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Vietnam War Fantastic

I got the idea to write this post from watching Ken Burn’s latest documentary The Vietnam War. In the past, for reasons unknown, I never had any interest in the Vietnam War even though I have some vague memories of its aftereffects (the war ended in 1975, I was born in 1984) thanks to the pop culture of the ’80s and early ’90s. I also remember as a child seeing legless Vietnamese/Cambodian men in wheelchairs due to left over land mines from that war.

But until Burns’ series, I never had any interest in the Vietnam War. Maybe because it was too long (it lasted from 1955-1975, 20 years total), too bloody and too divisive, so divisive in the US (and Vietnam of course) that you could say the ’60s was the second Civil War. To this very day, the war still is still a sensitive subject – just ask any baby boomer.

And maybe its controversial nature is why authors tend to shy away from the Vietnam War as a setting for works of SF, fantasy and horror. But there are exceptions. Eleven of them to be exact, and they range from short stories to an award-winning classic novel. So pop in your favorite ’60s/’70s rock album (I suggest The Best of the Guess Who because of course I do) and peruse this list of fantastical works set during a war that changed America (and Vietnam) forever.

Short Stories

“Fellow Americans” by Eileen Gunn (From the anthology Alternate Presidents)

Lyndon B. Johnson – commonly known as LBJ – loses the 1964 election to Barry Goldwater, who, as president, drops nuclear weapons on Vietnam, thus winning the war. Goldwater wins a second term in 1968 and serves as POTUS until 1973. Oh and Richard Nixon quit politics and became a talk show host.

“Suppose They Gave a Peace” by Susan Shwartz (also from Alternate Presidents and The Way It Wasn’t)

George McGovern is elected in 1972 and attempts an immediate withdrawal from the war, but that doesn’t stop the North Vietnamese from advancing towards Saigon.

“Murdering Uncle Ho” by Chris Bunch (from the anthology Alternate Generals III)

JFK survived his assassination, and draws the US deeper into the Vietnam conflict after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which leads to a North Vietnamese invasion in 1965.

Comics

Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)

This graphic novel needs no introduction. Ask any comic book nerd about it and they’ll speak in reverential tones about how this series changed the comic book industry for better and for worse. Thanks to the intervention of superheroes – the living weapon Dr. Manhattan in particular (and the Comedian – though he was more of a combatant) – the US won the Vietnam War. But for every action, there’s a reaction…

Spider-‘Nam

This is more of a case of What Could Have Been. James Stokoe wrote and drew a couple of (unpublished) pages imagining Spider-Man as a combatant in the Vietnam War. He learns that the catch-phrase “with great power, comes great responsibility” takes on a whole new meaning during wartime. It appears that this comic wont be published any time soon but if it is, it’ll be the first Spider-Man comic I’d be interested in reading. You can look at the pages here.

Video Games

Shellshock 2: Blood Trails

A 2009 first-person shooter that tells the story of G.I. Private Nate Walker, who is sent to Vietnam in 1969 and learns, to his horror, that a scientist has unleashed a contagion that turns humans into zombie creatures (because zombies and war go together like peanut butter and jelly) which includes his older brother Cal. Your mission is to find Cal in the jungles of Southeast Asia, fight zombies and the Viet Cong, who’d like to get their hands on that virus.

(you will not love the smell of naplam in the morning)

Role-Playing Games

Weird Wars: Tour of Darkness

I’m not good at describing RPGs because I’ve never played them, but I think TV Tropes does a better job summarizing the Weird Wars franchise:

Pinnacle Games published a Weird Wars line of d20 games taking place in Real Life past and future wars with supernatural additions. For example, Weird War II had the PCs playing Allied soldiers during World War II, but the Nazis had mutant soldiers, characters could use haunted vehicles and cast spells, and there were monsters. Lots of monsters. The updated re-release of the game line for Savage Worlds so far includes World War I (“Weird War I”), World War II (“Weird War II”), The Vietnam War (“Tour Of Darkness”), and the Roman Empire and its campaigns of conquest (“Weird Wars Rome”).

And Amazon provides more details:

Our first follow-up to our smash hit Weird Wars in the new Savage Worlds system takes us to the jungles of Vietnam. Your grunt has 365 days and a wake-up to learn what really lurks in the jungle. Surviving is tough enough, but if your GI is really on the ball, he just might get drafted into the super-secret Phoenix Program and discover far more than he ever wanted about the Plain of Jars and the secret cults of the high mountains. Tour of Darkness features new Sanity rules and how to deal with mind-numbing horror, a ton of Edges & Hindrances, new horrors, and an awesome Adventure Generator and Plot Points to tell the most savage of tales!

