Kirk 1, Spock 0

Aliens, Culture, Fiction, Film, Gentleman thieves, Science Fiction, Space is deep, Television

Off to Star Trek on Saturday with H; hugely enjoyable, but – when I came back home and picked up my new Sexton Blake compilation (good fun and wide ranging, but not necessarily the best of Blake) to read myself to sleep – something quite interesting struck me.

The Star Trek TV series is one of the most potent products of 20th Century science fiction; but in form it also owes an awful lot to Victorian and Edwardian adventure stories, where manly, usually imperial, heroes of various different stripes are threatened by exotic new dangers on a reliably regular basis.

As a rule, such heroes come in pairs. There’s Sexton Blake and Tinker; Sherlock Holmes and Watson; Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie; Raffles and Bunny; and so on. And, by definition, the sidekick is very clearly a junior presence, someone who lacks in some important way the authority of the lead.

That sense of a senior / junior relationship is fundamental to the new Star Trek movie; but it’s an inverted relationship. The plot is in large part driven by the fact that, because the time is out of joint, Spock becomes the Captain of the Enterprise, and Kirk is left as his subordinate.

However, it’s a temporary upset. By the end of the film, normality has been restored. Kirk has become Captain Kirk, and Spock is his first officer. Spock’s junior status has been acknowledged. But that’s peculiar; because, throughout the film, great play has been made of Spock’s seniority.

It’s made very clear that he’s older than Kirk – in fact, he’s one of Kirk’s tutors. In something of an under-remarked narrative manoeuvre, he’s also sexually more charismatic than the famously priapic Captain. Kirk’s rather adolescent attempted seduction of Uhuru fails; Spock builds a strong, adult, clearly sexual relationship with her.

He’s also a more effective combatant. Kirk spends much of the film nearly getting thrown off cliffs, walkways, etc, by various cosmic thugs. Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch is as swiftly efficient as ever. And Spock knows true loss; where Kirk never even met his dead father, the adult Spock witnesses the simultaneous death of his mother and his home planet.

So, what is it that makes Spock the sidekick, not the hero? It comes down to one thing; his (in the film’s terms) over-rationality, his consistent and near-absolute privileging of logic over emotion. Within the context of the movie – and of the Star Trek series in general – Kirk’s reliance on intuition and passion makes him the better person.

And that’s fascinating. In part, it’s a hangover from the deep suspicion of thoughtfulness, of academic learning, that drove so many of the action men of the 19th and 20th century pulp thriller. But that suspicion takes on a new meaning in Star Trek – because Star Trek is science fiction.

As a genre, science fiction prides itself on its roots in the deep, tested realities of science. It lays claim to a rational objectivity that sets it apart from other, more emotionally driven forms of writing. Given this, surely Spock is the rightful captain of the Enterprise?

Absolutely not. Spock – science fiction’s supreme logician, the most famous Science Officer in fiction – reveals the untruth of that claim, or at least the contradictions that stop it from being really convincing.

The Enterprise is helmed by Kirk’s wild, dangerous emotion – just as science fiction, like all fiction, is powered not by logic, but by human emotional relationships, and the wild, exciting dramatic fallout thereof.

Haunted by cosmonauts

Kosmische, Radio, Science Fiction, Travel

Another enjoyable night out last night, as I went to the rather wonderful Shunt space beneath London Bridge station, to listen to upcoming Radio 4 Afternoon Play ‘Listen Up’.

Inspired by a recent Fortean Times article, the play deals with two Italian brothers, Achille and Giovanni Judica Cordiglia, who – in the late 50s and early 60s – managed to tune in to broadcasts from US and Soviet satellites and manned spacecraft.

Such was their ingenuity that they were actually better at tracking Soviet space missions than NASA; in fact, they apparently listened in on several pre-Gagarin manned spaceflights that – because each one ended in failure, and consequent fatality – were never officially acknowledged.

