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All Along The Watchtower by Bob Dylan
“There must be some way out of here” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion”, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.
“No reason to get excited”, the thief he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”.
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
© Dwarf Music
art by John Rea Neill
lyrics by Bob Dylan
Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” is one of my favorite songs. It sounds like the opening scene of a great, epic fantasy (indeed, writer / editor Jessica Amanda Salmonson tried years ago to turn it into a lengthy story with another writer, but her co-author’s untimely death pretty much killed any momentum that project had; still, it would have been wonderful). Unlike most ballads, it does not complete its story; rather it leaves it open ended and ripe for interpretation. For that reason, it is haunting.
update: “As you allude to, I published Ron Nance’s first story ‘Watchtower‘ about the Jester and the Thief. He wrote a very few more tales of this duo, and he and I co-wrote ‘A Wine of Heart’s Desire‘ set in the world of Dylan’s characters, to be found in the Tor Books anthology Tales By Moonlight.” — Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Snowpiercer reiterates a point I brought up regarding Captain America: Winter Soldier: It tries too hard to look too real and ends up undermining its own strengths.
It’s a goofy, nonsensical story wrought with allegorical significance, lifting its big shocking reveal from William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run by way of Norman Spinrad’s Bug Jack Barron and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.
Well staged / well directed / well acted with lotsa cartoon villains to hiss and Bruce Willis School Of Long Suffering Machismo heroes to cheer.
It’s all bullshit but it’s
This is precisely the sort of movie Roger Corman was producing in the 1970s, the original Death Race 2000 being the primo example of the sub-genre: Smart enough to fire the imagination, dumb enough to plow past “oh-come-on!” moments, fast enough & funny enough to be entertaining.
Compare this poster…
…with this poster & tell me
which movie you wanna see.
Had Corman (or Peter Watkins or Robert Fuest) made Snowpiercer, they probably wouldn’t have come to several repeated jarring stops along the way as it dawdled over some new car on the train, making sure we were all acutely aware of the overwrought symbolism drenching the screen before lurching forward again.
And they certainly wouldn’t have given us time to think about what we were looking at and the logic (or lack thereof) in what we were seeing.
There are only two ways to approach cinefantastique:
Either make what one sees onscreen absolutely 100% plausible looking, or else use a stylized approach that doesn’t try to convince the viewer so much as ask them to play along.
When the former approach works, it works very, very well but it typically takes a lot of time and effort (read budget) especially in the script and performances.
The latter approach is more forgiving, basically telling the audience, “Pretend this papier-mâché boulder and painted backdrop is an alien world and we’ll tell you an entertaining story.”
This is why Star Trek: The Original Original Series and early (i.e., no later than Tom Baker) Doctor Who shows grab my interest and attention far better than their glossier descendants.
Mind you, there’s a lot of
exceptionally fine work in
those slicker, more realistic
episodes and much to be
recommended, but the real
magic is in the early episodes.
When you try to make the unreal real, you better come out high steppin’ or you’re cruising for a fall. Audiences will accept felt cloth Muppets with delight but fight tooth and nail against the original 1986 Howard The Duck’s attempt to convince us a bird could talk.
Snowpiercer has a lot to recommend it,
and isn’t a total waste of time, but it
tries too hard to convince us and just
barely enough to entertain us.
 Seriously, who didn’t see that one marching down the avenue at the 10 minute mark?
 Though there were copious films of the same style produced around that time by others: The Gladiators a.k.a. Gladiatorerna a.k.a. The Peace Game, Punishment Park, and The Final Programme a.k.a. The Last Days Of Man Of Earth being of three many that immediately spring to mind.
 Oh, and lots of nudity. Lots and lots and lots of nudity. I don’t want to watch an R-rated movie and find out it’s just a bunch of swearing.
 This is surprising because Snowpiercer makes a lot of really smart leaps in story and exposition, allowing audience familiarity with various tropes / clichés / stereotypes of the genre to fill in gaps that otherwise would have been filled with talk-talk-talk.
 Not the re-released version with amped up spfx that jar with the style of the original show.
