Finally, some answers.
One of the great mysteries of our history – alien abductions – has been partially explained by a new picture from Mars. It’s always been a bit of a head-scratcher just what exactly do aliens do with the human beings they abduct. In an ideal world (an alien world, obviously) the abductees are whisked away and, after a bit of harmless anal probing and some restful, suspended animation in a tank full of alien goop, they live a fantastic life on another planet with lots of really neat gadgets, 3D televisions and cheap, working light-sabres. Not surprising, heaps of lunatics are queuing up. A bit like all the nutters who’d happily volunteer for a manned mission to Mars even though we couldn’t bring them back, there are plenty of people constantly jumping up and down in the middle of the Nevada Desert, waving their arms and hoping to get picked up by a UFO. Or maybe at least get interviewed by Louis Theroux.
These are the same folks who think the tavern scene in the original Star Wars IV must be the best place ever to visit. The bar is full of very bad dudes with guns who’ll kill you for looking at them the wrong way, everyone speaks a weird language, there’s a crap band in the corner and chopping off someone’s arm to settle an argument is okay. I usually say to these idiots that, believe it or not, this can be easily arranged – without ever leaving the planet. We can drop them into a pub in, say, Caracas (Venezuela) or San Salvador and they’ll experience exactly the same thing. Briefly, before being turned into a messy statistic.
But back to alien abductions. It’s revealed by these latest pictures that the aliens, in fact, dump their guests off at a layby on their way out of the solar system. Unfortunately, it’s on Mars where nobody except for Matt Damon can survive more than a few seconds. Stupid bloody aliens. Not so advanced-civilisation after all, apparently.
And identifying this particular abductee is possible through the careful application of scientific, forensic processes.
It’s Wendolyn from Wallace and Gromit’s, A Close Shave.
Compare the two pictures (the one on the left has been artfully created by… someone). Pretty obvious, right?
So next time you’re thinking of attracting a joyride in a UFO consider the chances you’ll be booted out the back door on the way past Mars. Where there’s no oxygen, no internet, no Matt Damon and no potatoes to eat.
There are no aliens in my free novella Twice As Dead, but you’ll find ghosts, gunfights and plenty of women nearly as attractive as Wendolyn.
Go to this page for links to free versions of Twice As Dead and all my other (not quite so free) books, too.
The planet Mars is host to some of the greatest mysteries that baffle our space scientist’s minds. Did it ever support life? Did it ever have water? Why did it appear red for so many centuries? And most incomprehensible of all – how the fuck did The Martian win a Golden Globe for Best Movie, Comedy or Musical?
This ain’t a comedy – apart from maybe two or three quirky one-liners about our hero starving to death in a space suit. And the guy in question, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) never breaks into any rousing chorus song before dancing the can-can around a nearby crater. So go figure about that Golden Globe…
However, it is a good movie worth an award. It’s a fairly predictable “Robinson Crusoe Goes To Mars” story with, obviously, a unique setting and sci-fi type obstacles to Watney surviving, rather than head-hunting cannibals who want to scoop his brains out with a wooden spoon. The poor bastard gets left behind when everyone else abandons the Mars exploration camp because of a violent storm – a storm which trashes Watney’s Life Support “I’m not dead” electronic thingy and they assume he’s been toasted, too. Useless bastards could have looked out the window before hitting the blast-off button…
So Watney has to figure out a way to survive another few years on his own until, as he already knows, the next Mars mission is due to arrive. Then he can somehow travel across to the new landing zone and knock on the door for help – no doubt scaring the absolute fuck out of the astronauts inside who think they’re the only living things within a zillion miles or so. Fortunately, Watney is a Botanist and plans to grow a bunch of vacuum-packed potatoes to eat. To help things along, sharp-eyed NASA observers on Earth notice that the Mars Exploration toilet seat is being left up suggesting that some bloke – take a wild guess, it’s Watney – is still alive and needs saving.