I really enjoyed it; it’s a very evocative piece, at once uncovering part of the hidden history of the space race and very effectively catching the paranoid spirit of the early 60s.

And afterwards, I managed to chat to author Glen Neath about it, so I’ll leave it to him to fill in the details – pausing only to note that it’s the Radio 4 Afternoon Play at 2.15pm on Friday 29th April, and will then be on iPlayer for a week or so afterwards. Make sure you listen in!


J. G. Ballard, 1930-2009

Ballard, Modernity, Science Fiction, Short stories, Space is deep, Travel writers, Violence, Visionary, War

What is there to say?

He showed us strange, alien worlds,  and then we’d look around and realise that we already lived in them. It was a bleak privilege to be a part of the culture he was dissecting, and thus receive his writing in the most direct, most living way possible.

There’s much more to be read about him, and his achievement, here at Ballardian, and the full text of a relatively recent Toby Litt interview with him here.

(first of 6 – others can be accessed here – click on ‘More from Adlefred’ at right and they’re all listed there).

Guy Ritchie’s ‘Star Wars’

Comedy, Pigs, Science Fiction

Guy Ritchie – one trick mockney geez-ah directly responsible for me having to wade through what felt like several hundred appalling gangst-ah caper scripts back in the days when I was a development monkey. Star Wars – well, you don’t need me to explain. Put them togevv-ah, tho’, and you end up wishing that Darf Vad-ah really was from Sarf London – Errol. Not too office friendly, btb.

The Spiders of Instruction

Film, Horror, Science Fiction

Watching first ‘The Fly’ and then ‘Island of Lost Souls’ – the first the original 50s shocker, the second the classic 1933 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’, starring Charles Laughton as the titular doctor – was a shocking experience, because both end in scenes of the blackest nightmare.

In ‘Lost Souls’, Moreau is forcibly – and amateurishly – dissected by the beast men that he has himself created; in ‘The Fly’, the minute man-fly – pale human head and arm emerging from black chitin, small buzzing voice wailing ‘Help me! Help me!’ – is trapped in a web and bitten at by a spider, before both are squashed with a rock by an utterly horrified policeman.

But in both cases these moments of horror precede a resetting of the balance, a return to the normal. With the death of Moreau and the burning of his island lab, his experiments are rendered un-reproducable and (it’s assumed) their man-beast results are all destroyed. With the destruction of the man-fly, the only remaining end-product of Delambre’s scientific work is smashed; he has himself earlier broken all his equipment, one of his last sane acts before he became a rapacious, inhuman fly-man.

Looked at from this point of view, each ending resolves as near perfect tragedy. The shocks that sprang from each scientist’s tragic flaw are resolved; the by-products of those flaws are erased from the world, if not from the mind. The remaining characters – and the audience, come to that – are left sadder, but wiser; silent in safer, but also very clear diminished, worlds. Implicit in each scientist’s fall is the force for good that their work could have represented; that possibility, too, has gone.

But that possibility had in fact been eradicated long before the end of the film. Moreau’s comment on the ultimate futility of his attempts to raise animals to the level of man – ‘the beast creeps back in and begins to assert itself again’ – could be read as the subtext for both movies; but that subtext expresses itself in very different ways in each film.

In ‘Lost Souls’, the beast is Moreau’s own overweening ego. Beginning with whimsical experiments with asparagus and various flowers, he ends by creating a race specifically designed to worship him. Science can give man a sense of god-like power over nature; Moreau falls headlong into the moral trap that that represents, lacking the strength of mind to see himself as only ever fallible, only ever human. But nature triumphs; at the end of the film, he’s brought face to face with his very human limits, in the most direct and painful way imaginable.

