I have another signing coming up at the Main Library in Cincinnati, as part of their Cincinnati Library Comic Con event going on now through May 10. The Main Event is on Saturday, May 10 from 1 to 6 PM, and I’ll have a booth there that afternoon with copies of my books on sale. A portion of the profits will be donated to the Library. I just got a new carton of remaindered copies of the Only Superhuman hardcover, so there’ll be a bunch of those on hand, along with assorted copies of various other books of mine.
As before, here are directions and parking info for the Main Library.
As I mentioned before in my overview of the Heisei Era of the Godzilla film franchise, I was unable to see the first film in the rebooted series, 1984′s The Return of Godzilla (known simply as Gojira in Japan, despite being a sequel to the film of that same name rather than a remake), due to its unavailability on home video in the US. But I’ve just discovered that the entire Japanese version of the film is available on the video site Metacafe: Gojira (1984). So now I’ve finally gotten to complete my survey of the Heisei series — which is timely, since it’s just weeks before the release of the new American Godzilla (the fourth film in all to bear that title in one spelling or another), and it should be interesting to compare the two reboots.
TRoG has a fairly straightforward story, but with some intriguing complications. It begins like its 1954 namesake, with a Japanese fishing boat coming under attack. Our reporter hero Maki (Ken Tanaka) finds the sole survivor, Okamura (Shin Takuma), who identifies the monster that attacked the ship as Godzilla. In this continuity, this is the first sighting of the big guy in 30 years. There’s no attempt to reconcile Godzilla’s survival with his death at the end of G’54; the characters are too busy coping with the ramifications of his return to theorize about how it happened. And they have no Dr. Yamane to theorize about a second Godzilla (as in Godzilla Raids Again), so it’s never really addressed whether it’s the original or another one. Which fits into my hypothesis for reconciling Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (in which he was treated as the original) with G vs. Desotoroyah (in which the same Godzilla was explicitly the second and the original was unambiguously killed), namely that the characters in the Heisei continuity simply didn’t figure out it was a second one until years after his return.
Anyway, that’s all post-game analysis. What matters in the story itself is that the Japanese government, led by Prime Minister Mitamura (Keiju Kobayashi), initially chooses to quash the news of Godzilla’s return, in order to avoid a panic. Maki investigates anyway and speaks to Godzilla expert Professor Hayashida (Yosuke Natsuki), whose assistant Naoko (Yasuko Sawaguchi) is Okamura’s sister and has not yet been informed of his survival. Maki tells her the truth, ostensibly as a kindness, but is actually using her so he can snap a newsworthy photo of their reunion, which offends Naoko.
Mitamura’s decision to keep the secret almost goes catastrophically wrong when Godzilla destroys a Soviet nuclear sub (according to Hayashida-Sensei, Godzilla feeds on nuclear energy) and the USSR blames the Americans, bringing the world to the brink of war until Mitamura reveals the truth. Both the superpowers come to Japan and insist upon the right to attack Godzilla with nuclear weapons even if he lands on Japanese shores. Mitamura sticks to his guns and insists that if nuclear weapons are used once, they might be used again for other reasons. He is adamant that nuclear weapons will never be used on Japanese soil, and asks the superpowers’ ambassadors: “What right do you have to say we must follow you?” He convinces both governments to back down, while Hayashida-Sensei, Okumara, and Naoko devise a plan to lure Godzilla to a volcano and bury him in an eruption. (Turns out he has a magnetic homing sense like a bird, which can theoretically be tapped into. This was around the time that theories on the relationship between birds and dinosaurs were coming into the public consciousness.)
But of course the superpowers have nuclear missile satellites ready to go just in case, and when Godzilla does attack Tokyo, he damages the Soviets’ control ship, starting the countdown to missile launch. The Soviet captain heroically tries to stop the launch, but dies before he can reach the cutoff switch. (Notably, in the American version Godzilla 1985, this is changed so that the captain intentionally launches the missile, which is said to be 50 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, rather than 50 percent as powerful as in the original version.) The Americans intercept the Soviet missile with one of their own, but the radiation from the aerial explosion revives Godzilla after he’s been tranquilized by a Japanese weapon. Hayashida and Okamura must try to escape Godzilla’s attack and reach the volcano with their equipment, and are forced to leave Maki and Naoko behind to fend for themselves and play out their role as romantic leads.
