Monthly Archives: February 2013
Directed by: Pete Travis
Written By: Alex Garland
I can trace the steps of how I became a fan of the fantasy/sf/horror/fantastika/call-it-what-you-will genres. In my first year at high school, way back in the last century, we had The Hobbit as a set book in English, which made me a fantasy fan, which led me the local library and Conan and to the local games shop and D and D which led me to White Dwarf (then a magazine about all sorts of role-playing games) where I read Dave Langford’s review columns and bought (from Exeter’s much missed Read ‘n’ Return bookshop), The Stainless Steel Rat and Friday. The other thing I also had at this time was a paper round, which led me to 2000AD and years of reading of Judge Dredd (and others).
I stopped reading 2000AD a couple of decades ago, but still have very vivid memories of the series I read, which doubtless makes me an unsuitable viewer for this film version. My memories of the Dredd strips I read as (just) a teenager, are of a futuristic, brightly coloured sort of bonkers setting lying behind the character (if such he is, rather than an icon) of Dredd. To my own individual set of nerdy nostalgic memories, then, Karl Urban is a better Dredd than Stallone was in 1995, but, the equally important character of Mega-City One seems here to be barely futuristic at all, beyond some huger-than-now tower blocks.
Of course, there are completely valid budgetary reasons for this, beyond the obvious one of there being no sensible reason to make a film specifically for my own particular memories, and I know the early Dredd strips were in black-and-white and so on; but as a general point I tend to think the word “dark” is a disaster for films based on comics; and I retain a greater affection for the brightly coloured Fantastic Four films, than I do for, say, the (admirable, perhaps, but not always enjoyable (to me, anyway) Nolan’s Batmans…) For goodness sake, I didn’t even hate Catwoman.
Anyhoo, I still liked this version of Dredd for several reasons. For a start, there is no time wasted on origin stories, the bane of modern comics-based films (especially as they now tend to be “re-booted” every five minutes); and the fact that John Wagner was on hand as consultant meant any temptation for Dredd and Anderson to indulge in pointless snogging etc. was correctly vetoed (if only Doctor Who would take note!) Too, for old people like me, there was still the voice activated Lawgiver with Dredd announcing the r0unds before firing, and Urban, Olivia Thirlby (as a new version of Anderson), and Lena Headey (as Ma-Ma) were all excellent.
In summary, then, one of those adaptations that deserves a sequel but which, like John Carter, probably won’t get one, which is a shame.
Two more things: 3D. The reason I didn’t watch this in the cinema was that there wasn’t a 2D version near me at a time I could go. The more I see of 3D, the more I think it, in my grumpy old way, just an expensive way to ruin the experience of watching films, and unless a 3D showing of a children’s film is the only one I can take my daughter too, I now refuse to watch anything in 3D. (The one exception I have made to this rule is John Carter, which I would have gone to see however many D it was in.) I almost felt guilty watching the scant extras on the DVD (the fact that you now seem to have to fork out for a Blu-Ray player and the Blu-Ray discs to get decent extras is a rant for another time), where various members of cast and crew explained the trouble they’d gone to with the 3D, but only almost. If nothing else, 2D is still brighter…
Also, and more refreshingly and importantly, as this article in the New Statesman by Laura Sneddon points out [though SPOILERS, perhaps], it was splendid to watch an action film where, for once, the female characters weren’t all Bechdel Test-failing sexualised weaklings.
So, I would watch a sequel even it was in 3D, and you really can’t say fairer than that, nowadays…
There are many reasons to love Jack Vance. Leaving aside, for now, his abilities as a prose stylist and storyteller, one of the reasons I like him, being a bit of a sucker for all sorts of apparatus and framing devices, is his brilliant use of footnotes. (Dave Langford’s entry on him in the Clute/Grant Encyclopedia of Fantasy, mentions many other reasons to like him, and in particular says this: “His gift for appropriate character and place-names is remarkable.”)
And not just character and place names. Apart from the military wing of the galactic cluster’s ruler (or ‘Connatic’) being called ‘The Whelm’, and star-drives being called ‘whisks’, the book currently under advisement contains an example which combines both word-coining and footnotes:
‘Tomorrow we go our way,’ said Vang Drosset in a plangent, fateful voice. ‘Forlostwenna is on us, in any event; we are ready for departure.’ 