Oddly, ‘The Fly’ is a harsher film; odd because it’s protagonist, unlike Moreau, is brought low by no great moral failing. It’s pure chance that the fly ends up in the teleporter with him; and his struggle against his new, insect self is powerfully shown. He remains a good man, right to the end, always battling the insect inside himself. But there is no escaping the consequences of his actions, and he ends by dying twice – once as fly-man, and once – horrifyingly – as man-fly; in both cases, his death is suffused with a sense of regret and injustice.

That sense of injustice is what makes the film so bleak. ‘Lost Souls’ shows us a pitfall of scientific enquiry, but doesn’t imply that all scientists could fall; rather, it shows us what happens to an atypical researcher, a brilliant man lacking a certain moral compass. ‘The Fly’ implies that research itself will lead to horror; that – inevitably – chance will throw a spanner in the works, turning the potentially revolutionary into the always destructive.

Darker by far than its 30s brother, ‘The Fly’ despairs of the possibility of safe progress beyond a certain point. Dr Moreau is flawed, but adult; ‘The Fly’ implies that scientists are little more than children, playing with tools far more dangerous than they could ever know or take full precautions against.

At the end of all scientific enquiry – it’s implied – is a reduction in scale, a Lovecraftian understanding of our true, insignificant place in the universe, of the impossibility of our ever achieving effective, constructive agency within it. The helpless enquirer can only ever become a fly; tangled in the web of truth, all that can be done is to pray for oblivion before the spiders of instruction reach and painfully break you.

Aliens, invasions, and the act of reading

Fiction, Ghosts, Horror, Memory, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Television

Nigel Kneale’s masterpieces ‘Quatermass and the Pit’, ‘The Quatermass Conclusion’ and ‘The Stone Tape’ cast a fascinating light on the nature of fiction, because each one shows the future invading from the past. In ‘Quatermass and the Pit’, the Martian invaders are five million year old fossils, in ‘The Quatermass Conclusion’, Neolithic stone circles become nexi for a barely comprehensible alien harvesting of humanity, and in ‘The Stone Tape’ hi-tech recording technology empowers an ancient, pre-human evil.

That sense of narrative drivers emerging from the past is an interesting way of thinking about how fiction works. The only building blocks of story available to any of us are what we’ve already experienced, whether directly through active living or indirectly through reading, viewing, relayed narrative, etc. Every single story we have began as an edit of those memories; that edit then being filtered through the writer’s imagination, to shift it from having an entirely personal resonance to achieving a more universal impact.

But that’s not all. Kneale’s invasions are very specifically alien invasions, acting on humanity to – to a greater or lesser extent – recast its sense of itself. In each story, Kneale tracks more than a physical invasion. He shows us the intellectual paradigm shift that is forced on humankind when it’s forced to engage not just with the physically alien, but with the intellectually alien. His invasions happen in the head, as much as in the flesh.

That adds an interesting layer to the reading metaphor, because reading too is an encounter with the alien – with someone else’s memories, with their lived experience. As a rule, direct experience of other people’s internal lives is pretty difficult. We can’t know what it’s like to be the other. But reading downloads a version of that internality directly into our own heads. Engaging with a writer’s modified memories remains one of the most effective ways of experiencing another self, being in the world.

Kneale’s concern with the reconfiguring attack of the other helps show how to read is to be invaded by that other, and to be reconfigured by it. An other’s experience of the world is introduced into our self, and – whether forcibly or more subtly – remoulds it in some small way, creating new perspectives or understandings that would have never existed without that other.

The Quatermass movies, ‘The Stone Tapes’, and indeed much of his other work describes directly how experience of the other can be radically, even traumatically, transformative; at a deeper level, it helps point out that – to experience a paradigm shifting alien invasion for ourselves, all we really need to do is go and read a book.

Batty falls from the stars

Aliens, Doves, Fiction, Film, Science Fiction

Screens in Blade Runner; for a movie that’s always been billed as a key cyberpunk progenitor, they are – for the most part – remarkably large, and remarkably one way. A core essence of cyberpunk is the hackable system, the two way engagement with the data stream, but there’s precious little of that in this film. Visuals float above Los Angeles, words booming down on its denizens, showing them worlds they can watch but never – it seems – interact with, or enter.

