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Laputa: Castle in the Sky Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli.
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Disney cover of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (or Castle in the Sky) is a 1986 anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli and it is loosely based on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. As with Mr. Miyazaki’s earlier Studio Ghibli films, several English translations were made, and sometimes there were characters’ name spellings and pronunciations changed, etc., and it wasn’t until Disney made a deal with Studio Ghibli that Castle in the Sky was officially released in North America.

†Title

The English translation of the Japanese title (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta, translated as The Sky’s Castle: Laputa) was changed to Castle in the Sky upon release in several countries with Spanish speakers, and even some countries that have little Spanish influence such as the U.K., as the word Laputa, though meaningless in Japanese, English, and French, it translates as “prostitute” ( la puta) in Spanish. This was perhaps Jonathan Swift’s intention when he wrote Gulliver’s Travels, as he claimed that Spanish was one of the many languages he was fluent in; however it should be noted that Mr. Miyazaki hadn’t been aware of the word’s meaning until after the film’s release and he said that had he known of the word’s meaning, he wouldn’t have used it, and he apologized. For Spanish speakers and readers, Laputa has been replaced by a euphemism such as Lapata.

History of Laputa

Within the storyline of Castle in the Sky, in the opening credits and throughout the story the history of the floating island is alluded to, connecting this story to our world, which is strengthened by the obvious European influences, such as mediaeval castles, miners, etc. According to legend, humans have always been fascinated with the sky and flight, and as they ventured further into making aerial exploration possible their flying machines became more sophisticated. The most famous of these legends was Laputa, a floating castle in the sky that was an entire city hidden within a violent storm and that within the storyline had been abandoned seven hundred years ago, and most people have ceased to believe in it. Only a few believe in it now and competition to find it is dangerous and tense. See Wikipedia for more information on the history of the setting.

Summary

The story opens in the sky, a young girl is being held by agents under the command of Colonel Muska on an airship, being taken to an unknown destination. The airship is attacked by sky pirates, who seem to be after the girl. In the resulting confusion, Muska tries to send a message using Morse code, while doing so, the girl suddenly hits him on the head with a wine bottle and knocks him out. She takes a crystal from him – at that moment, the pirates barge into the room and she and the crystal are almost seized, causing her to fall from the airship.

Meanwhile, a young boy named Pazu sees the girl, who is now no longer falling, but floating and a blue light is emitting from the crystal. He catches her and within a few seconds, the crystal’s light ebbs and disappears. He takes her to his home, where she wakes up next morning to the sound of his trumpet and he feeds his pigeons that he keeps in a coop. Pazu apparently lives alone.

While there, the girl whose name is Sheeta, sees a photograph of a floating castle in the sky. Pazu explains that his father took the photo and that he was an explorer, he tried to find a legendary city called Laputa, and he shows her a copy of Gulliver’s Travels. (In the Disney dubbed version, it is his father’s journal.) Hardly anyone believes Laputa exists but Pazu believes the city does exist and wants to find it.

Suddenly the pirates arrive that had tried to get Sheeta and she and Pazu quickly try to leave the town, with Sheeta being disguised as a boy, but when she stumbles when Pazu tries to go to his master for help, her braids give her away. A riot ensues in the small street while Pazu and Sheeta go through the back and go down the railroads and get a ride. It’s not long, though, that they are followed by the pirates and then they’re surrounded by the military – the agents that had held Sheeta hostage in the first place.

While running, Sheeta and Pazu fall, only being saved from death by the crystal, and they float down into an underground tunnel where they find an old miner called Uncle Pom, who reveals Sheeta’s crystal to be “volucite” (“aetherium” in the Disney adaptation) and that’s what keeps Laputa floating.

When the children emerge, Sheeta reveals her secret name to Pazu, which is Lucita Toel Ul Laputa, an ancient name she has inherited meaning “Lucita, True Ruler of Laputa” in Laputan. The agents appear and surround them and take them by force into custody. They are taken to a fortress, a mediæval-style castle, and are separated: Pazu into a prison cell and Sheeta is treated like a princess and is shown an old Laputan robot that fell from the sky.

Pazu is released, being given some gold, and he goes home only to find the pirates have taken over and he is tied up. He realizes his foolishness at going, being paid gold for Sheeta’s capture, but Dola, the pirate leader, comments on Sheeta’s courageous action for Pazu’s escape while she faces danger. She compares Sheeta to herself when she was a girl and advises her sons that when they marry, to marry a girl like Sheeta.

The pirates and Pazu go off to rescue Sheeta. Meanwhile, Sheeta remembers an ancient spell for help that she learnt from her grandmother when she was a little girl, and repeats it. Suddenly, the crystal glows blue light and the robot awakens. Chaos ensues in the fortress and the robot protects Sheeta from the guns and bombs that are directed at it. It manages to fend off the offensive forces until Pazu and the pirates arrive, who successfully rescue her. Unfortunately, when Sheeta fainted, the crystal bounced off down to the ground, and is found by Muska, who can now touch it without being harmed, and everyone sees the light is pointing in the direction of Laputa.

Meanwhile, Sheeta and Pazu are taken aboard the pirate ship where they lend a hand. Pazu helps Dola’s husband, a mechanic, while Sheeta is employed to work in the kitchen, which she has to clean up first before cooking anything. Soon, Dola’s sons are all helping her in the kitchen, who all seem charmed by her. In the Japanese version, she is seen as a potential motherly figure to the sons, while in the Disney English dub one of the pirate sons even makes a profession of love to her. (“I’m in love with you!”)

