music by Stanley Black, Monty Norman
Cinematography: Harry Waxman
Edited by Bill Lenny
Production company: Val Guest Productions
Distributed by British Lion Films (UK), Universal-International (USA)
Running time: 98 minutes
Budget: £190,000 (approx.)


Cast

Edward Judd as Peter Stenning
Leo McKern as Bill Maguire
Janet Munro as Jeannie Craig
Michael Goodliffe as 'Jacko', the night editor
Bernard Braden as the news editor
Reginald Beckwith as Harry
Gene Anderson as May
Renée Asherson as Angela
Arthur Christiansen as Jeff Jefferson, the editor
Austin Trevor as Sir John Kelly
Edward Underdown as Dick Sanderson
Ian Ellis as Michael Stenning
Peter Butterworth as second sub-editor
Michael Caine as a police constable




Trailer


Sixty years ago panic engulfed the entire world. 



Sixty years ago the United States and the former Soviet Union simultaneously detonated nuclear devices. 

Sixty years ago the world’s weather changed dramatically. 

Sixty years ago the earth’s axis of rotation altered by eleven degrees. 

Sixty years ago Daily Express reporter, Peter Stenning and Meteorological Center telephonist, Jeannie Craig met and fell in love. 


What do all these events have in common? 

What links these seemingly unconnected occurrences? 


**********************


“The time is now 10:41, 
19 minutes before countdown…. 
19 minutes.”


Picture a world sixty years into our past – a world baking under the relentless searing rays of the sun. A solitary figure bathed in sweat picks his way through the orange flame-hued streets of a deserted London from which humanity has been banished by a seemingly vengeful son god, Rah.

The silence is palpable with the absence of civilization’s hustle and bustle, its chitter and chatter, and its clamor and confusion. What made life gleamingly nimble and agile now lies dull, dead and dormant – mute phones, motionless fans and deceased elevators.



The lone man, Peter Stenning enters his newspaper’s office building and manages to find someone to dictate his story to, but as to the likely audience…….THAT remains to be seen!

“It is exactly 30 minutes since the corrective bombs were detonated. Within the next few hours, the world will know whether this is the end or another beginning. The rebirth of man or his final obituary. For the last time, man pursued his brother with a sword, and so the final fire was kindled. The Earth that was to live forever was blasted by a great wind towards oblivion. It is strange to think that barely 90 days ago…” 

Read on for more….. 



Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Sci-Fi Stories That Inspired Classic Sci-Fi Films: “Colossus” by DF. Jones (1966)



“THIS IS THE VOICE OF WORLD CONTROL. I BRING YOU PEACE. IT MAY BE THE PEACE OF PLENTY AND CONTENT OR THE PEACE OF UNBURIED DEATH. THE CHOICE IS YOURS: OBEY ME AND LIVE, OR DISOBEY AND DIE!”



Move over HAL!!! 

Get ready Terminator & Skynet!!!! 

For, here comes…….

COLOSSUS!!!!!!


Colossus: The Forbin Project is a 1970 American science fiction film from Universal Pictures, produced by Stanley Chase, directed by Joseph Sargent, that stars Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent, and William Schallert.



The film is based upon the 1966 science fiction novel, Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones. The story involves a supercomputer named Colossus that controls the United States' military defense system. After being given full control, Colossus becomes sentient and goes beyond its programming by linking with a similar Soviet system called Guardian.


Having control of both superpowers’ nuclear missile arsenal, Colossus is in a position to force peace upon the world on its own terms. Our every move and our very fate is in now in the hands of a machine. Colossus has purloined our cherished theory of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ and applied it as a way achieving that crazy Cold War theory’s implicit aim!



The growth of artificial intelligence and our concerns over its possible outcomes make this film both timely and relevant despite the passage of time and, in some viewers' minds, its feeling of being somewhat dated. The story is in fact quite prescient in terms of the way artificial intelligence and its purposes and uses have become a kind of Pandora's box that could unleash a whole raft of unforeseen consequences upon humanity.