“The Midtown Comics Podcast has teamed up the husband and wife team of comic book writer Fred Van Lente and playwright Crystal Skillman to present their play, King Kirby. King Kirby was performed for a live audience this summer, but now it’s presented to you in audio format for the first time for free!”
Hits several (but not all) keynotes in Jack’s long and illustrious career as well as several (but again, far from all) of the most prominent abuses shoveled on him directly and indirectly by the comics industry. Based on my first hand experience with them, gives an adequate but not altogether thorough idea of what Jack and Roz were like, and what Stan Lee is like; I wouldn’t say this is a grievous fault since it’s hard to sum up the wonderful complexity of any human being in just an hour’s time, much less four people (Joe Simon is the 4th major role in the piece; I have no first hand knowledge of him).
The actors cast in the roles (Steven Rattazi and Amy Lee Pearsall) remind me of Jack and Roz as opposed to sounding like Jack and Roz, but they’re fine performers and their interpretations of Jack and Roz’ personalities are nice tributes to their memories (Nat Cassidy as Stan Lee comes much closer, but that’s because there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sound bytes by Stan).
The complexities of the various business deals and legal conflicts that marked both Jack’s personal career and the comics industry as a whole are streamlined but at least presented with enough detail to make the issues understandable to audiences unfamiliar with them.
In short: I really, really enjoyed this and recommend it highly to everyone.
Thanx to Midtown Comics for staging and recording this live reading of comic book writer Fred Van Lente and playwright Crystal Skillman’s play: When in Manhattan go visit Midtown Comics — it’s a helluva great store!
And a special thanx to Tom Spurgeon’s
The Comics Reporter for the tip off.
And yeah, I know some people are going to say the Spider-Man depicted here is Steve Ditko’s design; nonetheless, Jack took the first swing at designing the character and passed the job on to Ditko because he was so busy with other books.
It’s widely accepted that (a) Philip K. Dick was the greatest novelist to work in the science fiction genre (b) wrote five of the best sci-fi novels ever but (c) nobody can agree which five of his 40+ books those are and (d) was a bugfuck crazy paranoiac and (e) a doper and (f) experienced profound religious visions of a degree that would leave Billy Graham weeping with envy.
Are ya with me so far?
None of which is to say any of that is true or for that matter than any of it is false — or rather, any of that is factual or any of that is fantasy — because the mind and/or universe that PKD inhabited does not seem constrained by simply binary yes/no true/false constructs.
It’s entirely possible they’re all true or none of them are true or they are true and un-true simultaneously or even that they are all true and un-true simultaneously but in a manner we can not comprehend.
Still with me?
PKD may have been crazy but he sure wasn’t stupid and he realized telling too many people outside the circle of sci-fi fandom that he was experiencing intense religious revelations from an entity he sometimes referred to as God but more often as VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) was a surefire way to get himself even more good & ignored that he already was in his lowly status as sci-fi writer to he turned his experiences into an autobiographical sci-fi trilogy in which he was no the recipient of these visions but rather just a supporting character in another protagonist’s story.
Are ya still with me?
Dick’s work always touches in some form or another on the quest for ultimate Truth, to know what really is is, to tear away the veils & masks around us and truly know our place in the universe.
It is, by its very nature, a religious quest as well as a psychological and philosophical one. Dick and his characters are seeking operating instructions from on high, something that will give them sense in what appears to be a senseless universe, something that makes the pain and suffering of everyday existence meaningful and worthwhile.
Radio Free Albemuth is a tangential part of Dick’s unfinished VALIS trilogy (the trilogy consisting of VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and the unfinished book The Owl In Daylight). Essentially a first draft of VALIS, it also differs considerably from the latter book although remaining a fragmentary part of that “universe”.
You see what I’m getting at re not being able to easily categorize PDK’s work?
The variant of Radio Free Albemuth / VALIS that I’d like to draw your attention to, however, is the long-in-production / finally-released feature film, Radio Free Albemuth, currently available on Netflix.