The pirates and Muska’s fleet compete in the discovery of Laptua – Sheeta and Pazu get to the island first on their own in some sort of aerial contraption that is separated from the pirate ship during an attack from the government agents when they enter the violent storm.

There Sheeta and Pazu find another Laputan robot, and many more like it, but they’re all asleep. The moving robot takes care of the flora and fauna and looks after it. They soon hear gunfire and see that Muska’s fleet has also arrived and the clouds have parted; the pirates have been captured and the children persevere to rescue them, in the process Sheeta is captured by Muska and disappears with him into the deep interiors of the city where Muska displays the terrible power the crystal can unleash. He kills all his fleet using the Laputan robots and the power of the crystal. It is revealed that Muska is also in line of inheritance.

Sheeta finally manages to get the crystal back and runs, with Muska in pursuit, and she finds Pazu again who’s been looking for her. She gives him the crystal and tells him to throw it away before being caught by Muska.

In the final showdown, Muska is defeated by the children when they both use the crystal, uttering a spell of destruction, and Laputa disintegrates. The pirates manage to push off just in time. Muska is blinded and supposedly killed. The children are saved by the roots of the giant forest and they find their flight contraption, still in good condition, and fly away from the island, that steadily floats up higher and higher until apparently being caught in Earth’s orbit while the pirates and the children depart, going their own ways.

Original Japanese Trailer

Trivia

  • During one of the Laputan sequences, two fox squirrels are seen, from another of Mr. Miyazaki’s films: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
  • A crystal similar to the one that Sheeta wore is one of Howl’s accessories in Howl’s Moving Castle.
  • At the Studio Ghibli Museum there is a life-size statue of a Laputan robot.

Images

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Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in Children's Literature, Historical Fiction, Mystery.
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Montmorency

Book cover of "Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?"

Montmorency: Thief Liar, Gentleman? is a novel by Eleanor Updale and was published in 2003. It is the first in the Montmorency series followed by Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?, Montmorency and the Assassins, and Montmorency’s Revenge. Stephen Fry has heralded it as “one of the most original, witty, and delicious books” in a very long time. It is set in Victorian London, specifically, 1875-1880 and it details the story of a petty thief and his rise to high social standing.

Summary

In Victorian London a thief crashed through a glass window on a rooftop when he had been trying to escape from the police after he had stolen a bag of something. When inspected, it was apparent that the thief was sure to die – he was beyond repair, yet a young doctor defied death by sewing up the thief again through a series of complicated procedures and surgeries.

Once the thief is recovered enough from his injuries and operations, Dr. Robert Farcett (the young ambitious doctor) decides to display the thief at social gatherings attended by first class Victorians. It is while attending these gathernigs that the thief learns of a new development in London: the underground sewer system. Slowly, the thief begins formulating plans and plots his new life once he has been released from prison.

The thief, though, understands that he will not risk being caught again and decides he wants to be wealthy and he realizes he must have an accomplice. The accomplice in question is himself and he decides to take on the challenge of a double-life.

His alter-egos are as follows: Scarper, a disgraceful, grubby thief and also a manservant for the sophisticated, wealthy aristocrat Mr. Montmorency. Now Montmorency only has to wait until he is released into the world and begin his new “lives.”

On the designated date, all of the prisoners are reviewed and are selected as to who will be released and left behind. Montmorency is one of those who are released and he is given a package with something that could have helped him along in his new life – unfortunately, a guard takes it away from him even before he can take a chance to inspect the documents.

Now out in the streets of London, alive and free, Scarper/Montmorency begins by stealing articles of clothing, even paying a call to Dr. Farcett’s house where he removes articles of clothing for Montmorency. Scarper arrives at a hotel where he requests a room for Montmorency.

The hotel is somewhat of first-class and while Montmorency resides there the owner’s childish and lisping daughter is attracted to him, unfortunately for her, Montmorency is not interested and tries to avoid her at all costs. Scarper takes care to scare off the daughter to stay away from Montmonrency’s room or she’ll know what will happen.

Meanwhile Montmorency becomes the star of the show and even goes to the opera as well as attending a lecture by the one person that Montmorency ever liked when he was still only known as Prisoner 493. He also rescues a man from an out-of-control carriage and the man becomes Montmorency’s first true friend and his name is Lord George Fox-Selwyn.

Lord George Fox-Selwyn and Montmorency become fast friends and Montmorency is admitted as a member of George’s club. Afterwards, George gives Montmorency a job as a spy in the British government – the first assignment being to break into a Mauramanian embassy and prevent a European war. The success of the assignment gives Montmorency a permanent position and casting aside Scarper and all of his vile deeds, Montmorency returns every stolen possession to every rightful owner, and begins his new life as government spy with George.

Links

http://www.eleanorupdale.com – Eleanor Updale’s official website.

http://www.answers.com/topic/montmorency-scarper – Article describing brief summaries of the Montmorency books.

The Amulet of Samarkand Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in Adventure, Children's Literature, Fantasy.
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The Amulet of Samarkand The Amulet of Samarkand by British author Jonathan Stroud is the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It was published in 2003 in the U.K. and North America. The story is told in two different perspectives: first person (Bartimaeus) and narrative (Nathaniel). It is often viewed as a paralel world of our own world and I really like how Mr. Stroud manages to integrate magic into everything, even ancient history i.e. the fall of the Roman Empire, which is covered in Ptolemy’s Gate. Of the entire series, this one is my favourite.

