Archive for Algis Budrys

Page Seventeen II: Electric Boogaloo

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2021 by dcairns

The handmaid of the Inn looks in before going to bed, ‘just to see if you wanted anything, sir.’ Finding he does not, she wishes him good-night, and retires hesitatingly to the door, then turns; ‘I would no sit up to-night, master. ‘Taint good to keep awake o’ nights now. Maybe ye’ld sleep and hear naught of it.”Naught of what?’ ‘Eh? ’tis more than I can tell and maybe ye’d say ’tis the wind.’ The door closes abruptly and she is gone.

‘He pays regular,’ was the rejoinder. ‘But come, it’s getting dreadful late, you had better be turning flukes – it’s a nice bed, Sal and me slept in that ‘ere bed the night we were spliced. There’s plenty room for two to kick about in that bed; it’s a almighty big bed that. Why, afore we give it up, Sal used to put our Sam and little Johnny in the foot of it. But I got a dreaming and sprawling about one night, and somehow, Sam got pitched on the floor, and came near breaking his arm. Arter that, Sal said it wouldn’t do. Come along here, I’ll give ye a glim in a jiffy;’ and so saying he lighted a candle and held it towards me, offering to lead the way. But I stood irresolute; when looking at a clock in the corner he exclaimed, ‘I vum it’s Sunday – you won’t see that harpooneer to-night; he’s come to anchor somewhere – come along then; do come; won’t ye come?’

Haber nodded judiciously and stroked his beard. What had seemed a mild drug-habituation case now appeared to be a severe aberration, but he had never had a delusion system presented to him quite so straightforwardly. Orr might be an intelligent schizophrenic, feeding him a line, putting him on, with schizoid inventiveness and deviousness; but he lacked the faint inward arrogance of such people, to which Haber was extremely sensitive.

‘If they were going to let Martino go anyway,’ Rogers asked, ‘why would they go to so much trouble with him? He wouldn’t have needed all that hardware just to keep him alive. Why did they carefully make an exhibition piece out of him?’

Miss Duveen ignored the question. “I am not uttering one word of blame,” she went on rapidly; “I am perfectly aware that such things confuse me. Miss Coppin tells me not to think. She tells me that I can have no opinions worth the mention. She says, ‘Shut up your mouth.’ I must keep silence then. All that I am merely trying to express to you, Arthur, knowing you will regard it as sacred between us – all that I am expressing is that my dear sister, Caroline, was a gifted creature with not a shadow or vestige or tinge or taint of confusion in her mind. Nothing. And yet, when they dragged her our of the water and laid her there on the bank, looking -” She stooped herself double in a sudden dreadful fit of gasping, and I feared for an instant she was about to die.

Mickey took the glass from Arthur’s hand and as he walked to the card table he brushed against the wires that hung down from the central light socket. They swayed towards Arthur. He leant away from them as though they were poisonous snakes about to bite. Which, in a manner of speaking, they were.

‘Thunder!’ he cried, ‘A week! I can’t do that; they’d have the black spot on me by then. The lubbers is going about to get the wind of me this blessed moment; lubbers as couldn’t keep what they got, and want to nail what is another’s. Is that seamanly behaviour now, I want to know? But I’m a saving soul, I never wasted good money of mine, nor lost it neither; and I’ll trick ’em again, I’m not afraid of ’em. I’ll shake out another reef, matey. and daddle ’em again.

An Indian Ghost in England from The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales by Rudyard Kipling; Moby-Dick by Herman Melville; The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin; Who? by Algis Budrys; Miss Duveen, from The Picnic and Other Stories by Walter de la Mare; GBH by Ted Lewis; Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Pg. 17, #16

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2020 by dcairns

It was, I suppose, a kind of motor-car, but unlike anything I had ever seen before, and nearing no more resemblance to a modern machine than a ‘bone-shaker’ of twenty years ago to a modern ‘free-wheel.’ It appeared to be built of iron, and was painted a dead black. In the fore-part of the structure a fore-wheel spun round at a terrible speed, and various bars and beams moved rapidly backwards and forwards. The chimney was quite ten ft. in height, and poured out a dense volume of smoke. On a small platform behind, railed in by a stout iron rail, stood a small man with his back to us. His dark hair, which must have reached nearly to his shoulders, streamed behind him in the wind. In each hand he grasped a huge lever, and he was apparently gazing steadily into the darkness before him, though it seemed to me that he might just as well have shut his eyes, for the machine had no lamps, and the only light in the whole concern streamed out from the half-open furnace door.

*

After a ride up the mountain, Halifax narrowly avoided an early disaster as he was getting out of his car. Hitler was decked out in local costume, which included “black trousers, white silk socks, and pumps.” Halifax assumed he was a footman, and was about to hand him his hat and coat when Neurath, the German foreign minister, whispered hoarsely “Der Führer! Der Führer!” Halifax barely avoided mistaking the dictator of one of the world’s most powerful military powers for a servant in livery.

