The heat from the mid-Lyleth sun caused the grassy plain surrounding the quarry to appear to roil and undulate in a shimmering haze. The shackle-man, informal captain of the four guards watching the dozen prisoners, shielded his eyes against the sun. He thought he saw something on the far distant plain, but it was just the heat haze mirage.
It was too hot to climb out of the vast quarry pit, so the guards decided not to go into it in the first place, sparing themselves and their prisoners and generating some good will among the convicts who outnumbered them. They worked the top edge of the quarry instead, which meant little yield for their work, but it was make-work in any event. Any granite they took back was a victory.
One of the prisoners, a misshapen old lump of a man named Manorin, worked his way up the chain gang to complain about the heat. He pulled on the chain to get close enough to the edge of the deep pit of the quarry to talk to the shackle-man.
“It’s beatin’ me black, copper!” Manorin said. ‘Copper,’ was an honorific, an attempt to curry favor. The guards were not city watchmen, would never walk a beat. They were mere men-at-arms, charged with watching prisoners. The lowest footsoldiers in the Castellan’s war against the distant city’s underworld.
You couldn’t see Celkirk from out here. It was a day’s march from the city across the rolling plain to the granite quarry. Of course Fieldin didn’t have to march. Fieldin and the other guards had horses, currently enjoying the water wagon the cutting crew brought with them.
“Beat some sense into you, mebbe,” Fieldin said, his hand on the looped whip at his belt. He was the only guard with a whip. He didn’t mind using it, but the pain of the blistering sun was enough to keep the chained men from trying anything.
Fieldin looked across the plain again, the grass covered rolling landscape so bright and green it made his eyes smart. There was something out there. He tried to block the sun again and look.
“Come on, good master,” Manorin pleaded. “Share the water, the horses had their fill!”
Fieldin glanced at the old man, bent with age and work but still strong enough to kill an unwary guard with his bare hands, and saw that there would soon be blisters across his back.
Manorin had been a small-time thug in the employ of the Darkened Moon. Breaking the legs and thumbs of those turfmen from the Cold Hearth stupid enough to skim off the rake. The kind of inter-guild crime the Castellan permitted. Even encouraged.
Then something happened at a pie shop, no one would ever know what, and the baker and his entire family were found dead. Manorin was the only suspect. Those were civilians, by the Castellan’s reckoning, and off-limits. So Manorin went up for it. There were no witnesses, so there was no hanging, though everyone agreed that a hanging would have been better than life.
That was forty years ago. Manorin was an old man now, and inclined to agree with that assessment.
There was definitely someone coming, Fieldin saw. A black figure walking across the plain in the heat.
Fieldin turned to Manorin and took pity on him. Then smiled with an idea.
“Alright Ma’rin,” he said and pulled his keys off his belt. The other prisoners stopped work at the sound of the keys jingling. All except the big one, Gurgne. He never stopped.
“You’ve earned a bit of respite,” Fieldin said, unlocking the old man’s shackles. The other guards did the same to the rest of the convicts. Except Gurgne. He continued to hew at the granite at the edge of the quarry with a mighty saw. He was shackled to the water wagon, could drink whenever he wanted, but couldn’t move or interact with the other prisoners.
“Bless you, master,” Manorin said, rubbing his wrists. He was eager to get to the water cart, but knew it meant the lash to go before Fieldin expressly commanded it.
“Well what are you waiting for?” Fieldin asked, and smiled just a smidge too widely, giving Manorin a glimmer of what was to come. “Have a drink!”
Fieldin shoved Manorin and the old man toppled over. Fell out over the pit of the quarry. It was sixty feet down into the pool of accumulated water at the bottom of the open-pit mine. Manorin cried out as he fell, the water would bring relief from the heat but was choked with algae and the rotten corpses of those small animals foolish enough to fall down the pit and find themselves unable to climb out.
Fieldin laughed as Manorin yelled and the other guards and prisoners, save one, rushed to the edge of the pit to laugh and watch.
Manorin splashed down and another cry echoed up the sides of the granite walls as the man found himself covered in muck. He quickly recovered and began the slow climb up, out of the pit.
The guards and the prisoners laughed. For a moment watchman and convict united.