The protagonists are twelve-year-old magician’s apprentice Nathaniel and a cheeky, often hilarious, djinni whom Nathaniel has summoned named Bartimaeus. The plot revolves around a powerful magical object, the Amulet of Samarkand, which Nathaniel ordered Bartimaeus to steal from the powerful and harsh magician Simon Lovelace.

Summary

Set in an alternate London, England, Nathaniel was early on in life given away by his parents to become a magician’s apprentice, mainly because of the money gained. He is told to forget his name forever as it is vital information that can be used by enemies and demons (djinnis and the like). His master, Mr. Underwood, has hardly any interest in him, let alone any interest in acquiring an apprentice, and his wife, Mrs. Underwood soon takes the scared boy under her wing and even manages to find out his name, as she says she does not want to call him “boy” all the time despite her husband’s furious remarks later on.

Nathaniel is educated in all sorts of subjects from world politics, geography, history, foreign languages, swimming, music, art, and magic. Of course, not all these things are taught to him by Mr. Underwood. They are taught by several tutors, who are all commoners: non-magical people who don’t have as much living standards as magicians do.

Everything is all very well until one fateful day when Nathaniel is summoned by Mr. Underwood so he can show off his apprentice. Mr. Underwood’s associates, however, do not take to Nathaniel very well, especially the man whom Nathaniel would later find out to be Simon Lovelace, and whom Nathaniel calls “a sore loser” after a cruel remark.

Set against revenge, Nathaniel releases mites upon the party and he is beaten sorely for his crimes. In an attempt to defend him, his art tutor Ms. Lutyens is sacked, yet another demonstration of injustice to the commoners.

After this cold, hard incident Nathaniel decides to speed up his studies on his own and begins learning far more magic than he ever did from his master Mr. Underwood and magic that his way beyond his years. Finally after a period of time he is ready enough to summon the five-thousand-year-old djinni Bartimaeus and orders him to steal Simon Lovelace’s most prized possession, which is none other than the Amulet of Samarkand and Nathaniel does this all without his master or his wife’s knowing. It is unfortunate, however, that Nathaniel does not even realize the extent of power the Amulet holds.

Eventually Nathaniel is given a new name by Mr. Underwood, which Nathaniel shall be known for the rest of his life: John Mandrake, after Nathaniel’s attempt to be named William Gladstone, England’s saviour, or at least, the England’s magicians’ saviour and whom Nathaniel regards as his hero.

Soon after his Naming, Nathaniel attends a special gathering of other magicians with Mr. and Mrs. Underwood. He also first sees the Prime Minister, Rupert Devereaux. An attack ensues upon the party with the use of a magical object in the shape of a disc and the suspect held is the Resistance, a group of commoners who oppose magic and continually battle against magicians’ power.

The climax heightens when Bartimaeus is caught and prisoned in the Tower of London after a fight in Sholto Pinn’s merchant shop, which results in considerably serious damage to the humans and the store. Inevitably, Bartimaeus is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London (I think), but escapes as he is rescued by Farqual (another djinni and sort of archenemy of Bartimaeus’s). Bartimaeus also escapes Farqual after the initial rescue.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel has been found out by his master, and has been severely punished. Mrs. Underwood sympathizes but cannot do anything in her power except to give Nathaniel advice about his actions and their consequences. Soon afterwards, it is announced that Mr. Lovelace has called, and wishes to see Mr. Underwood.

Nathaniel breaks out in a sweat and the sense of danger is heightened. Just at that moment, Bartimaeus appears, and discovers through Nathaniel he has lead Simon Lovelace to Mr. Underwood’s house. For a brief moment, Nathaniel is trapped between either running away or saving Mr. Underwood, despite him being a lousy master. The young apprentice’s good heart wins over and he attempts to save the Underwoods but fails. Mr. Lovelace uses the Amulet and destroys Nathaniel’s home and everything in it.

However, as Bartimaeus is there, he manages to rescue Nathaniel from the raging fire, and also prevents his young master to go back into the flames to try and rescue Mrs. Underwood. They find refuge in an abandoned old building and Nathaniel broods over the loss of the person who was dearest to him and how he could have saved her. Bartimaeus is sent out to get some food and brings in the morning paper, the headlines screaming about the wreakage of the Underwoods’ residence.

The two learn of Mr. Lovelace’s function, which will be in the countryside, and while Bartimaeus goes off to investigate, Nathaniel ventures out to buy the evening paper. Unfortunately all the newpapers have been sold and even more unfortunately, Nathaniel is confronted and his scrying disk is stolen

On the day of Mr. Lovelace’s function Nathaniel and Bartimaeus disguise themselves as a father and son business; their ticket to getting inside. Nathaniel looks around while he serves as a waiter and finally gets away to explore and discovers Mr. Lovelace’s devastating plot behind the whole function – ultimately leading to a political take-over.

After Nathaniel has defeated a magician who was intent on killing him, he and Bartimaeus do their best to warn the rest of the magicians, but their attempts are seemingly hopeless as the magicians are blind to everything except the main entertainment. The boy and djinni are trapped in a magical bubble consequently when Bartimaeus bites an earlier character Jessica Whitwell.