This is the most serious, solemn Godzilla film I’ve seen since the original, and I’ve now seen pretty much all of them, except maybe for a few of the sillier ones from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s intriguing to see a serious-minded Godzilla film made during the height of the tensions of the Cold War; the scenario of Godzilla being a wild card bringing the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust is intriguing. It echoes Godzilla’s use as an allegory for nuclear devastation in the original, but in a way that’s more topical for 1984, since the represented threat is not just the United States, but both superpowers and their hyperaggressive mentality. The film is an interesting glimpse of how the superpowers must have seemed to the rest of the world, to nations like Japan that were caught in the middle and constantly being pushed around and endangered by the superpowers’ brinksmanship. There’s an element of wish fulfillment in the scenes where the Prime Minister of Japan puts the superpowers in their place and condemns their arrogant assumption that they’re entitled to tell everyone else what to do. But it’s very effective. Who has greater moral authority than the Japanese to say “never again” to the idea of using nuclear weapons?
So I found the film quite effective as an allegory and a political statement, and the characters were fairly effective too, although the leads weren’t as richly drawn as in the original. Kobayashi is the standout as the troubled, principled Prime Minister. But the action and effects sequences weren’t nearly as impressive. The Godzilla costume (and puppet for close-ups) wasn’t very well-made, which undermined an otherwise quite effective initial reveal, starting with a panicked watchman at a nuclear plant and panning slowly up Godzilla’s body to his head. And the action sequences were kind of sluggish, unfocused, and sloppily edited. The final act features a gorgeously realized, enormous miniature cityscape of the Shinjuku district at night (not nearly as built up in 1984 as it is now, I think, but still impressive), but Godzilla’s rampage through same is somewhat desultory, like his heart isn’t in it. It’s not entirely clear why he’s even come to Tokyo beyond it just being the obligatory thing for him to do. (The US version apparently claims he was drawn by Hayashida’s experiments, but I don’t think that explanation works in this version.)
The music is okay, but lacking in Akira Ifukube’s themes (although they are used in the film’s trailer). The film’s treatment of Godzilla’s roar is pretty good, though, incorporating the familiar version with the rising flourish at the end, but enriching it with more of a deep, growly quality in the middle. (Oh, and I almost forgot — the end title song is ridiculously out of sync with the tone of the rest of the film. Its lyrics, in English, are singing to someone who’s going on a journey in search of something and wishing him well — and the refrain makes it clear that the addressee is Godzilla. “Goodbye now, Godzilla, goodbye now, Godzilla, until then! Take care now, Godzilla, take care now, Godzilla, my old friend!” Say what now?! Who thought this song was a good idea at the end of one of the darkest Godzilla films ever?)
All in all, this was a much better film than I expected based on the reviews I’ve read. It may be the best use of Godzilla as an allegorical figure other than the original film, and it’s a fairly good companion piece to the original in its tone and gravity, though it’s not on quite the same level. I’d definitely put it on my list of the most essential and important Godzilla films (and I’ll be editing that list accordingly).
The American version of this film, in addition to the changes mentioned above, brought back Raymond Burr to shoot new framing material as his character from Godzilla, King of the Monsters, Steve Martin (though they just called him “Mr. Martin” to avoid reminding people of the comedian of that name). This material was a lot less extensive than in the original, though, and mostly involved Martin advising the Pentagon on the situation. Godzilla 1985 actually referenced the events of the original more extensively than the Japanese version did, and apparently had Martin pointing out that the Japanese hadn’t found a body after their attack on Godzilla in ’54, strengthening the implication that it was the returned original. (Although the Oxygen Destroyer totally disintegrated Godzilla, so there wouldn’t have been a body anyway.) A lot more was changed as well, and reportedly the tone of 1985 is somewhat lighter than that of TRoG, to fit American audiences’ expectations (though nowhere near the campy comedy dub that was originally planned until Burr put his foot down). Wikipedia has more.
