You may recall earlier this summer we told you our WWEnd intern Barry was going to attempt to land a job using a résumé peppered with evil corporations from science fiction films.
As part of this project, we’ve been collating a list of evil companies, and in doing research on the web we discovered a few interesting facts:
1. Top Ten lists of evil sci fi companies abound
2. All the lists essentially repeat the same companies over and over
(NOTE TO BUDDING EVIL CORPORATE ENTREPRENEURS: If you are looking to forever immortalize your brand on a universe of Top Ten lists, do something really nasty. Like send astronauts to their death a la “extraterrestrial distress signal” so as to collect an alien sample. Or dye Rutger Hauer’s hair platinum blonde and have him run around downtown Los Angeles in a pair of Depends. Whatever works.)
Given the pervasiveness of such lists, it was only a matter of time before the WWEnd brass stopped by my office to demand that we produce our own, so as not to fall behind the competition.
(You may also recall these were the same corporate suits who demanded we do a Hot Sci Fi Babe list, resulting in the infamous “Over 60” post.)
Okay, I can play along. I appreciate ad dollars as much as the next guy. But we’re not going to reproduce the same list of companies that everyone else seems fixated on. No, we’re going to approach this as we do with all things science fiction: a little differently.
So here we go with the Top Ten Evil Corporations of Science Fiction Not on Anyone Else’s Top Ten List of Evil Corporations. Johnny Paycheck, eat your heart out.
10. Lunar Industries (Moon, 2009) – Seriously, people? How does this company not make other lists? Subjecting an army of Sam Rockwell clones to indentured servitude is bad. But it’s in the corporate lie that’s told to each clone (i.e. that “his” wife and daughter is waiting for “him” on Earth at the end of his shift) where this company earns its malfeasance. Pretty cold hearted.
9. Digital Matrix (Looker, 1981) – Any company that turns a middle-aged Albert Finney into an action hero deserves to be on a list of bad companies. What makes this company truly simmer in badness is the ultracool James Coburn as its primary shareholder of evil and destroyer of supermodels. But what was with the laser tag guns?
8. Cybertronics (A. I., 2001) – If your company makes unblinking Haley Joel Osment robots that develop pathological attachments to their owners, attend Ministry concerts and play Tonto to Jude Law’s Lone Ranger, you may want to rethink your business model. All joking aside, this company asks us to examine how healthy is our temptation to create people who love us even while supplying us with said people. For my money, William Hurt’s turn as company mad scientist is all the more insidious because he is so tender, genuine and honest.
7. The Sphinx (Code 46, 2003) – Let’s see, an insurance company that manufactures documents which dictate where you can live, your ability to travel, the work you do and who you can love in an authoritarian society. Falling afoul of this über healthcare bureaucracy is everyman Tim Robbins (and I thought he was a liberal). The Sphinx gives new meaning to the term “State Farm”, but this is one good neighbor you wish wasn’t there.
6. Virtual Self Industries (Surrogates, 2009) – Four words: Bruce. Willis. Blonde. Wig. For my money, that alone is one of the more damning examples of cinematic villainy. Compounding matters is Ving Rhames as a Rasta prophet – if Bruce should never have hair in a movie, that goes double for The Ving, people! And James Cromwell, with what I would characterize as an unhealthy attachment to avatars of young men, completes the ensemble of evil.
5. U.S. Robotics (I, Robot, 2004) – Female voiced supercomputer commands an army of robot soldiers to subjugate humanity. Terminator Salvation? Actually, we’re talking about I, Robot. Frequently mistaken for an episode of iCarly, this film details USR’s attempt to hijack Chicago until bionic man Will Smith gets jiggy with it. (Sidenote: Rod Blagojevich purportedly sat on USR’s board of governors.)
4. Gattaca Aerospace Corporation (Gattaca, 1997) – If your workplace requires you to use the urine of another man to advance your career, it’s time to polish your résumé. Hey, I’d like to be an astronaut too, but Ethan Hawke took his desire to be the next Buzz Aldrin too far. He’d have been better off just eBaying Jude Law’s hair and buying his own space program.