For me, those screens have more to do with the cinematic than the cyber. A cinema audience sits in darkness, visions washing over them; watching worlds they can imagine but never reach or participate in. The screens in Blade Runner make their audience potential migrants – ‘A new life awaits you in the off world colonies… a chance to begin again in a golden world of opportunity and adventure’ – but we know that only the most uncommon will ever really leave the dark city.

It’s the same with so many movies; sitting in the dark, watching people ‘begin again’ (how common a trope is that? The life restarted, the ordinary world left behind) in ‘a golden world of opportunity and adventure’. We too, as audience, become non-migrating migrants; enough of an urge to move on to make us unhappy with our lot, to make us want this kind of escapism, this promise that there could be somewhere else, that we could all be someone else; enough of a sense of stasis to keep us in our seats, to keep us in our lives, unchanged after all.

And yet, there can be glimpses; the other can break through. Roy Batty makes it to earth, and teaches Rick Deckard how to be human. Deckard’s flight is Batty’s in reverse; more tactful in his movements, needing to be less revolutionary, his leap out of the city will (we feel) be sustained, tacitly supported by his colleagues. He can take Rachael, and step out of the picture; away from the great floating dreams and – ironically – away from the screen we’ve been passively watching him on. To enter fulfilment is to leave narrative behind, to leave the sense of absence it’s founded on.

But there is a screen in Blade Runner that does foreshadow the cyber; the esper. Deckard uses it to burrow into the Replicant’s lives, revealing the social connections between them, understanding them as a social process, a network. He explores the room they’re in as he were almost there himself; able to watch, but not to touch. A lovely image of the working of the net, both in its interactivity and its subtle emphasis on emotional inter-relationship. But by the end of the film, that’s a screen he can step away from, too; he no longer needs to dissect the relationships of others, because he has one of his own, and will live it for himself.

THE SENTENCE THAT MAN WAS NEVER MEANT TO READ (or, why the new X-Files movie stinks)

Aliens, Film, Horror, Narrative, Science Fiction

A quick post today, as – what with one thing and another – I’m running around at high speed. So, a high speed rant about what a total dog the new X-Files movie is…. As it is an epic of badness, a truly colossal set of plot and ethics blunders, a movie that gives duncery a bad name, a Fuckwitiad of an epic of an idiotic abortion of a waste of celluloid that should have never been made. And, come the end of the post, it’s going to have me typing THE SENTENCE THAT MAN WAS NEVER MEANT TO READ. I can’t type it here, because reading it will bring about the apocalypse. Sorry, but the new X-Files movie is that bad. I have to type THE SENTENCE THAT ETC.

Oh, and this review is going to be full of spoilers, but this film is so awful I really don’t think anyone should see it (in fact dissing it feels like some kind of religious calling – perhaps I am the new SF fuelled religious guru de nos jours, and can found a religion based on doing the exact opposite of everything that happens in the X-Files movie? We shall see. If I am driving a gold plated Rolls Royce this time next year, you’ll know it’s worked, and perhaps some positive thing will have come out of seeing this eye gougingly painful acrapalypse of dismality. Anyway…)

So, why’s is it so bad? Well, at the most basic level, it feels like it’s several rewrites off a finished draft. For example, there’s a weird ambiguity about whether Mulder and Scully are living together or not. At the start of the film, Scully drives off into the middle of nowhere to find him living in bachelor-y isolation; suddenly they’re in bed together; suddenly they’re splitting up (!) and Scully’s saying she’s not coming home again, which upsets Mulder deeply. Have they been living together? When did that happen? WTF?