Radio Free Albemuth is everything I look for, everything I hope for in not just a sci-fi film but any sort of movie. It’s actually about something as opposed to senseless / pointless chasing / fighting over a macguffin.
Radio Free Albemuth follows music mogul Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe) as he becomes aware of VALIS attempt to communicate with him through an alien satellite orbiting Earth.
The problem — or perhaps it would be better to say the reason – is that Radio Free Albemuth doesn’t take place in this reality but in an alternate one, where President Ferris F. Fremont rules the US of A with an iron fist, sweeping aside Constitutional limitations and fighting a never ending war against a terrorist organization known as
Cobra Aramchek, which apparently exists only in his mind.
Fremont and his Gestapo-like thugs, the Friends of the American People (derisively referred to as FAP in a delicious piece of unintentional irony), fear the message coming from VALIS via the satellite, a message that basically pulls back the curtain and reveals that Fremont’s power and authority comes from a false fear, that all people are capable of living in peace with one another, and that wars and hatred are foisted on us by those seeking power for their own ends.
Brady and his muse / co-conspirator Sylvia (Alanis Morissette) are tracked down and killed by FAP, and Brady’s friend Philip K. Dick (Shea Whigham) is imprisoned as an enemy of the people. In prison he learns from a fellow inmate, a former pastor now held for subversive ideas, that the ideas Brady and Sylvia received and tried to spread were identical with those of Jesus and the early Christian church, and that while VALIS and the Truth may have suffered a set back, other followers have gotten the message out and the seeds of a rebellion against the authoritarians is starting to grow.
If this sounds like a too-spot-on transliteration of contemporary US politics, guess again; Radio Free Albemuth was written in 1976 and only published posthumously in 1985. Dick was long gone from the scene before the country was stampeded off in a panic for a war on terror.
The film is well made; inexpensive, but wisely focusing its attention less on spectacle and more on the attempts of human beings to come to terms with an idea that will transform their world…if they can live long enough to implement it. It’s well cast, and while production and post-production were strung out for nearly a decade, it looks and feels the right scale for the story.
no matter what your
level of reality.
 Acknowledging that greatest novelist doesn’t mean wrote the best science fiction novel or best writer of science fiction or even best writer of science fiction novels but rather was the best master at the specific art & craft of writing 50-80,000 word stories that we refer to as novel-length format. Because there’s a lot of truly exception writers vying in this field and although PKD was among the very best, we can’t put him at the absolute pinnacle, so instead we give him a slot near the apex and a qualifier that honors his skill & talent without painting us into a corner quality wise. ‘Cuz Bradbury and Ellison are duking it out on the short story side and Bester has a lock on the best sci-fi novel ever although his output pales in comparison with Dick’s.
 Implied angelic beings tho never clearly identified as such in the film.
 Dick, in the novel, shifted much of his own experiences away from his character and onto Brady.
 “Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast.” — Revelation 13:18 (MEV)
A recent discussion sparked by Flint Dille (who excels at getting the creative juices flowing with brain teasers like this) brought up the question as to certain visual styles in sci-fi.
Now, there are no hard and fast lines of demarcation, but I think there are five classic style schools for sci-fi.
Steampunk is the most famous/easily identifiable of the four: Classic late Victorian stylings & sensibility. Velvet and goggles, brass pipes and rivets, dials and gauges. Steam inspired even if steam is not the actual power source. Covers a period from the Great Exhibition of 1851 to end of WW1; significant literary influences include all of Verne, early Wells, Frank Reade Jr and Tom Swift. Divine right. Manifest destiny.
Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
“That Crazy Buck Rogers Stuff” occupies the space between the end of WW1 and somewhere between the 1933 Chicago and 1939 New York World’s Fairs. Big bright gaudy impractical machines and buildings. Chief artists: Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank R. Paul. Buck Rogers. Hugo Gernsbach. Unbounded optimism.
Dieselpunk is the world Raymond Loewy midwifed. Officially starts with 1939 New York World’s Fair, continues thru WW2 and well into the 1950s, ending with 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Relentlessly uniform and utilitarian. Gray steel and burnished aluminum. Streamlined with rounded edges. Chief literary influence: John W. Campbell’s Astounding Stories & his astounding stable of writers including Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Clifford Simak & Frank Herbert among others.