3. Drax Enterprise Corporation (Moonraker, 1979) – When your HR Director is a steel-toothed giant named Jaws, you know it can’t be a fun place to work. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but there’s something about trying to poison all of humanity and starting over with a space-based master race of beautiful people that is sure to get your firm placed on a list of evil companies. On the plus side: though Drax himself looks like a deranged gourmand, the fitness program at DEC is the envy of the industry.
2. ENCOM (Tron, 1982) – This is another one of those picks that I can’t believe didn’t make anyone else’s list. I expect that to change when Tron: Legacy comes out in December, but let it be said that WWEnd called this one first. Before Microsoft Windows, there was the Master Control Program. Somebody call the Help Desk! This just in: Apple recently contacted ENCOM to see if they can borrow the shrink ray for Steve Jobs’ ego.
1. Delos (Westworld, 1973 / Futureworld, 1976) – Delos is guilty of several of the great cardinal sins of 70s sci fi cinema. First, they kill off both Yul Brynner and James Brolin in the first film. But that’s just a warm up act. In the sequel, Delos menaces investigative reporter Peter Fonda while attempting to replace all the world’s leaders with robot clones in a world domination scheme. But Delos’ final act of sabotage is relegating Yul Brynner to nothing more than a dream sequence cameo in his final film appearance. That’s like asking Joe Montana to be a backup quarterback. Sacrilege!
Still think your job sucks?
Kay Kenyon’s brilliant sci-fantasy epic quartet, The Entire and the Rose, is now available in its entirety in hardcover, trade paperback, and Kindle-format ebook. And to celebrate, the first book in the series, Bright of the Sky, is now FREE on Kindle.
"[Bright of the Sky] knocked my socks off with its brilliant evocation of a quest through a parallel universe that has a strange river running through it. Unique in conception, like Larry Niven’s Ringworld, this is the beginning to what should be an amazing SF-Fantasy series.” – Locus Online, Best of 2007
“Bright Of The Sky effortlessly blends science fiction concepts and world-building with fantasy story telling to create a unique and intriguing whole….Kay Kenyon has created a standout novel….I’m looking forward to the rest of series. 4 out of 5 stars.” -SFSignal.com
There does not appear to be a time limit on this but I suggest you get it now just in case. Thanks Pyr.
[This review was originally published on my blog The Photo Play.]
Christopher Nolan is becoming best-known these days for his Batman movies, but before he was a purveyor of superhero pulp he was reinventing the noir genre for the late twentieth century with mind-bending films like Following and Memento, the latter of which brought Nolan to the attention of American audiences. His films that are not merely adaptations or remakes of the works of others are ridiculously complex and yet still in the end comprehensible and satisfying. (And yes, Memento was an adaptation of his brother’s short story “Memento Mori,” but the two seem to have been artistic collaborators very early on.) Whenever Nolan adapts a foreign work to film, whether that be the remake of the Nordic movie Insomnia or the filming of Christopher Priest’s novel The Prestige, the results are always good, but not as great as his fans know they could be. After making Warner Brothers a giant pile of money with the smarter-than-average The Dark Knight, he has been given a budget large enough to free his delicately intricate imagination to what one can only assume are the distant limits of his capabilities. And yet, at the end of it, one is left believing that he could do even more.
Inception is the story of Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man who makes a career out of invading the dreams of others, usually for the purposes of extracting valuable information from the invaded. As in all good noir films, Cobb is an imperfect anti-hero, surrounded by secrets he doesn’t want to admit, and haunted by a mysterious femme fatale. And just like Humphrey Bogart in so many of his films, Cobb takes a questionable job from a questionable man; but unlike Bogart’s usual roles, Cobb is actually doing some very bad things for his own selfish reasons. A bad decision he made some years back with his wife led to some very unfortunate consequences, and he escapes frequently into his own dream world to sort out the pain.