After a presentation, Simon Lovelace unleashes the terror: the most powerful djinni from the Other Place, which Mr. Lovelace controls by a horn. All is confusion and fright and everyone scatters. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus some how break out of the bubble and send back the monster and Simon Lovelace with it. Peace is restored and Nathaniel becomes apprenticed to Jessica Whitwell; other than that, the aftermath of the near-disaster is quiet as, in Bartimaeus’s words, the Prime Minister doesn’t want others to know his life was saved by a mere boy.

At long last, Nathaniel releases Bartimaeus, and the ancient djinni departs but not without leaving a memento of sorts: the smell of brimstone.

Film

The Amulet of Samarkand has also been planned for film adaptation for some time and it has only been recently revealed that Mirimax will be financing the film; other details aside from director and screenwriter is unknown as it is still in development.

Links

http://www.bartimaeustrilogy.com/ – Official website of The Bartimaeus Trilogy

Doomsday Book Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in Science Fiction.
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Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book is a science fiction novel by Connie Willis and published in 1992. It takes place in England in the year 2054 during the holiday season and a historian named Kivrin Engle time travels to the year 1348, when the plague swept across England. The title comes from the census and survey of English landowners by William the Conqueror, from the years 1085 to 1086.

It is a riveting, sometimes atmospherically tense, and exciting novel with realistic insights into the times of the horrible period of the Black Death. No wonder she won a Hugo Award for this book!

Summary

In the year 2054, time traveling is commonplace and no longer a theory or something that just exists in books. Time traveling is used as a means of documenting past history for historians, where the historian time travels to a specified time period, unless it is too dangerous, or a glitch happens in which the traveler is jumped to another period, and the base is at Oxford University.

The only way to travel back to the historian’s present time – in the story’s case, the mid-twenty-first century – is to somehow make a kind of landmark where he arrived.

Young Kivrin Engle is one of the few females to be a historian and actually qualify for time travel. She managed to persuade her instructor, Prof. James Dunworthy to allow her to travel to early fourteenth century England, as she specializes in mediaeval history.

However, she does not arrive at her destination as a a glitch occurred, known as a “slippage”, and she arrives just before the time the Black Death hits England, in the year 1348.

Meanwhile, back in twenty-first century England, a severe influenza epidemic occurs and eventually the whole city of London is quarantined. The severity of the influenza skyrocketed due to the fact that in this vision of the future, everyone has some kind of vaccine that fights against disease and nobody even suffers the common cold; however one of the men who helped set up the time travel for Kivrin wasn’t punctual about his injection and thus became contracted with influenza, and was contagious.

Kivrin hardly sets into 1348 when she contracts influenza, too, but because of her injections she got before she went traveling, she recovers quickly. Unfortunately, while she was ill, she was unable to mark her landing spot.

A priest and some rural citizens help her recover and they discover that she is literate, which, back in those days, was a rarity and so they consider her a runaway nun and prepare to send her packing her bags to a convent. It is somehow prevented, though, and she lives with her rescuers.

It is during this brief episode that she discovers she has landed in the wrong year. When the plague hits the crowded town, she tries to keep the citizens from fleeing to other towns and cities to prevent the disease from spreading, but to no avail. While Kivrin documents the history of 1348, she helplessly watches her friends, including the priest that rescued her, suffer and slowly die to their horrible deaths.

Meanwhile, in London, Prof. Dunworthy and a colleague’s nephew try to bring back Kivrin, and a flock of American tourists try to push onward with their peal of bells event at a church. The nephew is proving pretty dependent and not the brightest by means of history. In the midst of all the excitement, Prof. Dunworthy and the nephew finally get through and arrive at 1348, where they find Kivrin who is barely recognizable: she smells and is filthy with blood and dirt that has been caked on from weeks of attending to the plague victims, and she automatically still speaks Middle English. When they find her, she has just buried the priest. She has a breakdown and weeps, shaken by the hardship and grief of the ordeal, and returns to 2054 with the professor and nephew, just a few days after Christmas, and the surviving victims of the influenza return to health.

Further Notes

My review is just recapping the story briefly, as it is complex and the two time periods overlap significantly at times. Connie Willis’ writing is very good and the plot is believable as well as the possible future that she imagined.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading this book and it is sure not to disappoint! I place this book as one of the top science fiction time travel books next to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which I have also read and written a review of, which can be read here, and it remains my favourite by Mr. Wells to date.

I, Robot: A Critical Review Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted by j128 in Essays, Sci-fi.
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This following review is a discussion of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and the 2004 movie of the same name, including history of robots.

Isaac Asimovs I, Robot

Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot"

I, Robot is a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1950, and despite its title it is not related to Eando Binder’s short story of the same name. Originally, when Mr. Asimov had wished to call it Mind and Iron, and objected when the publisher renamed it.

The omnibus contains nine short stories, set within a quasi-narration (that is seen as memories) by the famous Dr. Susan Calvin, a reputed robopsychologist of U.S. Robots, who works with robots and helps them out with behavioural, psychological problems. Susan Calvin is one of the most well-grounded characters of Mr. Asimov’s robot stories.

Many times over screenplays were written for a movie based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories for Warner Brothers but the company didn’t accept any of them. The most notable attempt was Harlan Ellison’s screenplay, which was viewed with very positive responses from Mr. Asimov himself and he said it would be the best science fiction film ever. Mr. Ellison’s screenplay can be found in the book I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. I have read it and it is definately appealing.