Fieldin heard a distinctive jingling, it pulled his attention away from the scene. The sound of a horse’s tack. He turned and saw the mirage he’d been watching resolve itself.
The man in black rode a black horse and the heat that boiled off him looked almost like smoke, making him look like a burning coal.
His charger was fine in silver filigree. A tall destrier that shamed the smaller flea-bitten riding horses of the guards. Horse and rider stopped a respectful few yards from the cutting crew and their water wagon.
The guards all placed their hands on their weapons when they saw the man in black dismount and caught a glimpse of the weapon on his hip. The man in black leather turned and saw the four guards, recognized their ready stance, and unbuckled his rapier, pulled it off his belt and affixed it to his horse’s pack.
Turning to approach the cutting crew, he held up his hands briefly. The guards relaxed.
The man resembled his horse, tall and lean. His black eyes squinted in the sun, but his pale red lips smiled warmly. Friendly. He approached Fieldin and stopped to bow slightly in greeting.
“Need some water for my horse,” the man said, looking to the other guards and nodding. They nodded back.
“What about you?” Fieldin asked. Sweat poured off the man, of course it did. He wore skin-tight black leather pants and doublet. It was a wonder he was still standing in this heat.
The man smiled and pulled out a black handkerchief. Mopped the sweat off his forehead and then pushed his matted hair back, making the short black hair stick up straight.
“Me too,” he admitted, still smiling.
“Help yourself,” Fieldin said, nodding at the wagon.
“Thanks.” The stranger turned to gather his horse. He stopped as he saw the big man chained to the wagon, staring at him.
The man in black nodded his head in the direction of the tattooed convict towering over the others.
“What’s his problem?” the stranger in leather asked.
“Don’t mind him,” Fieldin said. “That’s Gurgne. He’s harmless.”
“Harmless,” the stranger exclaimed. “If that’s harmless, I’d hate to meet your idea of dangerous.”
“I mean he can’t work his prayers no more. Used to be a priest. They took care of that.”
“Huh,” the stranger said, and turned back to Fieldin. Fieldin looked down and saw the man was holding a dagger. Where had that come from?
“Thanks,” Garth said and lightly slipped the long, thin blade into the Fieldin’s chest, just left of center where his heart was.
Fieldin gasped and tried to reach for his whip but found his legs crumpling under him and the world going dim. Garth watched, all expression gone from his face.
Everyone looked on, shocked. The prisoners recovered before the guards, seeing their opportunity. Two grabbed the chain that linked them and leapt on a guard. Three more pushed a guard into the quarry before pulling at the loop of chain that Fieldin had unlocked when he let Manorin go. When it came free, they ran.
The last guard had the presence of mind to pull his short sword. Garth sniffed as he watched the convicts scrabble to free themselves and run, and tossed his dagger at the guard. It caught him in the heart, in the exact same place he’d stuck Fieldin.
The guard pulled the dagger out, and his life blood came after, pumping out. The prisoners were on him, but they needn’t have bothered.
Manorin, having climbed out of the quarry, took quick stock of the situation. The prisoners were all running, eight had taken the guards’ horses, two to a horse and rode off in different directions. Manorin was too old to run, and so pleaded with the man in black.
“Master!” he groveled. “Master have ye any coin to spare an old man before you go?” The man in black ignored him, watched the big one with tattoos over his arms.
“Please master just a few silver for an old cuff recently freed?” He made the mistake of reaching out to touch the man’s elbow.
Garth turned, a second dagger in his hand, and stabbed the man in the throat before pushing him back into the quarry. Manorin, eyes wide, grasped at this throat trying to staunch the bleeding as he toppled over again. He was dead by the time his body hit the water a second time.
All the prisoners had fled, except the big one. There was no horse left for him to take, and none of the other prisoners had seen fit to recruit him as they picked a direction and ran.
Garth liberated the keys from Fieldin’s corpse and approached the water cart.
Gurgne snorted like a horse as Garth stood before him.
“Do you remember who put you here?” Garth asked.
Gurgne grunted, his muscles flexed with remembered rage. “The Sunfuckers,” he growled. Garth raised an eyebrow. “A priest named Heden.”
“Do you want him?”