The conceit of entering another person’’s dreams has drawn comparison’s to films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Matrix. Unlike the latter, Inception does not dumb down the concept at the beginning and then needlessly complicate it as the story goes on. Instead, all of the complicated explanations are laid out in advance, with multiple examples of how the dream-invasion technology works, so that when the time comes for the extended invasion to which all of this is leading, the audience is never truly lost or confused. Dreams are layered within dreams, and those within more dreams. Those lines of Shakespeare come to mind when watching Cobb and his team casually build and destroy entire worlds at will, “This vision… shall dissolve, / And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, / Leave not a rack behind.”
Cobb’s dream team–the cast of which includes such interesting choices as Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer) and Ellen Page (Juno)–is hired not to extract information from the heir to an energy empire (Cillian Murphy), but to plant an idea within his mind: not extraction but inception. As Cobb and his colleagues point out, inception is extremely difficult if not impossible because people can tell if an idea is being forced upon them from the outside. If a grown man feels that he is being coerced into an idea, he will fight against it. But Cobb takes the job not only because he wants what is being offered as a reward, but because he knows from experience that inception is possible; he also knows from experience that it is very dangerous for everyone involved.
If there are any weaknesses in Inception they revolve mostly around the fact that our dreams are never as orderly or logical as those laid out here. To be sure, the film’s dreams are being designed by architects and are intentionally given narratives and a certain level of order, but Inception lacks any real presentation of the bizarre randomness that we actually experience when we fall asleep. Eternal Sunshine understood this strangeness much better, although that was a less ambitious film than Nolan’s. There is also the ethical question of whether or not we should be rooting for Cobb when he is engaging in such dubious activity. Even so, he is not presented as a moral hero like Bruce Wayne who is only trying to do the right thing; Cobb is dangerously selfish in his desires, even to the point of putting his team at risk in order to keep his own secrets safe.
Inception has an overabundance of originality and intelligence, something entirely lacking in most films today. Nolan as auteur puts out some of the best films of our time, and even when he is working with other people’s stories he manages to keep it smart and enthralling (unlike some other auteurs we all know). His next slated project is the third (and promised last) movie of his Batman series, after which he will reportedly move on to produce a relaunch of the Superman franchise. My hope, though, is that he can continue as an auteur to direct the kind of films that push the envelope of filmmaking’s capabilities.
- 1st Place: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
- 2nd Place: Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson
- 3rd Place: The City & the City by China Mieville
The Windup Girl won the Nebula back in May as well as the 2010 Locus Award for First Novel and is still in the hunt for the Hugo. Congratulations to Paol Bacigalupi, Robert Charles Wilson and China Mieville and all the 2010 Campbell Award Finalists.
So what do you think? Surprised that the juggernaut that is The City & The City got beat to the finish?
Soylent Green is made out of people.
Even if you haven’t seen 1973’s Soylent Green, you likely already know how it ends. It’s one of the worst kept secrets among sci-fi twist endings. In fact, the ending has become something of a cultural phenomenon, while the film itself is largely forgotten.
(Yeah, sorry for no spoiler alert.)
So, I watched Soylent Green this week, expecting some serious Soylent cheese. Instead, I found a surprisingly smart, gritty and still timely film that is much more than just another Chuck Heston fist-in-the-air primal scream.
Essentially, manly man Heston is a cop named Thorn in a futuristic pre-Giuliani New York circa 2022 with 40 million people, severe environmental damage and massive food shortages. Much of the film looks like it was shot through gauze to simulate the smog and filth of the dystopia. I think that also explains why everyone wears tan clothing. Nothing spells dystopia like tan clothing.
We’re told that real food is no longer available (as most animal life and vegetable life has gone the way of all flesh), so people subsist on Soybean-Lentil (aka Soylent) vegetable concentrates and the new, “plankton-derived” high protein Soylent Green.
That’s plankton if by plankton you mean someone’s Aunt Gertrude.
As the city is wildly overpopulated, most everyone is hideously impoverished and must share living space with other people. Chuck shares a pad with a Lawrence Ferlinghetti clone at what looks like the storage closet at City Lights bookstore. The clone, named Sol Roth, really is the heart of the film – an old man who remembers what life was like when there was life … and food.