In 2004, a film titled I, Robot starring Will Smith was released in North America, and many fans had anticipated its release in full faith of it being a unique Asimovian film. However, many were disappointed as it had become a science fiction thriller with a deep leaning towards the “Frankenstein complex“, a colloquial term used by Mr. Asimov described as “a fear of robots and other artificial intelligence.”

Quite a few years before I had even read I, Robot I had seen many trailers for the movie, and even though at the time I wasn’t really aware of what it was about, I could definately tell it was some sort of anti-robot movie. When I actually saw the film about one and a half years ago, with references of Mr. Asimov’s stories in mind, I wasn’t impressed. Myself, I see the film as being rather lame and underdeveloped due to its high amount of action and violence, and totally lacking in character development and story structure – even during scenes of high-excitement, I was pretty aloof and there wasn’t a single moment of personal excitement for me. It was like, “Okay, what happens next?”

History of Robots in Literature

Robots have appeared throughout literature since ancient times. In Greek legend, was said to be a creature that patrolled the ancient island of Crete day and night, watching for intruders, and the animated skeletons in the legend of the Golden Fleece could be called robots.

But it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that many believe the first robot appeared in literature, despite Victor Frankenstein’s Creature to be organic. Many refer to the Creature as “Frankenstein,” but it is the creator’s name, not the creation. In the story, Victor Frankenstein creates the Creature with several recent dead remains of people, and one night it becomes alive, and it destroys everything Frankenstein loves; in the finalty the Creature kills its creator. Thus, the origin of Mr. Asimov’s “Frankenstein complex”.

Incidentally the same year Isaac Asimov was born, it was in 1923 that the word “robot” was introduced into the English language by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s (pronounced Chapek) Rossum’s Universal Robots or R.U.R. The word robot comes from the Czech word robota, meaning “slavery, forced labour”, etc., from the Czech word rab “slave.”

Despite the etymology of “robot”, slavery was not the case in R.U.R. In the play, the robots are indistinguishable from human beings – as they are organic – and they are employed by humans. Through the course of the story, the human population increasingly becomes lazy up to the point where the robots are doing all the work – until one day, the robots revolt and attack the helpless humans. The robots later develop human qualities, such as the ability to love and reproduce.

Isaac Asimov’s Robots

Mr. Asimov describes in his introduction to Robot Visions that as he was growing up, he read tons of science fiction, especially the kind that dealt with robots, but he did get tired of the ceaselessly mediocre plot of robots rebelling and wreaking havoc until they were stopped at the eleventh hour, almost a cliché.

Mr. Asimov’s robot stories really eased the fear of robots so many people had and even more so when he made the idea of a robot take-over impossible with the Three Laws of Robotics, which state as follows:

  1. A robot may not harm a human, or allow a human to come to harm through inaction.
  2. A robot must obey a human’s orders unless they conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect itself unless this conflicts with the First or Second Law.
I, Robot 2004 film (tagline)

Promotional poster for "I, Robot"

The I, Robot Movie

Rumours of a sci-fi film based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories spread quite quickly in the early stages of making I, Robot. For many years, fans had hoped a movie based on Mr. Asimov’s robot stories would be faithful to them and based on an earlier screenplay, particularly Harlan Ellison’s (see above). While his screenplay is, as mentioned, the most notable especially as he had personal support from Mr. Asimov, Warner Brothers shelved it due to the fact that at the time it would be very expensive due to the technology involved, but of course, as always, there could be other things in the shadows about the screenplay being shelved.

Anyways, the screenplay written for the film was never based on Mr. Asimov’s works, it was originally entitled as Hardwired. Sometime later 20th Century Fox acquired the copyright and around the same time, rights to Mr. Asimov’s works became available. The director was assigned, who is said to have begun referring to it as “I, Robot” almost immediately.

The film was released in 2004, having been filmed in Vancouver, B.C., but set in the U.S. around the year 2035. In the film, humanity has become accustomed to relying on their robots, and Detective Spooner (Will Smith) is constantly trying to condemn robots but with little success. He hates robots and sees no good in them at all and when the mysterious death of a prominent figure of U.S. Robotics (note the difference in the company’s name), a company that promotes the use of robots and manufactures robots. Spooner directly assumes the cause of death was by a robot, despite others insisting it was a case of suicide.

Spooner suspects one of the new line of robots,the NS-5s, nicknamed Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk), yet the robot refuses he committed murder, and he even displays emotions such as anger.

To make a long story short, the high artificial intelligence V.I.K.I., which is what all the new robots are hooked up to (except Sonny), apparently corrupts the robots and the robots begin to revolt against the humans and initiate some kind of curfew. The previous robots, the NS-4s that had been replaced by the NS-5s, respond to the emergency and try to protect the humans only to be destroyed by the new robots.

Sonny, Spooner, and Dr. Susan Calvin defeat V.I.K.I and the other robots, which revert back to their normal state, and everything goes back to normal pretty much.

All that happens within the course of the film displays characteristics such as the Frankenstein complex, robot take-over, and saving humanity at the last moment. There are some references to Mr. Asimov’s works in the film, whether they’re obvious or alluded to, but they don’t really serve the same purpose as they do in the originals. These are some of the robot stories that are featured: “Little Lost Robot”, “The Bicentennial Man”, “The Evitable Conflict”, and “Robot Dreams”; a story that is prominent in the scene when Sonny is seen standing on a hill looking down at all the other robots.