But this is kind of “present day” science fiction and no one can simply turn the spaceship around and go pick him up. It’s all about impossible distances, years of mind-numbing space travel and insurmountable logistics – a bit like driving the Forrest Highway really. No surprise, there’s the prerequisite nerdy kid who’s spent his entire life wanking alone over pictures of Sigourney Weaver half-naked in Alien – who figures out a “better” way to save Watney when the freeze-dried shit hits the oxygen-regeneration unit.
That’s enough spoilers. It’s a cool, entertaining movie with plenty of special sci-fi effects for Trekky and Star Wars fans. About the only fly in the plot ointment is believing that anyone could survive so long just eating spuds – but I suppose it worked okay for the Irish in the 19th Century.
Check it out with a big bag of popcorn and a carton of beer – or a mountain of potato chips if you want to get into The Martian zone.
400 DAYS: FILM REVIEW
Okay, I’ll do the right thing and warn you that some of this review might be regarded as spoilers. Which has nothing to do with how the script, the cast, the plot and production values do a great job of spoiling the entire film anyway, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
400 Days steals its concept from the very real HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation) experiment where pseudo astronauts are simulating space travel and imitating living on Mars to determine if any adverse psychological effects might happen during the real thing. Like, if you might suffer any urges to axe-murder your fellow crew, because they didn’t replace the used toilet roll. Bastards.
In 400 Days it’s a private organisation, not NASA, and four wannabe astronauts are entombed in an underground, mock-spaceship facility in the middle of the desert to pretend they’ve embarked on a long mission to another planet (no prizes for guessing how long). They’re warned that all kinds of bad, simulated space shit will happen and they have to cope. If successful, at the end of the four hundred days maybe NASA will give them a job… or something.
The first fly in the film’s ointment appears when we meet our intrepid crew. Even in a privatised venture you’d expect that any participants would have met some extremely stringent entry qualifications. Obviously, NASA will never send just any fucking idiot into space. However, the company behind the 400 Days project apparently believes that NASA will send not only one, but four fucking idiots to Mars and beyond — the crew in this movie.
The captain of the “ship” rolls up on Day One with a crippling hangover, because his girlfriend dumped him. This makes perfect sense. Neil Armstrong was probably on the piss for weeks before landing on the moon. Our second crewman can’t take anything seriously — great criterion for taking part in any in-depth simulation. Crewman Three is a weedy, psychotic wreck before he even goes down the ladder. The fourth member of the team is, of course, a cute attractive girl who doubles as the crew’s doctor and psychologist.
Awesome idea, let’s lock three fucked-up, horny fools underground with a stunning girl who’s going to be giving them regular prostate examinations. What could possibly go wrong? In fact, what she does give them is scheduled injections of stuff they didn’t agree to — and, lo and behold, all kinds of hallucinogenic, scary shit starts to happen (I use the term scary under advisement) including unseen monsters banging on the hull and knocking on the door. The team also loses all contact with so-called Mission Control, but nobody’s willing to pop the hatch and check if Occupation Health and Safety has closed the whole thing down, because that would rate a fail if they’re wrong, get it? No job at NASA for you, arsehole.
So the big question is — are the hallucinations, the terrifying noises, the lack of contact and truly appalling fucking plot all part of the simulation… or has something real gone wrong?
There is one spectacular crash — but sorry, we’re not talking special effects here. It’s in the credibility of the script. Otherwise 400 Days is just a lazy, low-budget piece of sci-fi fodder with most of the film shot, I suspect, in the director’s own kitchen. The self-serve checkouts at Woolworths look more futuristic than 400 Days’ set design. Even when they finally pop the hatch and emerge, it’s night-time and pitch black. The obligatory tumbleweed rolls past. And although they know it’s still Earth and they’ve only been underground, the crew still put on their pretend space suits and helmets — for fuck’s sake (sigh).