It is Sol’s prosaic reminiscences about the good life before the world went to pot (and Heston’s tearful farewell at the old man’s death – sorry again on the no spoiler alert) that properly deliver the film’s message.
Long story short, a big Soylent corporate executive is assassinated and Chuck is on the case. Along the way, Heston very quickly moves in on the exec’s main squeeze and runs afoul of his one-time bodyguard (Rifleman Chuck Connors). Heston must also contend with food riots, whereby thousands of Doobie Brothers fans get bent out of shape and take it to the streets when the Soylent Green supplies run short.
While Heston spends most of the film doing manly 1970’s cop things like getting into fisticuffs and manhandling dames, Sol Roth uncovers the horrible truth about their foodstuffs and decides to opt for good old fashioned state-sanctioned suicide. It’s his deathbed confession and Heston’s subsequent investigation of just what the state does with the bodies that leads to the now famous conclusion of the film.
(Interesting Side Note: Sol Roth is escorted to his doom by none other than Dick Van Patton, the father from Eight is Enough, itself a 1970’s parable on population.)
Of course, I’m just paraphrasing the narrative. The story has grit and heart, it toggles between sci-fi and cop drama, and it’s more than just its punchline ending. For me, the reason the film didn’t make the leap from good to great is Heston himself.
When Heston encounters “the good life” of the dead executive – a good life that we would take for granted – his awe-struck reaction to things such as hot showers, apples and bar soap is supposed to bring home for us how deep is the loss.
But Heston isn’t the right guy for this job. He barrels through the movie as a sensual lout – the kind of guy you don’t want at your party because he swaggers in and drinks everyone else’s drinks. Kind of like that Spaulding kid from Caddyshack, only with a gun. And that damned ascot.
Heston’s square-jawed heroics are ill-fitted for the flawed character of Thorn who’s corrupt, opportunistic and ultimately frail and near hysterical with the corporate malfeasance he uncovers. The problem is that Heston is too macho and overly heroic for the audience to identify with.
Earlier this week, I saw a documentary about Jaws where Spielberg said that Heston wanted to play Chief Brody. Spielberg didn’t want to cast him because he thought that the shark wouldn’t stand a chance against Heston, with him being so larger than life. Spielberg said that Heston was like a 12, when the role of Brody called for an 8.
That was an eureka moment for me. Heston was just too much Heston for Soylent Green. The role of Thorn needed more vulnerability. It needed someone who could convey fear, wonder, weakness and regret in a more genuine way.
This got me to thinking that, recast with Dustin Hoffman, Soylent Green could have been masterful. Filmed at a time when Hoffman was making films like Straw Dogs and Papillon, Soylent Green could have mined deeper into the existential agonies and uncertainties of the 1970’s. The role of Thorn didn’t call for an action hero, but a thinking hero, someone who could richly expose our vulnerability and foolishness as we face the terrible consequences of the environmental monster we created. (Hello, BP.)
Soylent Green probes some interesting questions about human stewardship of the Earth. It deserves more than being relegated as the equivalent of a sci-fi one-liner.
So there’s been a lot of recent buzz on the internets about the SF Masterworks series from Gollancz including this meme. Mostly it’s because of the SF and Fantasy Masterworks Reading Project that kicked off a few weeks ago. The reading project is a "a group blog dedicated to reading and reviewing Gollancz’s series of genre classics in its entirety". They have several reviews posted already that are worth a read.
As you might have guessed from looking at WWEnd I really love this idea. The Masterworks collections contain some of the best works in the genre and have some great cover art to boot. I’ve only read a few from the list but it’s my goal to eventually read them all – though I’ll be taking my time. These guys will be reading them all within a year. Sheesh!
Of course, if you’re interested in reading them too, WWEnd’s BookTrackr can help you keep tabs on your progress. We’ve got the complete lists for the SF Masterworks and the Fantasy Masterworks and you can use BookTrackr to tag the ones you’ve read as you go along. The color coding will show you how many you’ve read and which ones you still need to read. Give it a shot.