I, Robot Trailer

Further Reading

I suggest reading Mr. Asimov’s I, Robot, and I would also suggest Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. Both are readily available; in late 2004 Warner Brothers packaged the screenplay in book form with I, Robot featuring the DVD cover of the movie.

The Illustrated Man Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posted by j128 in Science Fiction.
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The Illustrated Man

"The Illustrated Man"

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury is a collection of short stories published in 1951 and supported by the frame story of the Illustrated Man, a vagrant who has had tattoo work on his body. His tattoos tend to alarm people, thus the reason for constantly wandering, and always having to wear garments that cover his entire body even on the hottest of days – such a day when the narrator meets the Illustrated Man.

Summary

Prologue – The Illustrated Man’s tattoos are very life-like, which is one of the reasons of the alarm, and secondly at night the tattoos begin to move all over the man’s body and they all tell their own stories set far in the future – and they are true stories, things that really do happen at one time or other. The person who did the man’s tattoos was a witch and the Illustrated Man strongly believes she was from the future – how else could she have known these things were going to happen?

The narrator watches the tattoos as the Illustrated Man sleeps in the night and the stories begin.

The Veldt – Jack and Lydia are a couple who are both well off and they have two children, Peter and Wendy. They live in a is futuristic high-tech house and they haven’t a thing to do at all for everything is done for them from housework to cleaning their own bodies. There is one room, called the nursery, which is designed for their two children to help them towards recovery, as they are neurotic, and their psychologist recommended it. The nursery is a room specially designed to adapt its interior suited to the children’s thoughts. However, things become awry when the parents become suspicious due to the constant screaming coming from the nursery and they discover an African predator environment. Everything is so real from the burning sun above to the lions feeding on their recent hunt that they are freaked out and after a while Jack calls their psychologist, who says that the nursery has become far too much out of hand and must be shut down. The father does so but not without his children having a crying tantrum and Lydia telling Jack to be a bit less relentless – how could he be so cruel? This all happens as Jack continues throughout the rest of the house shutting everything off and he explains that they are starting life anew for the better and they shall be having a little vacation. Lydia is persistent about the nursery being turned on one last time and finally, her husband consents and the children stop their tears and happily go back into the nursery but for a minute only. As the children are in the nursery, the parents are alone in their room to dress and get ready as the psychologist will be arriving in half an hour to assist them with moving. But before they can do any of this, Peter calls and says they must see something. The parents rush down but find no one. Becoming scared, they enter the nursery, and the door is shut and locked behind them from none other then their children. Jack tries to negotiate with his children to open the door but all attempts are fruitless and as the lions close in, he and Lydia realize in their last moments whose screams they had been hearing.

Kaleidescope – A spaceship has just exploded due to a malfunction and the astronauts fall to their demise. It centres round one particular bitter astronaut who sees he has done nothing at all – nothing worthwhile, that is – before any of this happened. The other astronauts, several miles apart, converse with each other till their deaths. Finally, the centred astronaut wishes his life would be worth something for someone else and his wish miraculously comes true: he appears as a shooting star when he comes into contact with Earth’s atmosphere as he is incinerated.

The Other Foot – For twenty years Mars has been inhabited solely by black people during the time when the white men began to start an atomic war. Now news is coming round that white men are coming to Mars after all these years. Willie, a man who is full of hate for the white men, tells his wife who is opposite to him that they will make the white men second-class and force them to do all the work that the white men forced black people to do. This fails when an old white man tells that just now the war has ended and hardly anything is left on Earth – all of the cities and towns were bombed, nothing is left. Willie sees his foolishness in all of his previous actions and everything that had been set up for the white men is hastily destroyed. They begin anew, old hurts forgiven.

The Highway – In rural Mexico, some people live on the highway and are constantly seeing thousands of people within their cars speeding all in one direction. They do not understand the reason for this and continue on with their lives, unconcerned. One day, after getting some water for the last car filled with four women and one man, the driver, he discovers from the car’s passengers that a nuclear war is starting – the end of the world. After the car speeds off, the man is left wondering, what is the world?

The Man – A spaceship has landed with space explorers and come upon a planet with inhabitants living in a healthy state of bliss. The captain is quite irritated that the population doesn’t even notice their landing, and when Martin, the lieutenant comes back, he says that yesterday a man visited them and this man performed miracles – a blind man’s sight was restored, the mayor’s crippled arm made good as new, etc. The captain can’t believe any of this and wants scientific proof for everything, which the population can’t provide. Their only evidence are their words. Martin wants to stay on this planet, it is what he has been looking for a long time, but he hadn’t realized this what he had been trying to find. The captain says Martin is a fool and that this man is a trick of either two men who must have beaten their team and stole their glory! However, it proves not to be so when a rocket lands on the planet sometime later and the last survivor, near the brink of death, gasps to the captain and Martin that they landed in a cosmic storm and everyone is dead. Soon after he dies as well. The captain then says to Martin, supposing this man is the man that everyone has wished to meet for centuries since his death – a religious figure, possibly Jesus, though his name is never mentioned and is never given because he explains to the planet’s inhabitants that his name will be different on every planet so he has no need of a name. The captain decides to visit every other planet until he meets this man and Martin and a few of the other volunteers stay behind, but not without the captain for the last time calling them all fools.