Then, there’s a truly nutty twenty four hour sequences where Scully stays up all night bustin’ crime in the freezing fields of Virginia, before going to work, arguing for the life of a dying orphan she’s treating (he’s not really an orphan, but the film works at that level of manipulative emotional pap, so that’s what I’m going to call him), discovering a previously unknown miracle cure for him, researching it on the internet, accidentally cracking the case that she’s on with Mulder (by this time it seems to be early afternoon), going into full surgery with several doctors, nurses, watching nuns (yes, really), and then wandering off to sort out more crime.

The NHS should hire her! She’d make everyone immediately healthy using previously unsuspected techniques she found on Google, save many other orphans at the last minute, sort out the London knife crime epidemic while her kettle’s boiling for elevenses, and then discover that by playing with the wiring on the kettle she could sign a peace treaty with those whacky dudes from Alpha Centauri. Result!

There’s the berserk ethical front loading of Scully’s rationality. As any fule kno (ta Molesworth), the Scully / Mulder conflict is built on the conflict between Scully’s rationality and Mulder’s sense of faith (I want to believe, as the movie clodhoppingly subtitles itself). The movie seeks to reaffirm faith, in a god-vomitingly programmatic and absurd way, so as it begins it sets up a seemingly unopposable argument for rationality over faith.

Scully gets to try and cure her orphan using THE POWER OF SCIENCE. Mulder gets to listen to prophecies and visions about a kidnapped FBI agent from a 36-choirboy buggering paedophile (the script is very precise about its numbers) priest who lives on some strange self-policing paedophile compound. I’m really not making this up. But you won’t believe me, because now I have to tell you that Father Joe – the aforementioned choirboy fiddler – is played by Billy Connolly.

Honestly, I’m really not making this up… Cosmically peculiar casting of a cosmically awful role. Anyway, of course by the end of the film Scully realises that she can only cure her orphan with THE POWER OF FAITH; and Father Joe has quite possibly been forgiven by God and received into Heaven, etc. Not that I have any problems with forgiveness per se; rather, I’ve got considerable disdain for such boneheaded moralising that seeks to be ‘challenging’ by dealing in such absurdly opposed moral opposites.

Anyway, as yet I’ve only scratched the surface of the awfulness of this nonsensical melodrama, this cinematic purgatory, this inferno of any form of the televisual arts, this film so pointless that – had the first caveman who first put chalk to wall to create the first cave paintings seen it, thus seeding the visual arts as we know them today – he would have fed both his hands to the nearest woolly mammoth and gone and sat in the sea to try and de-evolve into an amoeba for the good of creation as a whole – because I haven’t mentioned the villains.

And once I’ve mentioned the villains you’ll think, nope, it really can’t get any worse. And that’s when I’ll start talking about its sexual politics. And at that point you’ll be on your way to the sea to start de-evolving into an amoeba yourself. And only then will THE SENTENCE THAT ETC be unleashed, and the apocalypse won’t matter, because we’ll all be happy little amoebae and won’t even notice it.

So there is a silver lining after all.

Anyway, the villains. So these rather shitty looking Eastern European guys (probably Russians) have set up a severed head (and, it’s implied, other limbs) swapping facility in a kennels somewhere in Virginia, using various local women (who they meet at a swimming pool and select for their rare blood type, detected apparently by watching their swimming style and drawing according conclusions – there’s some nonsense early on in the film about how two of the victims have been treated at the same medical facility, but that’s just forgotten about as the film goes on and the narrative torture continues).

The limbs are discarded in a conveniently frozen river (how they mystically teleport into the feet of ice they’re found in, rather than just sit on top of it like severed limbs would if you or I tossed them in there, is beyond me – give Scully half an hour and a Kit-Kat and she’d no doubt develop an entirely new branch of theoretical physics to explain it, but anyway…).