Transistorpunk has space age lounge music playing in the background, instrumentals with exotic sounds and arrangements. While the roots are found in the 1950s, it only really flourished after the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair with stops along the way in New York 1964-65 and Montreal for Expo ’67. Bright! Open! Airy! For those who think young. James Bond. Star Trek. Space Angel. Spaaaaaaace Ghost. “Thunderbirds are GO!”
Cyberpunk is the granddaddy of the other “-punk” genres, but like a time paradox comes in last on our time line. Derived from the musical use of the term “punk,” which was a repudiation of and rebellion against the phony soulless glitter of disco. dark dank decrepit despair Trash filled, ruined, and retrofitted. No center, no soul. A world inhabited by Mad Max and Tron.
 With whatever we’re using currently that isn’t one of the following being considered post-modern science fiction or po-mo sci-fi.
 Though the stories and characters need not reflect actual Victorian values and attitudes.
 We need a “-punk” name for this but so far no one has suggested a good one. Buckpunk? Paulpunk? Decopunk?
 In 1975, Time magazine reported on a contest to predict T-shirt slogans of the year 2000. The winner was “Disco Still Sucks”.
There are a lot of folks out there flying false flags, claiming to be Christian but actually espousing violence and hatred. Whenever you hear somebody scream / bitch / moan about the lack of respect they are being shown as a self-identified Christian, remember this:
By this everyone will know
that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.
Let us stipulate that based on known evidence, Michael Brown was a petty thief who had engaged in shoplifting and had a physical altercation that involved pushing and shoving with a store clerk.
Let us further stipulate that based on known evidence, Darren Wilson is a racist who had belonged to a police department so corrupted by white supremacy that it had to be disbanded entirely and replaced with a brand new department with brand new officers.
Let us stipulate further still that the two most complete testimonies of what happened, Wilson and Dorian Johnson, Brown’s companion in the store and on the street, are both self-serving to the point of being comical had they not involved the needless death of a human being.
Wilson presents himself as meek, mild Officer Friendly, single handedly standing up to the existentialist threat of demonic black males; Johnson presents himself as an upright law abiding citizen who was shocked — shocked, I say! — when Brown shoplifted and was nothing but polite when told to get off the street.
Wilson and Johnson’s narratives twist around each other, entwining like a DNA double helix, touching here, diverging there. Either by itself makes precious little sense, but together they enable us to see a far more plausible narrative.
Officer Friendly tells us he saw Brown and Johnson walking down the middle of a street and told them to get onto the sidewalk; Upright Citizen Johnson confirms this and says they responded in a way that indicates compliance.
Officer Friendly then says he received a radio call involving an altercation at a convenience store (an altercation where neither the clerk nor the owner wanted to press charges) and having seen cigarillos (the reported stolen items) in Brown’s right hand then backed up to question Brown and Johnson; Upright Citizen Johnson says Wilson took umbrage at something Brown said or maybe something he thought Brown said as well as the fact they were not moving fast enough to suit him and threw his vehicle into reverse with a screech of tires and nearly clipped both Brown and Johnson.
Officer Friendly says as he attempted to leave his vehicle, Brown shoved the door shut, assaulted Wilson through the window, and then leaned in to grab Wilson with his left hand while passing his cigarillos to Johnson before assaulting Wilson with both hands and attempting to grab his gun because, hey, if your intent is to assault an armed man and steal his weapon who wouldn’t do it using only one hand while holding a fist full of fragile tobacco products in the other? Upright Citizen John’s version is that after nearly clipping Brown and himself, Wilson flung open his door and nearly struck Johnson at which point Brown slammed the door closed in anger.
Officer Friendly then indicated that as he was debating with himself whether to use his baton or his flashlight to fend off Brown, Brown attempted to lean into his vehicle and steal his gun, daring Wilson to shoot him.
Hold on / pause / full stop.