The Long Rain – Four astronauts, originally six, but two of them have died, are stranded on the planet Venus where it rains heavily and without stopping for a second. They attempt to travel through the Venusian rain to find shelter at one of the sun domes, where there will be warmth, protection from the rain, and food, and in the centre of the dome is a large florescent sun. On the way they encounter an electric storm after they come across their rocket, which they had left behind earlier with two of their dead men. The storm comes towards where they are and they run away from the rocket and throw themselves down, hoping that the storm will strike their rocket instead. The storm comes and does strike the rocket, the two dead men near the rocket, and one of the living men, who, despite the others’ warnings, stood and ran away, scared to death. They find the sun dome, but it is destroyed. They go to the other sun dome, which is not too far off, but not without losing another comrade, who becomes insane due to the unrelenting rythme of the rain, and looks up at the sky breathing in the rain until he drowns. They continue onwards. Then another of the crew, Simmons, slowly becomes insane also because of the same reason the other man became insane, and he stops and sits on a rock, telling the captain to continue to the sun dome. He’ll shoot himself once the captain is out of sight. Unwillingly, the captain does so, he doesn’t even hear the gunshot, and just as he feels he wants to give up as well, he sees a glimmer of yellow, he continues, and discovers the sun dome. And there is food, fresh clothes, and the warm florescent sun.

The Rocket Man – Told from the viewpoint of Doug, the son of an astronaut, he tells the story about his father, how he is always away most of the time because of his job, and thus has little time to spend with his wife or his son. He hears the father come home and go to sleep with his wife and while they sleep, Doug takes his father’s suitcase, which contains his father’s uniform. The son studies it and finds all sorts of space dust on it and takes a sample, then as quietly as possible puts it back in his parents’ bedroom while they still sleep. While he is at home, Doug’s father tells him not to be like his father – not to be a rocket man (or astronaut). The father explains that the problem is that he always feels trapped. Whenever he’s up in space he wants to be back home, but then when he is home he wants to be back with the stars. Finally the father makes a decision: he will go on one last space flight and then he will stay home forever. He promises. Next morning he goes for the last time for another three months. Sadly, he never makes it home – a messenger comes with a telegram and Doug says that his father didn’t die in Mars, or Venus, or Jupiter, or Saturn. He crashed in the sun. After that, the son and his mother’s schedule entirely changed. Doug and his mother would sleep during the day and have breakfast and lunch during the night and finally at six in the morning they would have dinner. Only on days that it rained would they go on walks, as his mother promised that should her husband ever crash into any of the planets or Moon, she would never look in that direction.

The Fire Balloons – Two priests go to Mars, as missionaries, to enlighten the Martians of old sins. While there he discovers the natives are actually the blue light of pure energy and as they have no material form they cannot commit sins and do not need redemption. So the two Fathers go to the settlement to build a church, which will be of real use for the others, not the pure energy forms.

The Last Night of the World – This is a very interesting story in contrast to other stories concerning the end of the world. Everyone has a dream, about the end of the world, and with this knowledge they go on with their daily lives and continue with their normal routines of going to work, doing dishes, taking children to bed, et cetera. At last they go to sleep for the last time.

The Exiles – In the year 2100 or so books containing themes of horror and the paranormal – werewolves, witches, ghosts, were banned and burned on Earth. The holidays such as Halloween and Christmas were banned as well. Classic authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and others were exiled on the planet Mars, only living through the remaining copies of their books. Santa Claus also lives on Mars, a very withered old man barely alive. A few astronauts are going to Mars with the last copies of these classic authors. There on Mars they will burn them and all the authors will die forever, never to be reborn.

No Particular Night or Morning – The story takes place in outer space and it is centred around a man, named Hitchcock, who seems to be twisted as he has these ideas that one only live in the present, i.e. when he’s in New York, Boston doesn’t exist and vise versa. He tells his friend Clemens that space is simply nothing on top, nothing on the bottom, and a lot of empty nothings between. Through a small series of unusual events, Hitchcock is finally lost forever in space as he took himself out after dressing into a spacesuit, lost and falling in outer space, “on his way to no particular night and no particular morning.”

The Fox and the Forest – In the year 2155 A.D. war is upon the world and a couple, after hearing of a vacation available from a company called “Travel in Time, Inc.” where one may travel into the past escape in attempt from the war into the year 1938 in Mexico, but they are patiently and slowly being pursued by a government agent trying to force them to go back to 2155 against their bidding. The husband agrees to go back to the future, as long as his wife is safe and left behind. The agent, named Simms, agrees, and tells the husband to meet him in the plaza in exactly ten minutes. Ten minutes later, Simms is run over by the husband whose car had gone out of control, as he explains to his wife after the incident. The couple decide to stay with a director and his film crew, while the party drink martinis, the director suggests the husband’s wife to be an actress: enter Hollywood. And how about starring in a film set in a war period, about a couple like them, and how about set in the year 2155? The director continues on and on and as he does so the entire tale folds exactly as the couple had lived it. Suddenly the manager begins banging on the door and threatens to call the police if they do not open the door. There is a flash and possibly a minute later the manager opens the door and finds the room unbelievably empty.