The new American Godzilla, due out in May, sounds like it’s aspiring to be far more serious and potent, in the spirit of the original. In other words, it has very similar aspirations to this film. But it’s being made in a different era with different fears and concerns, not to mention in a different country with a different perspective. The comparison should be intriguing.
Here are my annotations for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel, including a couple of excerpts from my project notes, one pertaining to the biology of one of the Rigelian species, the other being the historical overview of the Rigel system which I developed as backstory for the novel.
I recently did an interview for a radio show/podcast from New York’s WBAI radio called Equal Time for Freethought, talking about the scientific and philosophical ideas behind my works like Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel and Only Superhuman and my view of the future. It can be heard here:
The interview portion begins at about 5:40 in the program.
Heads-up for folks in the Cincinnati area: This Sunday, April 6 from 1:30 to 4:00 PM, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will be hosting the annual Ohioana Library Association reception for local authors, including me. The program will include a panel discussion (which I don’t think I’ll be on) and individual recognition of the featured authors, and will be followed by a book fair where attendees can meet the various authors and buy autographed books. This is the second year of the book fair portion, and last year I didn’t sell any books, perhaps because I neglected to let anyone know in advance that the event was happening (blush). So this time I’m giving some advance notice. I’ll have a few copies of Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel on sale, and I’m also thinking of bringing some copies of ROTF: A Choice of Futures and some of Only Superhuman.
And of course there will be plenty of other Ohio Valley authors with books of their own to sell and discuss. So if you’re in the area this Sunday, drop by the Main Library at 800 Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati. Although be aware that, while downtown parking is free on Sunday, there’s reportedly a lot of construction in the area so it may be hard to find. This page has directions and parking info.
Disclaimer: I have no familiarity with the Kass Morgan novel The 100, on which the new TV series on The CW is based. I’m only assessing the show’s pilot based on the pilot itself.
And so far I’m very impressed. I think this is the best pilot I’ve seen on The CW in years. Okay, it’s a little rushed setting up the exposition at the beginning; I would’ve liked to see the situation on the Ark fleshed out a little more before the main characters were thrown into their situation. If this had been a movie-length pilot, they could’ve done so. But for whatever reason, those seem to have fallen out of favor these days. Given the time frame they had, the pilot was actually pretty well-paced, handling the exposition and character establishment efficiently and without too much awkward dialogue.
The premise is that a nuclear holocaust wiped out life on Earth 97 years before and the various orbital space stations housing the only survivors clumped together in “the Ark.” Conditions are draconian on the Ark due to limited resources and space, so any crime committed by anyone over 18 is a capital crime, both as a way of maintaining strict control and to keep the population size in check. But now The Ark’s life support systems are failing, so the leaders send their population of about 100 juvenile delinquents down to Earth, nominally to assess whether it’s habitable again and pave the way for the others’ return, but more immediately to give the Ark another month’s worth of life support. It explains why the survey party sent to Earth would be such an ill-suited group as a bunch of delinquent teens, since they weren’t really expected to survive or function effectively anyway — or at least that was secondary to the real purpose of sending them. So the Botany Bay-meets-Lord of the Flies scenario is reasonably plausible.
So far there’s pretty complex politics going on both on the Ark and on Earth, as factions jockey for power, and the motivations generally ring true. The clear villain up top is Councilman Kane (Henry Ian Cusick), who’s utterly ruthless in enforcing the letter of the law, but who genuinely seems to believe it’s necessary for the species’s survival. The heroine up top is Dr. Abigail Griffin (Paige Turco), who has a nice line when she says to Kane that she cares more about making sure we deserve to survive. I suppose I’ve seen that idea set up and delivered more effectively in other stories, perhaps, but it’s a sentiment I’m fond of, so I liked it here.