Gurgne presented his arms, hands clenched to fists. Along the length of his arms and up around his neck ran tattoos. Red and blue, not faded, even after ten years. “They bound me,” he said.
Garth unlocked the man’s manacles. Gurgne kept his arms out as the rusted metal fell to the ground. Garth grabbed the man’s wrists and turned them over, examining the elaborate markings. Smooth curves of ink with delicate crinkled edges ran up his arms. The closer Garth looked at the tattoos the more he saw the patterns repeating themselves.
Garth nodded as though this was what he expected and, without releasing Gurgne’s wrists asked again, with emphasis, “Do you want him?”
Gurgne jerked his hands away and looked down at Garth, sneering.
“He’d master me faster than you did these fools,” he said. Garth’s lips twisted in judgment at Gurgne’s melodramatic mode of speech. Typical of cultists.
He reached into a pocket in his doublet and produced a folded piece of vellum. Unfolded it. Handed it to Gurgne.
“Can you read?” he asked.
Gurgne snatched the vellum away from Garth and scanned the spidery script.
“Read it out loud,” Garth said.
Gurgne read the script haltingly, not understanding some of it as he went.
“Read it again.” Garth said, and something about the man made Gurgne obey. This time, Garth could tell the man understood what he was reading.
“Now read it again,” Garth commanded. “And mean it.”
Gurgne looked from Garth, to the vellum scroll and back again. His mouth was open a little, confused.
“Mean it,” Garth said, “and the priest is yours.”
That, Gurgne understood. He read the vellum a third time.
“I walk the path of Men.
I serve the Hidden Lord.
I am the strife that spreads between kin.
The architect of war commands me.
I will do his bidding, until he rules.
And men take their rightful place on the throne of Orden.”
At the last phrase Gurgne called out, a sharp bark, pain. The edges of his tattoos, all along his wrists and neck, flared into bright white flame and burned like a fuse consuming the tattoos.
They took a long time to burn. Gurgne fell to his knees, grunting in agony, refusing to scream. The tendons along his neck and arms stood out like cables on a ship’s sails.
Garth watched impassively. Eventually the fire burned out and Gurgne’s arm and neck lay bare and pale white in the sun.
“Power,” Gurgne heaved air into his lungs, looked up at Garth. His eyes burned under a clouded brow.
“Yes,” Garth said.
Gurgne looked at the sky, the empty blue sky and the burning sun. He began to chant. Clouds appeared. White at first, then grey, then almost black. In seconds they blotted out the sun.
Thunder, then. And rain. Garth held out his hand as the cool drops spattered over it.
The water ran down Gurgne’s skin, still hot from the sun. His back and bald head steamed.
“So much,” Gurgne said, looking at Garth. “Whence does it come? How did those words appear in my mind?”
Garth shrugged. “Don’t ask me,” he said, and looked up at the sky again in annoyance. How long would the rain last? Still, an impressive display.
He looked back at Gurgne. “Do you want the priest?”
Gurgne stood, looming over Garth.
“I’ll snap his bones open and suck the marrow out while he watches.”
Garth pursed his lips and nodded. “That’s a yes,” he said, and extended his rain-slicked hand.
Gurgne took it and they shook once before Garth slapped him on the shoulder and pointed to his horse.
“We’ll stop at Wend,” Garth said, naming the nearby town, “get another horse.”
Gurgne walked over to Garth’s horse. Garth stayed behind a moment and looked at the litter of corpses surrounding the water wagon. Flies buzzed in excitement, heedless of the rain.
“One down,” Garth said. “Three to go.”
Is this a dramatic opening for Fighter? Stop by the author page and let me know!
Someone asked me how they might improve their prose. This was my answer.
How to improve your prose. Good question, let’s see.
1: Write as often as possible. It’s a muscle, you need to build it up.
2: Write as little as possible. If you can say it with fewer words, do.
3: Cut all the stuff people are going to skip. You know what I mean, all the descriptive text you skip when you read The Lord of the Rings.
4: Read what you wrote. Did the jokes make you laugh? Did the drama make you tense? If not, then it probably won’t work on anyone else. Cut all the stuff that didn’t work and try again.
Watch and read and listen critically. What excited you about the last movie you saw? The last book you read? Steal that. Build a toolbox of cool moments and then write them your way and make them yours.
