Sunday, 29 November 2015

GUEST POST: Confessions of my Past, Present and Future #20 - Jeremy Thompson 29/11/2015

Confessions of my Past, Present and Future


Jeremy Thompson

The Past

As a child, I read plenty of horror. I devoured every Goosebumps book within reach, along with much of Christopher Pike’s young-adult fiction—with Whisper of Death and the Final Friends Trilogy being favorites. Reading Stephen King’s Night Shift collection as a grade-schooler, I was terrified by Jerusalem’s Lot and The Boogeyman. Still, the title that most enthralled my young mentality wasn’t horror, but SF: Arthur C. Clarke’s masterpiece, Childhood’s End. Like no other literature that I read at that age, the novel had an elegiac quality that really resonated with me.

The fear that Clarke’s tale engendered wasn’t that of being attacked, or of loved ones being imperilled. No, the author was subtler than that. Reaching the novel’s back cover, I was disquieted by a notion I’d never previously encountered: that one day, the human race as we know it could be rendered irrelevant.

Aiming to avert extinction, aliens visited Earth. And peace was achieved…for a while. But then children started exhibiting inhuman capabilities—telekinesis and telepathy—even as human creativity began dying off. “Humanity had lost its ancient gods,” Clarke wrote, “now it was old enough to have no need for new ones.”

I was stunned by the author’s description of the extra-terrestrial Overlords: “the leathery wings, the little horns, and the barbed tail.” At that impressionable age, still half-believing the Bible, I experienced the guilty thrill of perceived blasphemy, rooting for benign extra-terrestrials whose “ebon majesty” seemed demonic.

Unlike the “To Serve Man” Kanamits—whom as a Twilight Zone marathon fanatic, I was well familiar with—the Overlords were actually sympathetic. Unable to join the Overmind, they were forced to watch other species’ ascend time and time again, while themselves remaining stagnant. “When our race is forgotten, part of yours will still exist,” Karellen the Supervisor explained. “Do not, therefore, condemn us for what we were compelled to do. And remember this—we shall always envy you.”

When the aliens’ purpose was revealed—to evolve Earth’s last generation of children for assimilation into a galactic group mind—I was awestruck. It seemed so damn tragic for mankind to be rendered obsolete, as its altered progeny shed their individualities to join the inexplicable Overmind. And when poor Jan Rodricks, the last true human being, chose to remain on the dissolving Earth to witness its demise—truly, Clarke’s imagery had me transfixed.

Sometime in December, the Syfy Channel will air a six-hour Childhood’s End miniseries—a risky adaptation, to be sure. Will viewers be treated to intelligent SF à la Battlestar Galactica or cheaply produced pablum dishonoring Clarke’s legacy? Hopefully, everybody involved in the program’s production felt the weight of literary history, and did their best to make Syfy’s Childhood’s End palatable.

The Present

While I’ve read much quality prose this year, flash fiction to novel-length, the writing that’s most impressed me of late can be found within superhero comics: Avengers and New Avengers, sister titles written by Jonathan Hickman. Contrasting dynamic team super heroics with the behind the scenes machinations of the Illuminati (some of Marvel’s most prominent personages), the author explored what happens when traditional superhero mentalities prove ineffective and Time Runs Out. By bombarding the entire Marvel multiverse with unrelenting, multifaceted hazards, and forcing paragons of virtue to make unthinkable compromises, Hickman paved the way for Secret Wars, a crossover event of staggering magnitude.

Hickman’s earlier, incredible Fantastic Four run hinted at his subsequent Avengers scripting. In deep space, Galactus warned Reed and Sue Richards, “Like you humans feel the shifting of wind, I sense when worlds rotate from seasons of life to seasons of death. Very soon, your world is going to be broken.” Even the Wizard’s tumor-derived prognostication portended Mr. Fantastic’s Illuminati shenanigans. “I saw a vision of you,” he told Reed. “A dark shadow falling across your face. A man of half-light and half-darkness surrounded by other men of day and night.”

Hitting the ground running with the launch of two ongoing Avengers titles, Hickman introduced threats from throughout the universe and beyond it, all seeking to destroy, alter or subjugate Earth and its inhabitants.

Like the Childhood’s End Overlords, Hickman’s extra-terrestrial Gardeners wished to mould galactic species’ toward an immaculate ideal. By Origin Bombing Earth, Gardener Ex Nihilo sought to hyper-evolve humanity. Indeed, he managed to reconfigure nearly two million earthlings before the Avengers arrived on Mars to confront him. And during their battle, none other than Captain Universe appeared, speaking of broken systems, demanding that no other inhabited worlds be transformed. Consider that for a second: the entire universe has a singular sentience, which possessed a ten-year coma case just to tell Ex Nihilo to chill the fuck out. Naturally, he acceded to her wishes.