“Forlostwenna” is glossed in a footnote as follows:
*Forlostwenna: a word from the Trevanji jargon – an urgent mood compelling departure; more immediate than the general ‘wanderlust. [footnote to p48]
This, I think, is just wonderful: the threefold combination in the word of the elegaic forloneness of leaving home, the fear that such a departure might result in becoming lost, and the “wenn”-ness of whether you might return…Lovely.
Having said all that, the reason I love this book is, at least partly because I’m also a sport’s geek, and the plot of Trullion: Alastor 2262 involves Hussade, the most gloriously implausible, splendidly utterly barking (in a good way) future sport in the whole of sf (maybe). Typically, Vance hints at how his sport works in a footnote:
The hussade field is a gridiron of ‘runs’, (also called ‘ways’) and ‘laterals’ above a tank of water four feet deep. The runs are nine feet apart, the laterals twelve feet. Trapezes permit the players to swing sideways from run to run, but not from lateral to lateral. The central moat is eight feet wide and can be passed at either end, at the center, or jumped if the player is sufficiently agile. The ‘home’ tanks at either end of the field flank the platform on which stands the sheirl.
Players buff or body-block opposing players into the tanks, but may not use their hands to push, pull, hold, or tackle.
The captain of each team carries the ‘hange’ – a bulb on a three-foot pedestal. When the light glows the captain may not be attacked, nor may he attack. When he moves six feet from the hange, or when he lifts the hange to shift his position, the light goes dead; he may then attack or be attacked. An extremely strong captain may almost ignore his hange; a captain less able stations himself on a key junction, which he is then able to protect by virute of his impregnability within the area of the live hange.
The sheirl stands on the platform at the end of the field betweent he home tanks. She wears a white gown with a gold ring at the front. The enemy players seek to lay hold of this gold ring; a single pull denudes the sheirl. The dignity of the sheirl may be ransomed by her captain for five hundred ozols, a thousand, two thousand, or higher, in accordance with a prearranged schedule. [footnote to pp64-65]
“Sheirl” by the way, is explained in another footnote:
Sheirl: an untransatable term from the special vocabulary of hussade – a glorious nymph, radiant with ecstatic vitality, who impels the players of her team to impossible feats of strength and agility…[footnote to pp 15-16]
Nicely, various of the hussade teams are mentioned:
…the Welgen Storm-devils, the Invincibles of the Altramar Hussade Club, the Voulash Gialospans of Great Vole Island, the Gaspar Magnetics, the Saurkash Serpents… 
Voulash Gialospans! As we’d expect, their nickname is also glossed in a footnote:
*gialospans: literally, girl-denuders, in reference to the anticipated plight of the enemy sheirl. [footnote to p58]
Anyhoo. Another of the joys of this particular edition of Trullion is the back cover, which, one notices, after getting over the shock that, as recently as 1979, a new UK paperback cost 85p, is the absurdly over-the-top way the blurb writer tries to market this rather gentle and charming tale. DEATH WAITS IN PARADISE screams the blurb, before mentioning the “ferocious passion for gambling” that drives folk to “risk all – even life itself – on the hazardous water-chessboard gaming fields.”
Eh? Calm down…
The cover above, by Peter Goodfellow from the ’79 Mayflower edition I purchased in Exeter’s much missed Read ‘n’ Return bookshop, is splendid and appropriate, but other covers of this book have been, well, less so. For example, this one, which, apart from anything else, seems to be alarming pre-cognitive of a Lady Gaga concert…
Have updated this and re-posted from an ancient blog of mine following a conversation about sports on twitter. The comments there reminded me that there’s a another Alastor cover [Wyst this time (though that’s a card game, not a sport though, isn’t it?] cover which worth mentioning:
The bloke with the 70s haircut and silly shorts seems to be reaching towards the breasts of the woman in the bikini walking past him, while she seems determined to make every possible effort (and quite rightly so, he’s clearly a drunken menace) to avoid even looking at him…