You will suck for a long time until you don’t. No one gets it right the first time. But eventually you’ll stop sucking and then a few years after that, you’ll be able to just sit down and start writing and cool shit will come out because you’ve done it so often you don’t need to think about it anymore and that’s when the real inspired stuff can shine through.
If you’re in the mood for a melancholy, vaguely country-western song, go listen to this. It’s one of my favorite Queen songs. Beautiful, yearning.
This song is what Interstellar is about. Except this song is three minutes and thirty-eight seconds long, full of emotion and longing and I love it, while Interstellar is almost three hours long and so brutally insulting I wanted to punch Chris Nolan after only about ten minutes.
I feel bad. I mean, I feel guilty for not liking this movie. I wanted to like it. I expected I would like it. I signed up to see it twice before I’d even seen it once, because I assumed I would like it. Wow, was I wrong. Wow.
And having not liked it I have to walk around the office trying to explain what I thought without ruining my friends’ experience. There’s a big outing to see this movie, the company I work for bought out the theater. Big Chris Nolan Sci-Fi extravaganza, surely if anything’s a safe bet, it’s this?
So I say, ‘I didn’t like it, I thought it was insulting,’ but I don’t go into detail because even at that point I feel like I’ve poisoned the well. People will be upset with me, because I’m ruining something they were looking forward to. But it’s not my fault this movie is awful!
Like ’39, Interstellar is a movie about the relativistic effects of travel close to the speed of light. It spends a lot of time explaining the science of the film, but weirdly it spends that time explaining how one might travel through a wormhole. It doesn’t explain why living near the event horizon of a black hole would cause your kids back home to age faster than you.
That part, relativistic travel, travel very close to the speed of light, is something they just say, and move on. “We’ll be traveling close to the speed of light. When I get back,” Matthew McConaughey says to his daughter, “we may be the same age!”
How does that work? Movie doesn’t say. The script just states it, and moves on. “If we go down to that planet, one hour for us will be seven years for” David Gyasi’s character in orbit.
How does that work? Movie doesn’t say. The characters just say it, and move on. Well, good. Because relativity is fucking weird and complex. But so are wormholes! But we get a WHOLE LOT of explanation about how wormholes work. God. Just say it and move on! I know you can do it, you did it every time the time dilation thing came up!
You know, Disney tried this is 1979 and came up empty. “Hey black holes are cool!” Yes they are. “What’s at the center of one?” Good question. And the answer is; a mathematical structure that defies normal physics and cannot be understood or explained. “Well, that’s not a dramatic answer,” Disney said, accurately, “How about heaven and hell!”
Ok well, that’s stupid. But I get it. Chris Nolan saw The Black Hole and thought he had a better answer.
He did not. His answer is stupid, too. Wow. His answer is just as stupid as the one at the end of The Black Hole.
There is an emotional core to this movie, and that part works. Matthew McConaughey is on a mission to, literally, save humanity but he also wants to see his daughter again.
His daughter is very angry that he left when she was 10. And I would be mad too, because the whole thing is completely stupid.
The movie sort of assumes everyone in the movie saw Contact and so when ALIENS contact Earth with a plan (sort of) to save humanity if only they’ll jump through this wormhole they planted, our hero just fucking goes along with it.
He goes along with it because he was created by the script. He was engineered, by the writers, to be someone who just happened to live 10 minutes away from an ultra-secret project that just happened to need an ace pilot of which he is literally the only one left, which is lucky, because he also happened to be the best there ever was. Chris Nolan, fuck you.
Hang on, let me calm down a little. That’s not the most insulting part of the film.
The most insulting part of the film is its attitude toward you. It thinks you are an awful person, because you have an iPhone and drive a car and because of you billions of people are going to die when all the OXYGEN on Earth is eaten up. I am not making this up.
I believe you can make an entertaining movie set after a global catastrophe in which our hubris doomed the world. I believe you can make that movie, because I’ve seen it. The Road Warrior is set in a world where we burned through all the oil and now there’s no more civilization. Why oil? Because it was the 1970s and that’s what everyone was talking about then.
This movie is no Road Warrior. That movie was entertaining and watchable, this movie is an insult.