Honestly, the most impressive bit of sci-fi, space imagery used for the film is the picture on the front of the DVD cover (yes, that’s it above). It probably took the entire CGI budget. I could say, “What a crock of shit” — but it tricked me into watching this rubbish, so you gotta hand it to them.
Maybe I’m being too harsh and the film was unfortunately released at roughly the same time as the latest Star Wars, where the budget for Harrison Ford’s food blender was larger than 400 Days’ complete production — comparisons aren’t going to help. So, by all means have a look for yourselves, but I recommend you wait until it slips onto the “Weekly” DVD shelves.
I should mention the ending. You’ll blink twice and say loudly, “What the fuck?”
Does that give you a hint?
Yes, yes… I know…
Die-hard readers of printed books argue that there’s nothing to match the “feel” of those real pages. The crunchy noise they make as you turn them, keeping your partner awake in bed beside you and prompting hissed threats of divorce if you don’t keep quiet. The way that books, like bits of toast, always fall on the floor the wrong way and flip closed, losing your place. The comforting weight of a good tome, like carry around a loaf of rye bread in your backpack. Attracting rats and mice.
Don’t forget germs. A good book can cause people to burst into tears. Tears means sniffles, sniffles means snot, and snot means germs — this stuff’s bubbling out of your nose for God’s sake. It’s hardly going to be sterile, is it? The avid reader probably leaves enough germs on a book’s cover to wipe out an entire city with pneumonia.
Still, we’re very sentimental about the printed novel. It’s kind of romantic in a sleeping spouse-enraging, doughy, germ-ridden sort of way.
Okay, to be fair in this digital, piracy-plagued age there’s a lot to be said for a real book. Your average Stephen King-like novel is around 200,000 words. A printed book is a bloody efficient way to store 200K words. It doesn’t need batteries or a power outlet, it won’t break if you drop it, and when someone else wants to borrow your book it means you’ll hand over your copy, which should prompt many people to say, “Piss off, buy your own — you bloody cheapskate.” That’s good for the author’s sales.
But be honest, as much as you’re keen to hang onto the past and bury your face in several pulped trees when you’re reading, have you ever tried an eReader?
They’re awesome. If you consider buying something like a Kindle Paperwhite it’s not like reading from a screen at all. Amazon has gone to great lengths to create an experience akin to reading a printed paper page — without the snot and germs. However, if you want to try ebooks cost-free you don’t need an eReader at all, if you already own some kind of tablet. Free apps will mimic a Kindle perfectly.
Personally, although I own one of the original Kindles, lately I prefer to read books on my iPad using the Kindle app. For a very simple reason — I can set the app to display white text on a black background and read in the complete dark without disturbing my wife in bed… apart from the constant sniffing, burping, farting and yawning of which I’m apparently guilty of (yes me, not her, but I think she’s making it up). The app never forgets what page I’m on — although I often forget what I read the night before — I can increase the size of the text when I’ve been drinking, and being an iPad I can plug in some headphones and listen to soothing book-reading music at the same time (like Nine Inch Nails or Ozzy Osbourne).
Ebooks are generally cheaper, even best-sellers are usually much less in price than the printed versions. There is a wealth of very cheap, “indie” authors’ books, too. In fact, a zillion free books are out there. Okay, not all of them are well-written. In fact, there’s a lot of crap self-published and the good indie authors are the first to acknowledge this, but don’t let that deter you, because there really are some excellent indie authors doing sci-fi, thrillers, horror — it’s not just about romance and erotica like 50 Shades of Grey. Of course, if you are on the look-out for a bit of naughty porn-without-pictures you should find the odd title or two… yes, I’m being sarcastic.
I don’t have to convince you about eReaders. The apps are free, almost every ebook is available in a decent-sized sample that’s free so it’s a “try before you buy” no-risk purchase. In Australia (dunno about anywhere else) you can even borrow ebooks through your local library. For free — it’s a library, right?
Trust me, eReaders in all shapes and sizes are brilliant. What have you got to lose by trying one? Only a couple of hours reading a really good book… maybe even one of mine?