Really, Officer Friendly? You want to go with that story? Here’s an illustration by the Independent News of UK showing the confrontation. You were in an SUV, not a low-riding Adam-12 style squad car. In order to lean into your vehicle Brown would have had to lift the bulk of his body up and over the window frame.
White supremacist, please…
Now, I suppose a person with a cooler head in a situation like this would have just shifted into gear, accelerated forward about 20 feet, slammed on the brakes, and then let Mother Nature and Father Physics take their course, sending the person clinging to the side of the car hurling forward into the street. But let us not judge; there is ample evidence in Officer Friendly’s testimony to indicate he does not have the psychological fortitude to be an effective police officer, and in his apparently hysterical panic this quick and efficient non-lethal means of solving the problem did not present itself to him even after — by his own testimony — he had done an inventory check of the weapons he had at his disposal.
Upright Citizen Johnson saw it this way:
Wilson grabbed Brown’s shirt through the window and was attempting to hold onto him, Brown never tried to lean into the vehicle, Brown handed his cigarillos to Johnson, then Brown tried to break free from Wilson’s grasp.
Okay, so far in Johnson’s testimony we have resisting arrest and simple assault, both legitimate offenses. No matter how unjustified Wilson’s behavior, Brown should have complied with his instructions. You fight the police in a courtroom, not on the street.
Officer Friendly then claims Brown leaned into his vehicle and attempted to take Wilson’s gun.
If we are to believe Wilson’s version, Brown would have had to raise his center of gravity over chest level in the process, if Wilson is a right hand draw or else stay outside the vehicle and stick his arm down between the door and Wilson’s body if Wilson was a left hand drawer. I’ve looked for photos of Wilson in uniform which show his holster clearly but have found none that indicate if he is left handed or right handed.
Upright Citizen Johnson does not confirm Brown leaning into the vehicle but rather staying outside the entire time.
Let’s pause again:
If Wilson’s version of events are true, Johnson has every motive in the world to support them. It would gain him immediate favor with the local authorities, it would defuse a tense situation. If Johnson says he was shocked at Brown’s shoplifting, then it would not be implausible or at odds with previous testimony for him to say that for some reason Brown was just out of control that day.
At some point in the proceedings the gun is drawn and the two men grapple for it.
Officer Friendly indicates he drew the weapon to keep Brown from taking it and (presumably) shooting him with it, that Brown had his hands on the weapon, and that the weapon fired twice.
Okay, full stop again:
Let’s follow the logic of Wilson’s story. Brown initiates the struggle for the gun by reaching in to steal the weapon, Wilson maintains enough control of the weapon to fire once, and Brown does not break off the attack and immediately attempt to flee but rather continues to struggle for the weapon to presumably turn it on Wilson.
We have gone from jaywalking shoplifter
to unprovoked cop killer in about 60 seconds.
Upright Citizen Johnson saw a struggle for the gun but doesn’t know who touched the weapon first.
Full stop again.
Ask yourself this question:
Let’s say you were a white person stopped by an African-American who grabs you through the window of their car then draws a gun and threatens to shoot you with it and you grapple with them to prevent from being shot; would you stop resisting after the first shot was fired if you thought you life was in still danger or would you continue to try to force the barrel of the gun away from you?
Two shots are fired from inside the car, both Officer Friendly and Upright Citizen Johnson confirm this. One shot hits the interior of the SUV. After the second shot Brown attempts to flee the scene, again both Officer Friendly and Upright Citizen Johnson confirm this.
Officer Friendly and Upright Citizen Johnson agree Wilson exits his vehicle and shoots at Brown, who is running away from his as fast as he can.
Full stop yet again.
There are rules of engagement for police officers, and they take into account public safety. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that police may not simply shoot a fleeing suspect with impunity; they must believe that the suspect is a continuing immediate threat to the safety of others and/or to the officer himself, or else that the suspect is fleeing the scene of a serious crime such as murder, rape, arson, or armed robbery.
In plain English, this means there is no legal justification for shooting at an unarmed person attempting to flee the scene of a minor crime such as resisting arrest and simple assault.