No motive is given for this nutty limb swapping facility; no sense of what it’s up to, how it pays its multiple doctors and nurses, why they might want to swap limbs and heads in Virginia, is defined. No back story for any of it; no groovy alien or conspiratorial connections (surely a sine qua non of any X-Files movie?); nothing. They’re just a bunch of whacky Russians who decided to go and swap some limbs around in a kennel somewhere. As you do. And in fact, we only see one head and limb swapping patient – and he’s at the heart of this Dreckenbury Village’s spectacular fucked sexual politics, so I can’t hold back the rant gates any more…

So, the two antagonists of the film – a severed limb delivery bloke (really) and the guy who runs the firm he works for – are gay lovers. One of them was one of Father Joe’s choirboys. Implicit in their presentation is the sense that homosexuality is catching, that it’s spread by paedophilia, and that homosexual love can lead to the kind of mass murdering moral depravity we see in the film. And that’s not all; this sclerotic codpiece of awfulness doesn’t even have the courage of its comprehensively repugnant convictions. Because the action of the film takes place because limb delivery boy needs to find a new body for his lung-cancer dying lover; and so he’s kidnapping women to find a replacement body for him.

WTF??? I kid you not. Our loopy antagonists are busy trying to transplant the head of a gay man onto a woman so that – presumably – antagonist gayness can be neutralised in a bout of ‘actually I’d rather shag you as a woman’. So contemptuous of gay relationships that it goes as far as an entire body swap to avoid having to deal with them, having first presented them as some kind of ethical leprosy, this film is built on possibly the most fucked sexual politics I’ve ever encountered. It has no redeeming features, beyond the fact that it’s finite. And, one day, with the onset of senility or similar, I might actually forget that I’ve seen it.

Oh, and one of the plastic severed heads in the final scenes is actually pretty good. It needs a better agent, tho’, if this kind of cobblers is the only sort of thing it’s getting offered.

Anyway, so that’s the rant over and done with. And now it’s time for THE SENTENCE THAT MAN WAS NEVER MEANT TO READ:

Don’t go and see this film; go and see ‘Battlefield Earth’, it’s better.

Enjoy the apocalypse, amoeboid regressing friends! I’ll see you in the swamps…

Sensawunda removal machine

Landscape, Science Fiction, Space is deep, Travel writers, Violence, War

The original ‘Star Trek’ remains a fascinating show, not least because of the wondrously strange vistas of the imagination it opens up. You want to meet Apollo? He’s there. You want to visit an earth where the Nazis will win World War II? Check. You want to find out how dead satellites become galaxy spanning AIs? They’ve got it. You want to see Spock turn on, tune in and drop out – and then SMILE, blissfully and self-consciously? It’s all there.

‘Star Trek’ has sensawunda, in spades, even if it does wander at times into the ludicrous. Even my jaw dropped when *echo effect* THEY STOLE SPOCK’S BRAIN… an episode only matched for inadvertent comedy by the utterly ludicrous *echo effect* THEY STOLE NYLIX’S LUNGS… episode of ‘Star Trek – Voyager’, or possibly by the enjoyably nutty ‘Riker at the pandimensional alien barbers’ incidents of ‘The Next Generation’.

But the crew of the Enterprise have a more complex relationship with sensawunda than would first appear. In episode after episode they encounter an external threat, feel overwhelmed by its inexplicable (if wondrous) threateningness, develop a rational understanding of it as a problem, in doing so reduce it to a human scale, and then go on to solve the problem and thus neutralise the wonder.

They rarely – if ever – stand back in amaze at the wonder itself; rather, they perceive it as a threat, and stop it dead. Seen from this point of view, the Enterprise is best described as a sensawunda removal machine; something that exists to support a particular kind of reductive impulse as it seeks to re-frame the cosmic in entirely human, profoundly limiting terms, imposing a simple, binary threat / no threat set of judgements on the vast, endless richnesses of alien space, and wiping out its complex wondrousness accordingly.