Anyway, without further ado, here is my SF list so far. I’ve bolded and linked the ones I’ve read.
- The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
- I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
- Cities in Flight – James Blish
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
- The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
- Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
- Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
- The Fifth Head of Cerberus – Gene Wolfe
- Gateway – Frederik Pohl
- The Rediscovery of Man – Cordwainer Smith
- Last and First Men – Olaf Stapledon
- Earth Abides – George R. Stewart
- Martian Time-Slip – Philip K. Dick
- The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester
- Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner
- The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Drowned World – J. G. Ballard
- The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
- Emphyrio – Jack Vance
- A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
- Star Maker – Olaf Stapledon
- Behold the Man – Michael Moorcock
- The Book of Skulls – Robert Silverberg
- The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
- Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
- Ubik – Philip K. Dick
- Timescape – Gregory Benford
- More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
- Man Plus – Frederik Pohl
- A Case of Conscience – James Blish
- The Centauri Device – M. John Harrison
- Dr. Bloodmoney – Philip K. Dick
- Non-Stop – Brian Aldiss
- The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C. Clarke
- Pavane – Keith Roberts
- Now Wait for Last Year – Philip K. Dick
- Nova – Samuel R. Delany
- The First Men in the Moon – H. G. Wells
- The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
- Blood Music – Greg Bear
- Jem – Frederik Pohl
- Bring the Jubilee – Ward Moore
- VALIS – Philip K. Dick
- The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Complete Roderick – John Sladek
- Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said – Philip K. Dick
- The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells
- Grass – Sheri S. Tepper
- A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C. Clarke
- Eon – Greg Bear
- The Shrinking Man – Richard Matheson
- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick
- The Dancers at the End of Time – Michael Moorcock
- The Space Merchants – Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
- Time Out of Joint – Philip K. Dick
- Downward to the Earth – Robert Silverberg
- The Simulacra – Philip K. Dick
- The Penultimate Truth – Philip K. Dick
- Dying Inside – Robert Silverberg
- Ringworld – Larry Niven
- The Child Garden – Geoff Ryman
- Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
- A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick
- Tau Zero – Poul Anderson
- Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke
- Life During Wartime – Lucius Shepard
- Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm
- Roadside Picnic – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
- Dark Benediction – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
- Mockingbird – Walter Tevis
- Dune – Frank Herbert
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
- The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
- Inverted World – Christopher Priest
- Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
- The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells
- Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke
- The Time Machine – H.G. Wells
- Dhalgren (July 2010) – Samuel R. Delany
- Helliconia (August 2010) – Brian Aldiss
- Food of the Gods (Sept. 2010) – H.G. Wells
- The Body Snatchers (Oct. 2010) – Jack Finney
- The Female Man (Nov. 2010) – Joanna Russ
- Arslan (Dec. 2010) – M.J. Engh
As you can see, I’ve got my work cut out for me to finish this list. I own my shame. So how many have you read? Are you trying to read them all?
Call me Yankee Doodle Dandy, but I’m in a patriotic mood, with it being the Fourth of July weekend and all.
When you couple that with the recent news headline domination by Russian spy rings, it’s an ideal time to go old school and tap into some good old fashioned Cold War sci-fi from the 1950s.
So, I secured a copy of one of the hallmarks of 1950s commienoia, William Cameron Menzies’ 1953 opus Invaders from Mars.
Let me run things down for you. This film has everything that Uncle Sam would approve of in a parable about the Red scourge: Interstellar marauders that hide underground and employ mind control on hapless U.S. citizens. A cheeky young protagonist whose pluck, determination and belief in the American Way ultimately convinces the U.S. military that there just might be interstellar marauders hiding underground and attacking hapless U.S. citizens. A cornucopia of U.S. tank footage that would make General Patton wet his pants. And a giant alien baby head in a goldfish bowl with an unfortunate resemblance to Howard Dean.