Later, Captain Universe revealed, “This place, Earth, is significant…and the axis around which the multiverse spins.” Once, infinite universes contained infinite Earths, until, as Reed Richards explained to his Illuminati cohorts, “Somewhere, on one of these Earths, an event occurred that caused the early death of one of these universes.” This caused “two universes to smash together at the incursion point of the initial event,” leading to the destruction of both universes.

Basically, every Earth within Marvel’s multiverse was fated to collide with another Earth, destroying both of their respective universes. To spare both universes, the incursion point had to be destroyed in the eight hours that the Earths were harmonically aligned, which necessitated sacrificing one Earth. But even that was a stopgap measure. As Black Swan, the sole survivor of a destroyed parallel Earth put it, “The incursions never stop, not until your world dies.” They would continue transpiring, seemingly until either one or no Earths remained in the multiverse.

Standard super heroics were ineffectual against the incursions. Even the supposedly omnipotent Infinity Gauntlet could only push a single Earth back, at the expense of most of the gems powering it. Given the option of resettling Earth’s entire population, so as to destroy Earth and spare their reality from further incursions, the Illuminati refused, believing that they’d surmount the insurmountable, as they had countless times prior.

The scale kept expanding—a fleet of extra-terrestrials arriving to obliterate Earth; multiversal unification linking myriad Molecule Mans; a race of Beyonders watching from unobservable space; the true identity of Rabum Alal, the Great Destroyer—leading to the ultimate revelation: the true source of the incursions. And indeed, time did run out, as the finales of both Avengers titles segued to Secret Wars epicness.

Like Alan Moore did with Watchmen, Hickman presented a realm wherein characters toppled from heroic pinnacles into the depths of moral relativism. “I fear the hard choices we will soon make, my friends,” Dr. Strange told his fellow Illuminati members. And indeed, he was right to be scared. When ideological strife prevents superheroes from presenting a united front, death and destruction shall surely follow.

While many of today’s comic book writers churn out uninspired rehashes, Hickman delivered scripting so inspired that it justifies the medium, thus earning his place in the pantheon of all-time greats. In fact, should his currently-unfolding Secret Wars event equal or exceed the quality of its preceding Avengers issues, it could generate intrigue and excitement on par with DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths, which many regard as history’s ultimate crossover storyline.

The Future

In the year 2045, I envision myself using software so sophisticated that it generates a rudimentary film from my story, even as I type it—an app similar to Plotagon, but more advanced. Able to observe my plots in media res, I’ll make adjustments on the fly.

Hopefully, such software will negate encroaching senility well enough to make my prose comprehensible, as typing gibberish will generate an abstract film, necessitating edits. Floor plans and furniture placement will be altered to improve story flow; physical features will be remoulded immaculate. Perhaps such software will help me transition to a new career stage, in which I script comic books, films and television programs.

As a geriatric, I’ll likely remain a genre fiction enthusiast. I’ve been reading horror, SF, and superhero stories since childhood, after all, and my interest in them hasn’t waned yet. I’ve written a number of tales in those genres, plus bizarro fiction and thrillers, and plan on doing so for as long as possible.

Regarding my writing style, that tends to shift with each successive project. Ergo, I’ll likely be utilizing a variety of tones, tenses and perspectives in the year 2045, as I do nowadays. Otherwise, writing would grow monotonous.

In addition to the aforementioned genres, I would like to extend my literary efforts into the realms of high fantasy, western, and detective fiction. Cowboys and gumshoes, wizards and hobgoblins—their exploits can be riveting when authorial ingenuity is applied. By 2045, I will hopefully be able to put a new spin on their well-worn tropes, so as to generate tales worth reading.

You can buy The Phantom Cabinet by Jeremy Thompson here.

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Somewhere in Southern California, Jeremy Thompson writes horror, bizarro, thrillers and science fiction. Jeremy's books include The Phantom Cabinet and The Fetus and Other Stories. His short fiction has appeared in Under the Bed, Into the Darkness: Volume 1, Sanitarium Magazine, The Dead Walk: Volume 2, and Onyx Neon Shorts Presents: Horror Collection - 2015.

And for more on Jeremy, you can find him on social media or Amazon.

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