Quatermass, science and absurdity

Aliens, Fantasy, Heaviosity, Science Fiction

A friend’s engaging with Nigel Kneale at the moment, which has left me thinking about him too. If you’ve seen any of his film or TV pieces – the Quatermass movies / TV series, ‘The Stone Tapes’, ‘Beasts’, and so on – he won’t need any introduction. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat; he’s one of the finest screen dramatists that Britain ever produced, using the fantastic to both comment directly on both contemporary social realities and consider the broader issues implicit in being human in a scientific age.

First of all, let’s take Kneale the social realist. That’s an odd thing to call a man who filled scripts with live broadcasts from prehistoric Martian hive wars, ghost dolphins haunting abandoned sea parks, Westminster Abbey invading alien / spaceman hybrids and ghost hunts derailed by washing machine obsessed scientists; but it’s entirely accurate. Kneale consistently used the unreal to talk about the real, reflecting the public obsessions of the world that surrounded him through the lens of the fantastic.

That sense of commentary is most obvious in his masterpiece, ‘Quatermass and the Pit’. Ostensibly a tale of what happens when a spaceship full of long-dead Martians is discovered beneath a London tube station, it was in fact written out of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots and the social and cultural tensions that surrounded them.

Kneale sees racism as something alien to the values of tolerance and empathy that are fundamental to humanity at its best; he takes that perception and literalises it, defining racism as a Martian implanted value that has simultaneously infected us all and that – being alien to our original natures – can be overcome, if only inconsistently. That kind of incisive social commentary occurs again and again in his work.

Secondly, there’s Kneale the scientific writer. In the above, I’ve been very careful to position him as a fantasist; I don’t believe that he can be described as a writer of science fiction, because although his narratives contain science the literal accuracy of that science is not a key concern.

Rather, Kneale talks about human relationships with science, and by extension the limits of science. Quatermass himself is the humane scientist par excellence; but all his knowledge can only offer at best temporary solutions to the problems that his scientific skills uncover.

For example, at the end of ‘Quatermass and the Pit’, the ghosts of Mars are defeated; but the problem of mankind’s implicit Martian-ness is left unresolved, and is in fact insoluble. Science can help us to see more clearly; but all that it shows us is our own fallibility and contingency. The cosmos remains vast and inscrutable, entirely unconcerned with the trivial construct that is modern humanity.

Which sense of vastness is an implicit comment on the humane values that Kneale endorses. To be human is not to be automatically moral or right; in fact, human-ness is a construct, a set of choices about how to most constructively and sensitively engage with those around us made in the teeth of an insignificance that is planetary in scale. At their best, Kneale’s heroes achieve such humanity despite enormous suffering, and with enormous sacrifice.

Sometimes, they fail to even get that far; the protagonists of ‘The Stone Tapes’, putting their faith in the innate rightness and power of scientific inquiry, end by condemning one of their number to a bizarre and in the end entirely unexplained life-in-death. Their faith that the operating system of the universe is fundamentally benevolent is revealed as both absurd and destructive. Their failure to recognise their limits is shown up as a failure of humanity; implicit in being human is understanding how difficult that humanity is to maintain, and how unnatural a position it can be to adopt.

That’s not to say that the struggle isn’t worth it; watch the shattering end of ‘The Quatermass Conclusion’ – a complex, despairing, but nonetheless absolute affirmation of the value of human relationships – and you’ll see what I mean, or rather what Kneale means. The very futility of being truly human in the face of the void is – for Kneale – what gives such moments their rare, deep, splendid value.

And that’s all for now. One worry, tho’ – I haven’t talked about just how entertaining Kneale is. A master of narrative, he tells stories that rock very hard indeed. All the above goes on in them, but it’s buried in gripping, unstoppable narratives that grab you hard and don’t let go.

And that’s why I’m always jealous of people who haven’t seen any of the Quatermass movies, or ‘Beasts’, or his ‘1984’, or ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’, or ‘The Stone Tapes’, or anything else he wrote – because you’ve got some great nights in of watching and discovering ahead!