Novels

The Forever War Joe Haldeman (1975)

Joe Haldeman served in Vietnam as a combat engineer. He expressed his experiences (the terror of combat, the indifference of government bureaucracy, the futility of the war and the sense of coming back to an unrecognizable world) in the military sci-fi award-winning novel The Forever War which tells the story of William Mandella, a UNEF soldier who is drafted into the war between Earth and the Taurans. Fighting an endless war is tough enough but for Mandella and his fellow soldiers, the tougher part is going home…

Television

“In Praise of Pip” – The Twilight Zone, Season 5, Episode 1 (Broadcast date: 9/27/63)

This episode is noted for addressing the Vietnam War long before the anti-war movement came to prominence. A corrupt bookie (Jack Klugman) is shot by one of his clients. He learns before hand that his son was wounded in South Vietnam and prays that God would take his life in exchange for his son’s. But before he dies, he gets one last chance to be a good father…

twilight-zone-season-5-1-in-praise-of-pip-episode-121-jack-klugman-bill-mundy-review-guide-list

A later season 5 episode makes an eerie side reference to Vietnam. “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” tells the story of an innocent man who will be hanged for murder at sunrise. But the sun never rises and the sky stays dark. After the execution, a reverend tells the public that the sky will get blacker and blacker as long as hate persists. But the little town isn’t the only place covered in darkness. Just see for yourself:

Manga

Apocalypse Meow by Motofumi Kobayashi

In Japan this manga goes by a very different title that can’t be repeated here. So in the US its retitled Apocalypse Meow as a play on the famous film Apocalypse Now.

All soldiers are represented as animals – Americans are rabbits, Vietnamese are cats, etc. Three American soldiers – Bota, Perky and Rats – go about their daily activities as members of a reconnaissance group in Vietnam. Click here for more details.

So what do you think, readers? Did I miss something? Should there be more works set during the Vietnam War or should we let sleeping dogs lie? Say your thing, man.

 

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Dear Hollywood, Drop ‘Alien 5’ And Adapt ‘Alien Isolation’ Instead

dontrun

To the Head of 20th Century Fox,

Request of Current Procedure: produce film adaptation of 2014 horror-survival video game Alien: Isolation, all other Alien franchise projects secondary, current film in production: Alien 5, expendable.

Submitted for your approval: Alien: Isolation takes place 15 years after the events of your 1979 classic where Ripley’s resourceful daughter, Amanda, travels to the exact place where her mother disappeared and boards a space station that has in it’s possession a recorded message Ripley made for her daughter. Unfortunately, Amanda discovers that a majority of the station’s inhabitants are dead, its survivors are territorial, its androids are running amok and a big, scary xenomorph is lurking in the shadows, looking for its next victim. The object of the game is explained best by Wikipedia:

To advance through the game, the player must explore a space station and complete numerous objectives while avoiding, outsmarting and defeating enemies like human occupants or hostile androids. Objectives range from activating computers to collecting certain items or reaching a specific area in the game. The player has the ability to run, climb ladders, and sneak into vents. The player can also crouch and hide behind objects to break the line of sight with enemies, and covertly peek over or lean around to gain view. The player has also the ability to go under nearby tables or inside lockers to hide from enemies.

The alien creature cannot be defeated, requiring the player to use stealth tactics in order to survive. Along the way, the player can use both a flashlight and a motion tracker to detect the alien’s movements. However, using any of these increases the chance of the alien finding the player. For example, if the alien is moving and close enough, the tracker’s sound will attract the alien, forcing the player to wisely use the tracker and remove it as soon as it detects motion. The motion tracker cannot detect enemies when they are not moving and cannot determine whether the alien creature is up in the ducts or on the ground level.

If this explanation of the game’s objective doesn’t interest and/or confuses you, I suggest you pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back and watch the game movie here.

Are you done? Good. Here’s why this game has potential to become a movie:

  • We can give Sigourney Weaver a break. Don’t get me wrong, I love that woman as much as the next femgeek, but I want to see another woman hero fight/outwit xenomorphs. And in A:I they succeeded with Amanda Ripley, who’s more of an intellectual hero than an action hero. Nowadays we’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that physical prowess should be the standard for any main female character in an SF movie and that teeters toward the philosophy of “might makes right”. By having an intellectual female hero on the big screen who’s technically savvy, keeps her cool and uses her head, girls (those that are old enough to see the film but are still of an “impressionable” age) will learn that it’s OK (and important) to be smart.
  • It brings the franchise back to its horror roots. One of the reasons why Alien is one of my favorite films of all time is best said by the late, great Roger Ebert:

One of the great strengths of “Alien” is its pacing. It takes its time. It waits. It allows silences. “Alien” uses a tricky device to keep the alien fresh throughout the movie: It evolves the nature and appearance of the creature, so we never know quite what it looks like or what it can do. The 1979 “Alien” is a much more cerebral movie than its sequels, with the characters (and the audience) genuinely engaged in curiosity about this weirdest of lifeforms.