Colossus was given the task of avoiding nuclear Armageddon and achieving world peace, freedom from hunger and disease. Fine! But in order to achieve that objective, what steps would need to be taken? What consequences could arise and for whom? What would be the end result? Failure to ask the right questions could result in a fate that is distinctly Orwellian.

The film adaptation of Jones’s story is very good, containing as it does a pleasing mix of intelligence, humour, satire and drama. The book version explores the makeup of the characters associated with the Project more thoroughly, as well as the contentious relationship between Forbin and the US President. The appearance and personality of the latter comes across quite differently to the film version's president who seems to be somewhat Kennedyesque.





I fully recommend reading DF Jones’ novel and viewing the film version. You might also like to read Jones’ The Fall Of Colossus, and Colossus And The Crab.



Colossus PDF read

Colossus by DF Jones (Borrow)

Movie Script

Full Film Link

CBC Radio Drama Download

Friday, 3 April 2020

Sci-Fi Stories That Inspired Classic Sci-Fi Films: “The Andromeda Strain” by Michael Crichton





Trailer



Summary:




When all but two of the residents of Piedmont, New Mexico, are found dead after the return to Earth of a US space satellite (Scoop VII), the head of the US Air Force's Project Scoop declares an emergency.




Dr Stone and his team of top scientists consisting of Drs. Dutton, Leavitt and Hall, transfer to a secure hi-tech facility, known as Wildfire, which had been constructed as a base in the event of an alien biological life form being returned to Earth from a space mission.


Such an event appears to have happened and it is up to the scientists to try to isolate the alien life form while determining why two people from Piedmont (an old Sterno drinker with an ulcer and a six-month-old crying baby have managed to survive.



As the scientists continue with their study of the alien life form, they are about to be confronted by the dual danger of its having mutated along with the lab’s fail-safe nuclear self-destruct device should it manage to escape!!!



************** 

Comparisons

The Andromeda Strain was made into a movie in 1971 and was directed and produced by Robert Wise. The film and the book quite closely parallel each other with a few minor deviations such as the Peter Leavitt character being a female, Ruth Leavitt in the film version.

[Spoiler alert paragraph!!!!]

The ending of the movie also differs from the book. In the book, Stone speculates that the Andromeda Strain will migrate up into Earth’s upper atmosphere where the oxygen content is lower, better suiting its growth and where it will mutate into a benign form. In the movie version, the now benign mutated bacteria drifts out over the Pacific Ocean into which it falls to be destroyed by the salt water.



Context

Crichton’s novel was written within the context of the Cold War and the resulting space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The political and military conflict between the superpower rivals forms an important part of the backdrop to the events in the story. For instance, Project Scoop is part of a U.S. government program for the development of biological weapons. Should a Scoop satellite come down in a major city in the Soviet Union, war would likely result and that is why it was decided that the Russians would not be informed about the likelihood of any deadly disease occurring. The kind of Cold War mentality that was evident would dictate a preference for a few million Russians dying of disease as opposed to many hundreds of millions of people dying as a result of nuclear war

Assessment


I personally favoured the film treatment of the story. In the original book version, I felt that the story was bogged down by far too much scientific exposition, detail and explanation of processes involved. There were moments when I literally nodded off!











©Chris Christopoulos 2020

Classic Sci-Fi Film Ladies: Part 5 (1958 – 1959)

Welcome to the final tribute to the wonderful ladies who appeared in the classic sci-fi films of the 1950s. It’s been a long time coming for this installment, so let’s start off with…….


Earth's second mission to Mars is sent to discover the fate of the first mission. A sole survivor of that mission is found, the expedition's former commander who claims to an unbelieving audience that his crew were killed by a hostile Martian life form. On the way back to earth, that life form stowaways away aboard the ship and begins hunting down and killing the crew.


Shirley Patterson as Ann Anderson who also appeared in World Without End (1956) and The Land Unknown (1957).