The Visitor – Mars is used as a quarantine for people with deadly illnesses. And these people with their diseases are pretty much left to stay on Mars till their deaths, never again to visit Earth. One day, a young man is dropped off on Mars, who has the ability to form thought transferance and telepathy. This is a wonderful thing for the exiles, who are able to live in all sorts of places within their minds – New York City, Greece, wherever they want to go. Unfortunately the exiles begin to argue over the young man and consequently when a fight breaks out the young man is killed unintentionally.

The Concrete Mixer – Martians prepare to invade the planet Earth and sieze control… Except for one particular Martian, who is the protagonist of the story, and his name is Ettil Vrye. He has been reading Earth books documenting similar invasions upon Earth and all have been defeated by “a young man, usually lean, usually alone, usually Irish, named Mick or Rick, or Jick or Bannon.” Despite Ettil’s protests and after almost being burned alive, he is forced to participate in the invasion. However, the entire fleet is surprised when they discover Earth has given up war: the people have recently destroyed all their atom bombs, etc. and so have no weapons to defend themselves. They accept the Martians as their victors, though Ettil still remains suspicious. The rocket carrying the fleet and Ettil land in the United States of America and are given a welcome speech and the American ladies take several of the Martians and show them Earthling everday living. Finally Ettil meets a filmmaker, or more properly, approached by a filmmaker who is awfully intent on making a film about the Martian invasion. Ettil discovers that the filmmaker’s name is Rick. After this meeting, Ettil is left pondering the situation, and as the story closes he is being chased by a car full of young people pointing and laughing at the Martian – Ettil.

Marionettes, Inc. – Two middle-aged men, named Smith and Braling, find themselves in conflicting marriages. Braling’s problem is that his wife never lets him go out and she is nervous and very authoritive. Smith, however, has a wife who is madly in love with him and constantly demands his presence. The two men both long for some personal freedom and they talk of a utopian-sounding place called Rio. But pining as they are for their freedom, they endure their seperate situations considering the responsibilities of their selfish motivations. Braling surprises Smith, though, when Smith sees Braling in the upstairs window while at the same time Braling is standing next to him. Braling explains. He recently purchased an android available through an illegal company called Marionettes, Inc. and this android duplicates Braling himself in every possible way. Smith sees it as a swell idea and Braling gives Smith the business card. A conflict arises when the android Braling expresses emotions towards Braling’s wife. Smith says good night and goes off back home, excited about the prospect of Marionettes, Inc. When Smith comes home he shockingly discovers he himself has been tricked by a marionette wife after he hears the familiar tick-tick-tick in his “wife’s” chest. Meanwhile, Braling proceeds to lock up his marionette as he does not need a duplicate at the moment. Further conflict arises when the android Braling express wishes not to be locked up in the basement and the android repeats his emotions towards Mrs Braling. Towards the end the android Braling reveals its plans to travel to Rio with Mrs. Braling and to leave the human Braling in the basement. At last we come to Mr. and Mrs. Braling’s room and someone kisses Mrs. Braling. Surprised, Mrs. Braling wakes up and says something along the lines of, “You haven’t done that in a long time.” Then, whomever kissed her, either the human Braling or the android says, “We’ll see about that.”

The City – Of all the stories contained within The Illustrated Man, this is an absolute chiller. A rocket expedition from Earth lands on a seemingly unpopulated planet and there is only a city, absolutely bare or is it? One of the crew instantly picks up a dislike for the City and expresses his desire to go back to the rocket, whereas the captain wishes to continue to explore. The poor man is absolutely correct about going back to the rocket: the City is apparently contains some sort of high artificial intelligence and it has been waiting for the arrival of humans for twenty thousand years, to act out its revenge since humans, long before recorded history, wiped out their culture with biological weaponry. After the City captures, kills, and examines the astronauts (by extremely gruesome ways) they rebuild the corpses and use them as robots to issue a biological attack on Earth.

Zero Hour – Children across the America are engrossed in a new game, called “Invasion”. The parents think it is absolutely adorable and don’t really think much of it until they find out in an awful way – when it’s too late, that it wasn’t a game at all. Aliens chose their children as allies and to initiate an alien invasion through the children.

The Rocket – Set in Mexico, this is the story of Fiorello Bodoni and his family who are in the depths of unimaginable poverty and Mr. Bodoni works as a junkyard man. Despite his poverty he manages to save $3,000, enough to send one member of his family on a rocket to visit outer space – the absolute dream, the absolute journey of a lifetime. Conflict arises when nobody can decide who should go. Mr Bodoni solves the problem, though, when he uses all of his money to buy a mock-up of a rocket and the aftermath is concluded by sending his family on a journey to Mars.

Epilogue – The narrator has seen the tattoos’ stories and then his eyes wander over to the bare patch on the Illustrated Man’s left shoulder blade, where an image of the person the Illustrated Man has been with for a while shows up, usually in an hour. The image of the person shows the person’s entire life and how they shall die, man or woman. The narrator’s face appears on this very spot and as he watches, he sees his life ended by the Illustrated Man’s hands round his neck. Frightened out of his life, he dashes off the porch: away from the Illustrated Man.

I listened to this book on audio cassette from Recorded Books, unabridged, and narrated by Paul Hecht, who is a truly wonderful narrator and captures all of the stories’ essences.

There is also a copy of The Illustrated Man in book form published in June 1997 with a new introduction by the author. It is available from HarperCollins Publishers.