*

‘My idea about the lecture, resumed the Duchess hurriedly, ‘is to inquire whether promiscuous Continental travel doesn’t tend to weaken the moral fibre of the social conscience. There are people one knows, quite nice people when they are in England, who are so different when they are anywhere the other side of the Channel.’

*

“If it’s only a case of multiple personality I must really cry off,” interrupted the doctor again hastily, a bored expression in his eyes.

*

From the earliest literature, it is evident that the notion of spontaneous human combustion emanated from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century popular belief that the drinking of strong spirits might light a spontaneous flame in the stomach. Since this belief had its origin in Scandinavia, it was no coincidence that the Dane Thomas Bartholin was the first scientist to assimilate it into seventeenth-century medicine. The idea of aquavit drinkers bursting into spontaneous flames this preluded the first mentioning of the phenomenon we can call increased combustibility by more than 100 years; the first of these odd postmortem reports of bodies found extensively destroyed by fire without major damage to the surroundings was published in 1673. Many others have followed, and at least 120 well-attested cases of this phenomenon exist on record. There has been no satisfactory instance of any individually combusting spontaneously, and in the greater part of the cases an external source of fire is apparent.

*

‘Look,’ the President said. Sputtering fires and swirling ropes cast their lights and shadows through the window and into the room. ‘It’s all like that, everywhere. We can’t put it out, but if we could learn what let you walk through it out of Europe…’

*

Mr. Thwaites had since 1939 slowly learned to swallow the disgrace of Hitler, of whom he had been from the beginning, and still secretly remained, a hot disciple. He could now even force himself to speak disparagingly of Hitler; but to speak well of the Russians was too much for him. He could not mention them save gloweringly, defensively, almost savagely. He had also undergone the misfortune of capturing Moscow and Leningrad within three weeks of the outbreak of the war, and so his boarding-house sagacity had been struck at along with his personal feelings.

*

Seven passages from seven pages seventeens from seven more-or-less random books from various shelves hereabout. The first Hitler story is, apparently, true.

Lord Boden’s Motor, by J.R. Harris-Burland, from the collection Strange Tales from the Strand Magazine; The Oster Conspiracy of 1938, by Jerry Parssinen; Reginald at the Carlton, by Hector Hugh Munro, from The Complete Stories of Saki, from A Psychical Invasion, by Algernon Blackwood, from the collection The Dance of Death and other Stories; A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, by Jan Bondeson; The Price, by Algis Budrys, from The War Book (Panther Science Fiction), edited by James Sallis; The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton.

Man Made Moon

Posted in FILM, literature, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2020 by dcairns

rm

Algis Budrys is really good.

I find it a bit discouraging that I’m back reading science fiction at my time of life. It IS the literature of ideas, and I love it, but I have a superstition that reading too much bad prose is bad for one’s prose, and Kurt Vonnegut was right to observe that most of those toiling in the literature of ideas were pretty sucky at putting elegant sentences together.

For instance, in the (excellent) short story Death March, Budrys is moved to say “Bessmer was a big, sprawling city that curved around the bay like a long arm.” I frown at this. I can picture a city curving around a bay, but the added information that it resembles a long arm while doing so tells me nothing. And arms, outside of Mickey Mouse cartoons, can only approximate a curve.

In the novel Rogue Moon, a character is described as “a heavy-boned man with loose, papery flesh and dark-circled, sunken eyes.” I recoiled in horror from this description. Then I pictured Attorney General William Barr, and recoiled again. Then I decided that the description only coincidentally fitted Barr in the sense of summing up my moral revulsion at his human failings, and was not a plausible description of a human being. I’ve never seen anyone be “heavy-boned,” for instance.

But BOY, Budrys is an exemplar of “the literature of ideas.” And I’m encouraged by the fact that I’m reading him now. I owned his 1977 novel Michaelmas IN 1977, or near enoguh, but couldn’t get into it. As an adult I gobbled it up. It’s about the internet — which didn’t exist when Budrys was writing, or was at best a couple of giant, clunky computers sending each other morse code. He predicts exactly what it would be like. He also posits a guy with an AI in his briefcase secretly controlling the whole thing. it’s the only AI in the world, Then, one day, it detects another…

Here’s the first movie bit: Budrys throws out these great story ideas but what he does with them isn’t usually very cinematic. But he’s been filmed twice: TO KILL A CLOWN (1972) stars Alan Alda as a sociopath in command of killer dogs. I haven’t seen it but I clearly must. It’s not sf though. WHO? (1974) was filmed by Jack Gold and is quasi-sci-fi. The Soviets (Budrys was born in what is now part of Russia) return a top scientist, disfigured in an accident and cybernetically reconstructed in such way that the Americans can’t tell if it’s really their man. It’s a thoughtful meditation on identity wrapped inside a would-be espionage thriller and it doesn’t quite work. The central design — the character’s iron mask — is a let-down.

who

(When the wrong people are in charge, the central bit of design will generally disappoint, while less important stuff is allowed to look good because it’s left to actual designers to make the decisons. Therefore, Batman is usually clunky-looking, while the Batmobile is OK.)