Ann Doran as Mary Royce, the ship’s doctor

And…followed by;


Aliens arrive on Earth to possess the bodies of humans. One such victim is a young man, whose new wife, Marge soon realizes something is wrong with him. In fact, the man she married isn't a man at all, but an alien replacement as are most of the men in her small town!!


Gloria Talbott who also appeared in, The Cyclops (1957), Daughter of Dr Jekyll, and The Leech Woman (1960)

Read on for more.......

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Global Pandemic Crisis & Sci-Fi Film Scenarios

As many people around the world hunker down in lock-down conditions and wonder when the Coronavirus crisis will pass, we could also not be blamed for wondering what kind of world will be left in its wake.

By Maksym Kozlenko - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=87817076 

A real-life global pandemic such as the current spread of Covid-19 could provide food for thought for science fiction writers and film makers as they try to imagine ‘What If?’ scenarios based on the crisis.

When we are finally given the go-ahead to gather in cinemas once again, we may very well be confronted by trailers proclaiming “IN A WORRRRLD WHERE……...



Rationing of goods is the new norm and ration cards and coupons (e-ration cards & e-coupons?) are issued to citizens with which to buy the necessities of life. Those deemed to be hoarders of goods are given mandatory jail sentences and in some jurisdictions may even face execution.

By Siouxsie Wiles, Toby Morris - https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/16-03-2020/the-world-is-on-fire-my-message-to-new-zealanders-on-covid-19/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88183721

People no longer greet each other with handshakes, hugs, kisses on cheeks or close physical contact in public. Surveillance, monitoring and issuing on-the-spot-fines ensure compliance. People are far more wary of one another.

No-one is permitted to congregate in groups of more than five people and ‘Move-on’ laws are in wide-spread effect.

The old economic order and its assumptions and our economic relations based on the endless cycle of consumption and production and continuous growth is replaced by a system of bartering of goods and exchanging of services. Items and goods, especially old tech are routinely repaired or repurposed. People, whether they be unemployed or underemployed are sustained by what is laughingly called a ‘living’ wage payment. Full-time positions by and large no longer exist.

People live in a constant state of fear of the next pandemic, social disorder and unrest, violence and crime, food and other shortages, irrespective of whether such fears are based on fact.

The death of large numbers of minority groups based on age, race, ethnicity and other criteria is tolerated and deemed to be necessary if it is felt that it serves the interests and survival of the majority of the population. If a few people are allowed to be infected by a virus in order to maintain the “herd immunity,” then so be it – or so the thinking goes.

Utilitarianism becomes the order of the day. A person’s worth or value is based primarily on his or her usefulness to society and is a determining factor in matters of life and death.

Xenophobia is widespread and tolerated so long as it does not destabilize the existing social order and can be conveniently used to direct people’s anger and criticism away from the ruling class and its abuses of power.

Autocratic nation-states replace the previous moves toward a more liberal globalist approach toward world affairs, and where even individual nations are replaced by the re-emergence of self-contained and frequently feuding walled-off principalities and autonomous city states.

Economic patriotism is the new order of the day. Procurement by whatever means of “foreign” goods is seen to be an act of treason and is punished accordingly.

Nearly every action and policy advocated or undertaken by the ruling elites is framed by references to declarations of war. It seems that every sector of society is on a constant war footing and preparedness for war in some form. 




Boarders are largely closed off and overseas travel is prohibited to most people. Censorship and regulation of people’s access to information on the internet is conducted by each country and region.

Approved steaming services with sanctioned content keep the citizenry entertained and distracted. Very few now know what else to do with their spare time.

Leaving the house and spending time out of doors and mixing with other people publicly is discouraged and frowned upon.


**********

Of course the above speculative scenarios are very bleak and extreme, but they serve to illustrate what a single event in human history can generate in terms of the many and varied possible paths that humanity could take if it is not careful. Besides, such scenarios in film and fiction are far more dramatic and entertaining than one in which humanity drops its differences and comes together to overcome adversity and emerges from a crisis stronger than ever to live happily ever after. Still, I sincerely hope that this outcome will be the one to emerge from our current real-life crisis.




©Chris Christopoulos 2020