There is a point very early in the movie where Matthew McConaughey goes to have a parent-teacher conference because his daughter brought in a banned book and got in a fight over it. What was the banned book? It was an old science textbook that taught man landed on the moon.
That’s considered propaganda in this future. Classes in the future teach that the moon landing was a hoax.
That’s not writing. That’s just being upset because you think Americans in 2014 are stupid, so you put your disgust with us in your script. Science fiction is great for getting us to look at ourselves through a different lense. Shit, I think that’s what science fiction is FOR. But this is not it!
In Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant Children of Men he posits a future (taken from the book by P.D. James) where there are no more children. Human beings become infertile and no one knows why. The movie is about the last generation of humans.
That movie’s subversive brilliance came, not from the question “how would we behave, if we were the last generation on Earth,” but from the answer it gave us. “We already act that way!”
Wow, that was an effective use of science fiction to get us to think about how we live our lives now. About how lifeless our lives can be. But it never said that we, now, live our lives like there’s no tomorrow. Because that would be bad storytelling. It would be banal, and condescending, and heavy-handed, and didactic.
It would be Interstellar.
Cuarón made another great sci-fi masterpiece just last year! Gravity! Great movie! Interstellar’s visuals are better than the already-astonishing Gravity’s, the difference is, Gravity is one hell of a story. Interstellar is just some great special effects stuffed into a deeply offensive film.
There’s humanity in Interstellar but you have to dig to find it. Matthew McConaughey is aware that time spent on his mission is time during which his daughter is aging, and that part of Interstellar, the emotional core of the movie, works. It is effective.
But no more effective that Queen’s song about the same thing.
I believed Matthew McConaughey’s turmoil as he watched his kids age in transmissions he couldn’t respond to. I felt it when he realized the three hours he just lost cost his daughter twenty years.
I liked the use of the message-in-a-bottle cliche–where the people back on earth send messages to the people in deep space, which they will only be able to view years later–because it showed how, for the people back home, recording messages to your astronaut father for twenty years is not unlike having an internal dialog with a dead parent.
Except he’s not dead. He didn’t do them the courtesy of dying. He may still be alive. That limbo is interesting, it’s emotionally resonant.
It’s about 20 minutes of this movie.
I was interested when the movie finally got to the point, and started looking for other worlds for Man to inhabit. There’s some interesting, pulpy, 1960’s Sci-fi in there. What happened to the people they send ahead? Three people, all transmitting “things look good, we can settle here!” but three different answers.
Each answer is interesting. The first answer, the world orbiting a black hole, a water world with tidal forces so great there’s just a massive series of mega-tsunamis scouring the planet clean every ten minutes, leaving a foot-deep ocean behind them, is interesting.
The world where our Guest Star (what) is waiting to be rescued. . .is less cool. The surprise of an actor we didn’t know was in the movie is somewhat muted by how obvious his plot is. “Hey super-suspicious dude who just said he would have done anything to see another human face, I’m sure you didn’t do anything suspicious to trick us down here so you could see another face!”
Fuck you Chris Nolan.
I’m not saying the movie doesn’t have good bits. The thrill rides on the ship are amazing. The AI robots are super cool, why couldn’t we have a movie about them? Matthew McConaughey’s turmoil as the clock kills his daughter in hours while he desperately tries to get home worked on me.
The rest of the movie, the other 2 hours of it, the ending. . .?
Man, fuck Chris Nolan.
If you love movies, and you love writing, eventually you start writing about movies and if you get paid to do it, they call you a critic. But really all you are is someone who loves movies, and loves writing.
If they publish your reviews in the paper, people who don’t love movies start to read them and they get a weird, twisted sense of what you’re trying to do. They’re not writers, they’re not crazy in love with film. They’re just looking for a way to spend a pleasant afternoon So they think, when they read your stuff, that you are telling them what to think. That you think your opinion and experience is objective truth, which is ridiculous.
But you probably don’t give a shit what they think. You audience is other movie nuts like you. Your writing is part of a dialog all those people are having with each other all the time. You don’t care if those people agree with you, you’re interested in the back-and-forth, you love reading new perspectives on films you love. You love going back to movies you overlooked and seeing them from a new point of view. (more…)
Why would a team of hand-picked scientists act so wrecklessly? They don’t even really act like a team. Why rush in headlong into a certainly unknown, possibly dangerous, alien planet? Why open everything, touch everything? Why does your robot refuse to listen when you tell him to stop, don’t touch?