Officer Friendly and Upright Citizen Johnson both agree that at this point Brown stops and turns to face Wilson. In Wilson’s version of events Brown then turns into a demon (again, his words), grunts like an animal, and charges like a bull towards him.
If your intent is to kill an armed police officer with your bare hands, why would you break off your attack, run away, then turn and charge the officer when he is pointing a loaded weapon at you?
Johnson reports that Brown spreads his arms out, possibly in a gesture of surrender, possibly as if to ask “why did you do that?”
Wilson then fires several rounds at Brown, hitting him, pauses to judge the efficacy of his first volley, then empties the rest of his clip into Brown. Brown sustains at least two fatal wounds, the second of which strikes the crown of his head and travels down into his brain.
The head shot is the last shot because it is instantly fatal and Brown pitches face first to the street. According to Wilson, Brown was charging him with his head bent down like a bull. Wilson claims Brown was about 36 feet away when he started his charge. Having played football and having tackled numerous people, I assure you bending your head down and running straight at someone is a short yardage tactic; try that from ten yards away and you’ll wonder where your intended target went because they will have seen you coming and easily stepped away.
However, with the exception of a hand wound during the struggle at the SUV, the other wounds indicate Brown was upright and facing Wilson when first hit, not bent over at an angle. Had he been bent over and running, there would have been no straight forward wounds to the arm. Only if he had been standing upright, then began to flinch at the pain of the second wound and bent forward to protect himself from further shots can we account for the pattern of entry wounds: First a pair of shots straight in to the arm; then at a flurry of shots at a slight angle on the chest, neck, jaw, and eye (the angle on the jaw and eye wounds, which were not fatal in and of themselves, indicate Brown was flinching away from the direction of the gunshots); and finally a fatal shot straight down to the crown of his head. The crown shot could only have occurred if Brown was bent over in pain or already toppling forward from his previous fatal injury.
So there we have it. If you believe Officer Friendly’s story, Brown was a dangerous crazed killer who had to be brought down and his death was nothing more than “suicide by cop.” If you believe Upright Citizen Johnson’s story, Brown foolishly resisted arrest and was killed for it.
With what is known about the two men,
let’s meld the narratives and see what we get.
A young man engages in foolish petty criminal behavior the way young men far too often do.
A racist police officer sees two young black men acting like scofflaws by jay walking and orders them to get off the road.
The two young black men do not obey quickly enough to satisfy the officer. Perhaps one of them says something in defiance, perhaps the racist police officer just thinks he said something. In either case, he sees them as defying his “authoritay” as Cartman would say and returns to confront them on this.
One of the young black men foolishly resists the racist officer.
The racist police officer draws his gun to intimidate the defiant young black man. The young black man panics and reaches for the gun, trying to keep from being shot. The gun goes off.
The racist police officer panics, perhaps from anger, perhaps from fear — not of the young black man but fear of being punished by his department. Any discharge of a weapon is going to involve a lot of reports, and damaging your own vehicle with your own gun isn’t going to look good unless you can justify it with an arrest.
The struggle continues; a second shot is fired. The young black man realizes how precarious his position is (he has sustained a minor gunshot injury to his hand at this point) and tries to flee.
A third shot is fired. The young black man stops and turns, ready to give up.
Now, I’m not saying it was the racist police officer’s intent to kill the young black man — perhaps he was just psychologically unfit to be a police officer and/or his training was inadequate — but it was certainly to the racist police officer’s personal benefit to justify the self-inflicted damage to his own vehicle with a narrative that involved a demonic (again, his words) young black man charging him like a bull from a distance several yards away.
All of this is tragic and unjustifiable but understandable in the realm of simple stupid human behavior.
 Wilson’s own words.
 There was one bullet still in the chamber of his pistol after the shooting stopped.
 If you think rich white kids don’t shoplift or smoke marijuana, you are sadly misinformed.
 If you think rich white kids don’t defy / taunt / resist / assault the police, you need to go to Ft. Lauderdale on spring break.