All of this drama delivered in that stiff patois characteristic of overwrought 1950s science fiction.
Damn, I love America.
Boy hero David MacLean wakes up in the middle of the night during a thunder storm to witness an honest-to-gosh UFO land outside his family’s home. Dad, responding to the boy’s troubled cries, eventually goes to check things out. And then Dad checks out, as he falls into the hands of the aliens who plant a mind probe in his brain.
Dad returns home with a red sore at the base of his neck and in an angry stupor, looking like he spent a few too many nights at the Overlook Hotel. From there, things turn south as various townspeople fall prey to the aliens, including David’s mom, the police chief and an Army general. Even a little girl, Kathy Wilson, is not spared the ignominy of having her brain carjacked by the cosmic commies.
Fortunately, David is able to secure the aid of an astronomer and a beautiful health care professional. With their help, he’s able to defy logic and actually convince the military that them thar hills is loaded with alien bastards.
The military investigates and comes to the conclusion that they need to roll in a ton of tanks and start blowing things up. I tell you, there’s not much that makes me more proud as an American than hearing some gravelly voiced commander shout with full-hearted gusto, “Blast ‘em!”
Damn, I love America.
We learn through the course of action that the aliens came to Earth to destroy the nascent U.S. atomic space program by which we could send nuclear weapons to the stars. To scuttle our capabilities, the aliens sent their mind-controlled human puppets to attempt blowing up a top secret rocket; they burned down the home and attempted an assassination of one of our top scientists; and they killed several Hollywood B movie actors.
And you wonder why Ronald Reagan had it in for the commies.
The film concludes with the military rescuing the boy and the beautiful health care professional from the villainous clutches of the aliens, then blowing up the subterranean ship. We are treated to a hallucinatory montage of the film’s highlights as the boy, running from the blast area, reminisces about all the strange goings-on.
As the ship detonates, David wakes up in his bed. Was it all a dream? He goes to his parents’ room and they tell him to go back to sleep. Returning to his room, he looks out the window. And lo and behold, he sees a UFO land outside his family’s home. Eerie! But you got to love twist sci-fi endings, right?
I know you probably expect me to body slam the film for its cheesy effects (there were plenty) or its wooden characterizations (plenty of those, too). But I enjoyed it. It put me in touch with my inner John Wayne and riled me up. And I don’t mean The Searchers John Wayne, but rather Stagecoach John Wayne.
I do, however, need to ding the film on one major faux pas.
One of the scenes follows David’s mind-controlled old man as he aims to carry out a nefarious act of dastardliness. We cut to a scientist in a lab, messing around with test tubes. One of the lab flunkies comes in and passes on his condolences to the scientist for the loss of his daughter – at this point we learn the scientist is Dr. Bill Wilson, the main man behind the atomic rocket program as well as the father of the little girl who died after the aliens blew her mind-control device.
The flunkie remarks that he’s surprised to see Dr. Wilson working at the lab, given that his little girl just died, to which the good doctor remarks something along the lines of, “Yes it’s too bad, but the show must go on.”
So I’m thinking, obviously the doc is another alien-controlled sap. He must be, to be so callous and robotic. It made sense, since all the other people that the cosmic commies got their hands on turned into emotionless monsters.
But no, David’s mind-controlled dad shows up and tries to assassinate the doctor. So it became clear they weren’t working the same side.
Dr. Bill Wilson wasn’t an alien puppet. He was just some jerk with no freakin’ priorities.
I was like, really? You’ve got to be kidding. What lout heads to the office after the death of his only child? C’mon. If this guy is supposed to be some paradigm of scientific prowess, if he’s on our side, then what are we fighting for? Clearly we’re no better than the aliens or their puppets.
If that’s the best the doctor could muster emotionally, no wonder the 1960s were so generationally turbulent and rebellious. If I was a kid of that era, I’d be PO’d, too.
This obvious lack of character development aside, I think I really enjoyed the film. And like I said, any time you get the U.S. military blasting communists in the guise of space aliens, count me in.
Damn, I love America. Happy birthday!