Now we’re on to Rogue Moon. The second movie bit will emerge in due course. In this novel, an alien artifact is discovered on the moon. The US has been teleporting agents up there, trying to get inside the thing, but found it to be a maze of death-traps. They’re triggered in consistent but unpredictable ways:

It is, for instance, fatal to kneel on one knee while facing lunar north. It is fatal to lift the left hand above shoulder height while in any position whatsoever. It is fatal past a certain point to wear armour whose air hoses loop over the shoulders. It is fatal past a certain point to wear armour whose air tanks feed directly into the suit without the use of hoses at all. It is crippling to wear armour whose dimensions vary greatly from the ones we are using now. It is fatal to use the hand motions required to write the English word “yes,” with either the left or right hand.

Charting a path through the complex to discover its secrets using trial and error seems likely to cost an unacceptable number of lives.

Fortunately, they’ve found a way of charting the progress of their agents through the complex, up to the moment of their deaths. Bear with me…

Each time the teleport somebody up there, they also create a duplicate version which they keep on Earth in a state of sensory deprivation. Through a process they don’t understand, this dupe remains psychically linked to his lunar doppelganger, experiencing the same stuff until he’s killed. The trouble is, getting killed on the moon sends the Earth duplicate mad.

So they have to find a guy who doesn’t mind getting killed. And, since there is a person for every job, they find one, an unpleasant macho nutter admittedly, but one they can work with.

“Now look,” Barker said, slapping the folder. “According to this, if I make a wrong move, they’ll find me with all my blood in a puddle outside my armour, with not a mark on me. If I make another move, I’ll be paralysed from my waist down, which means I have to crawl on my belly. But crawling on your belly somehow makes things happen so you get squashed up into your helmet. And it goes on in that cheerful vein all the way.”

What Budrys has come up with here seems to me an analog for the video game narrative. Complete what you can of the route, and if you get killed, start again and try to figure out what you did wrong.

Groundhog-Day

Here’s the second movie bit. GROUNDHOG DAY is, as far as I know, the first movie to use an approximation of this approach to a story. Oh, wait, before that there’s 12:01 PM (1990) and 12:01 (1993), both time-loop movies adapting Richard Lupoff’s 1973 story (that’s how far sf movies lag behind the literature). Obayashi’s adaptation of THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (1983) is listed on Wikipedia as a time-loop story but I haven’t seen any version of this popular manga so I don’t know how relevant it is. The following year, URUTSEI YASURA II: BEAUTIFUL DREAMER portrayed another time loop.

More recently, HAPPY DAY and the lovely Russian Doll use the video game structure successfully to very different ends.

sourcecode

It seems logical that as video games have grown in both sophistication and popularity, their tropes will infect cinema. Ideas like long subjective camera action scenes like the opening of VILLAINESS strike me as of limited value, since they’re basically like watching a video game over the player’s shoulder, removing the actual thrill of participation. But if you can come up with a novel way of showing it, the actual problem-solving aspect of gameplay can be adapted from games to movies. The two examples I’ll offer are SOURCE CODE and EDGE OF TOMORROW, which are both very engrossing entertainments.edgeot

Rogue Moon, however, was published in 1960.

So Budrys wasn’t working out a way of using vidgaming as a narrative ploy. What he was up to is revealed late in the novel, and I think it’s to do with the way the human race accumulates knowledge.

“The thing is, the universe is dying! The stars are burning their substance. The planets are moving more slowly on their axes. They’re falling inward towards their suns. The atomic particles that make it all up are slowing in their orbits. Bit by bit, over the countless billions of years, it’s slowly happening. It’s all running down. Some day, it’ll stop. Only one thing in the universe grows fuller, and richer, and forces itself uphill. Intelligence — human lives — we’re the only thing that doesn’t obey the universal law. The universe kills our bodies — it drags them down with gravity; it drags, and drags, until our hearts grow tired with pumping our blood against its pull, until the walls of our cells break down with the weight of themselves, until our tissues sag, and our bones grow weak and bent. Our lungs tire of pulling air in and pushing it out. Our veins and capillaries break with the strain. Bit by bit, from the day we’re conceived, the universe rasps and plucks at our bodies until they can’t repair themselves any longer. And in that way, in the end, it kills our brains. 

“But our minds… There’s the precious thing; there’s the phenomenon that has nothing to do with time and space except to use them — to describe to itself the lives our bodies live in the physical universe.”

There’s more. Go get it, if you’re intrigued. Despite occasional infelicities of style, at his best Budrys was a terrific writer.