This is not a movie about a plucky young scientist and her husband going off on a great adventure. The plucky young scientist thinks that’s what the movie is about, and says so. She explicitly tells the security team that this is a scientific mission and weapons are not needed.
Astonishingly, the audience appears to believe her. (more…)
The first Promethean we see in the film looks like this.
He’s naked, healthy, exposed skin everywhere. Tall, pale.
What does he do? He sacrifices himself to create life.
The Promethean we see on the alien ship look like this.
Take a good look. That’s not a suit that dude put on. That Gigergoop is part of his body. (more…)
“The king has a reign, and then he dies.”
At the beginning of Prometheus, we see an important image. A Promethean, killing himself to create life.
All the Prometheans we see are male. Or masculine. We see two of them in the flesh, and dozens off them via holographic CCTV, we see a Giant Head and a decapitated head, all appear male.
The Prometheans don’t appear sexless, or androgynous, they appear male. Their species is male. Creating life is something they can only do through sacrifice. It’s an act of will, of volition, and in the process, they die. For them, creating life requires death.
Furthermore, they need the Black Goop to do it. A Promethean drinks the black goop, dies, but seeds a new world with life. We don’t know where the Prometheans come from, we don’t know if they’re natural. Maybe someone else created them. Maybe they’ve evolved beyond sexes and mating. But they do not appear able to reproduce on their own. Maybe they can’t reproduce at all. Maybe each Promethean is the seed of life for an entire world. Maybe that’s their purpose.
Humans, on the other hand, can create life at will. Without dying in the process. How would the Prometheans view this? Would they think it natural, or dangerous? (more…)
David Padron is a cinematics producer, I am a writer/designer, both of us in video games. We talk a lot about movies and culture and games before jumping into a game of League of Legends or Starcraft 2 or Diablo 3 or whatever.
This week, we talk a lot about Ridley Scott’s most science-fictional movie, Prometheus. Come by Facebook, let us know what you think.
This post is part of a series. For which also see:
- Prometheus. A review.
- Prometheus Explained. In which I take a stab at interpreting the themes evident in the film.
- Two Kinds of Prometheans. Is the last Promethean we see a unique Hybrid between organic and biomechanical organism?
- Peter Weyland, and Film as a Consumer Product. We know it’s Peter Weyland’s mission. Why do we believe Shaw when she says otherwise?
- The 2001 Podcast, spiritually related to this movie and these posts.
David–by far the most interesting character in Prometheus, insightfully realized by Michael Fassbender–dyes his hair.
To me, this was one of the most striking and memorable shots in the movie. The one I’m still thinking about the next day. That’s not a knock on the rest of the movie, it’s amazing. But it’s Fassbender’s David that’s the crowning achievement of the film. His performance, and the filmmakers decision to make a movie about the android, to me, justify all the shortcuts the movie takes elsewhere. His performance is daring and exploring and challenging. It’s a testament to Ridley Scott the storyteller that in and amongst all this high concept science-fiction and amazing design that I’m thinking about a robot who dyes his hair even when there’s no one to see it. (more…)
This post original appeared on my old site. It’s not the usual gaming/culture stuff, but variety is the spice of thing.
My doctorb (“The extra ‘b’ is for ‘bargain!’) is awesome. I love Dr. Brunner and I always look forward to seeing him.
I say this because, as a guy, going to the doctor is notable. There’s a difference between men and women. At least one difference. Possibly more, but for the purposes of this post let’s stick with this one difference: guys don’t see doctors. Not as a rule.
Women see doctors. That’s the difference. A friend of mine said “I don’t understand why none of you guys ever go to the doctor!” I esplained.
“Larra,” I said, for such was her name, “you have to imagine what it’s like being a guy and 18,” which is when most of us learn this.
“First, there’s nothing wrong with you at 18. You feel great. You can do pretty much anything, for pretty much as long as you want, and then eat whatever you want or, alternatively, nothing for days and you don’t notice either way. Why on Earth would you go to a doctor? (more…)