But the main story is down on the planet with the teens, the lead character being Abigail’s daughter Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor), who’s a natural leader, helper of others, and problem-solver, just the kind of person the 100 will need to survive — but of course these are delinquent teens, so not a lot of them have the good sense to follow her. And rabble-rouser and stowaway Bellamy Blake (Bobby Morley) encourages them to act up and misbehave, and to take off the bracelets sending vital-sign telemetry back up to the Ark so that the adults will think they’re dead and won’t follow them (the ship’s radio was trashed in the landing). He also apparently tried to assassinate the Ark’s chancellor (Isaiah Washington) and escaped to Earth, so he’s not a nice guy. But he has a motive for considering his actions self-righteous: his parents broke the law by having a second child, his sister Octavia (Marie Avgeropolous), who was thrown in prison for the crime of existing, and banished with the rest of the teens. (Odd that there aren’t any, you know, 11-year-0ld delinquents in the group. But then, maybe there’s been a ban on childbearing for the past 15 years or so, due to lack of resources?)
So there’s a lot going on, a nicely complex situation and a rather believable one, given the austerity that would be necessary for survival in a desperate situation like this. I do have trouble buying the idea of a global nuclear holocaust at all — it doesn’t seem as likely an apocalyptic scenario today as it would have 25 or more years ago. But allowing for that premise, the rest works pretty well — although some of the shots of the Ark itself are questionable from a physics standpoint. (I’m not sure the structure as shown would be stable given all the rotating sections, and if they’re using rotation for gravity, then the shot of Cusick staring out his window at a stationary vista of the Earth and another part of the Ark made no sense.)
And I really like the cast. It has a number of familiar and welcome faces like Paige Turco, Kelly Hu (adoring sigh), Alessandro Juliani, and a couple of familiar faces from Continuum, Terry Chen and Richard Harmon. (Gee, d’ya suppose it’s filmed in Vancouver?) Eliza Taylor is a very appealing lead; she has a really nice strong voice and conveys her character’s competence, charisma, intelligence, and emotion quite well. The other young leads are engaging as well, and Marie Avgeropolous is utterly gorgeous. The one thing that bugs me is that the core cast is disproportionately white; there’s good ethnic diversity in the supporting cast, but they’re still, well, supporting. Of maybe nine signfiicant players among the teens on the ground, there’s one central black character and one peripheral Asian character. On the Ark, though, it’s more even; the group of six significant adult players in the episode (Turco, Cusick, Hu, Chen, Washington, and Thomas McDonnell) was only half-white.
Still, overall I find The 100 quite engaging so far. I can’t remember the last time a CW show hooked me this thoroughly right off the bat. Even Arrow, currently their best genre show, took a while to become compelling after a merely decent pilot. I was lukewarm at first about their other new genre show this year, Star-Crossed, but it’s really started to intrigue me now that DS9/Andromeda veteran Robert Hewitt Wolfe has joined the writing staff. The central “alien Romeo and human Juliet” romance is kind of a dud so far, but the stuff around it gets more interesting every week. But it took a while to get there after a slow start. As for The Tomorrow People, I’ve been watching regularly but with little more than mild interest; the thing I like best about it is the theme music. And Madeleine Mantock. As for Beauty and the Beast, I’ve been so bored with it this season that I just started letting the episodes accumulate on my DVR for a few weeks and then realized I had no intention of ever watching them. And I don’t watch any of the vampire stuff, and I could never get into Supernatural because I find the leads uninteresting.
So I really hope The 100 can maintain the level of this pilot, or surpass it. I suppose there’s a lot about the “unsupervised sexy teen castaways in a mutated wilderness” premise that could go in a very hokey or gratuitous direction, but so far the storytelling and worldbuilding are effective and I’m eager to see more.
Amazon’s page for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel has a brief excerpt up, toward the bottom of the page:
At the moment it’s only a fragment of a scene, but maybe they’ll add more. In any case, the book’s nominal on-sale date is just over a week away. And I’ve gotten my own author copies:
More news as it unfolds. Sorry I haven’t been posting much, but I’ve been busy with a number of things.