The words I highlighted in bold lead me to an unpopular view: many believe that the franchise started to decline in quality with Alien 3. I believed it declined with James Cameron’s much-loved 1986 sequel when he sidestepped horror for action-thriller and since then every film, comic and video game in the franchise followed in the footsteps of Aliens instead of Alien. Not so with Alien: Isolation and let me tell you, there’s some scary scenes in Alien: Isolation. So scary I was afraid to open any door in my house at night for fear that a xenomorph would jump out at me.

  • It utilizes the technology of the film yet still looks believably futuristic. The technology in Alien reflects the retrofuturism of the 70s even though the story takes place in 2122. Alien: Isolation starts off 15 years after the first film but doesn’t use 2014 technology (the year the game was released). The technology is large, beige and bulky yet that never for once distracts the player/viewer. It works.
  • It centers on a mother/daughter relationship that’s rare in a lot of fiction be it film, TV, or video games. Though I would change that relationship to aunt/niece (see below, though it still centers on female relationships).

However cinema has a history of disastrous video game adaptations (Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, etc.) so some changes may be needed to the story. Here’s some changes I would make if I were to write the screenplay.

  • The first plot change I would make is to start the film (after Ripley’s famous last recording) on the Sevastopol space station where Captain Marlowe and his team discover the xenomorph eggs and Marlowe’s wife gets attacked by a facehugger. She is brought on board with the camera closing in on her covered face… then we cut to our first scene of Amanda Ripley.
  • I don’t understand why the game has Ripley kill some of the other survivors of Sevastopol simply because “they don’t trust strangers”. Can’t she at least reason with them and try to convince them that she’s here to help? Can she walk in her mother’s footsteps and convince them that the best way to survive is through teamwork?
  • Her discovery of her mother’s taped message shouldn’t be interrupted by Marlowe’s threats against Taylor’s life. It should be an isolated scene that the audience should linger on while the second movement to Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 plays.
  • I always found it peculiar that the name of the company that the Ripley’s work for is an English-Japanese hybrid, yet there’s never been a Japanese character in the entire franchise. I might change one of the secondary characters (like Ricardo or Waits) or create an entirely new character that’s of Japanese descent.
  • I might change Amanda’s relationship to Ellen from daughter to niece. Why? Because the deleted scene in Aliens where Ellen asks about her daughter isn’t considered canon (though it’s often been included in many “Special Edition” releases) and for me seemed too left field when you remember that Ripley made no mention of having a daughter in Alien. Why would a single mom (no word on what happened to Amanda’s dad) leave her only child (once again, no word on whether Amanda has siblings) for extended periods of time? It would make more sense for a niece, who has a mother already, desire to emulate the aunt she admires by becoming an engineer and working for the same company, investigate her aunt’s disappearance.

This is the Lady, sole inhabitant of Planet X, signing off.

Now, dear readers, it’s your turn. Do you think Alien: Isolation would make a good movie? What did you enjoy about Alien: Isolation?  What would you change? Sound off in the comments.

 

 

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World War 1 Fantastic – Video Games

We’ve looked at The Great War through the prism of sf and fantasy with novels and TV. Today we’re going to take another twisted trip through the trenches with video games. Once again, there aren’t as many titles dealing with the subject of World War 1 as there are with its successor. But the games are there, I’ve found them, I’m going to talk about them, and maybe you’ll end up playing them.

Note: Because many games have DLCs that take place in a WW1 setting, I will address those extras for another post.  For the sake of simplicity, I’m focusing on games that strictly take place during the war, not before or after (unless if that war never ended). I will also skip games that allow you to avert the war. I also am not, repeat, am not a gamer, so I don’t know much about the technological aspect of video games, so any corrections are welcomed.

Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994)

Castlevania_Bloodlines

Konami

Single-player platform

Dracula has a niece named Elizabeth Bartley, who starts World War 1 so that she can revive her long-dead uncle. In 1917 two men named Eric Lecard and John Morris join up to stop her.

NecrovisioN  (2009)

Necrovision_PC_US_ESRB

The Farm 51

First-person shooter

It’s 1916. An American volunteer named Simon Bukner is fighting for the British Army. During a counterattack against the Germans, he and his company are ambushed by machine gun fire and mustard gas. Simon collapses and wakes up in a world where he now has to fight zombies, hellhounds, demons and vampires.

Iron Storm (2002-2005)

Iron_Storm_boxart

4X Studios/Rebellion/Reef Interactive

First-person shooter

It’s 1964. The Great War is in it’s 50th year (yeesh!). You play Lt. James Anderson. Your mission: to stop Baron Nikolai Aleksandrovich von Ugenberg and his Russo-Mongolian Empire from developing nuclear weapons. And hopefully end this ongoing war once and for all.

1916 – Der Unbekannte Krieg -“The Unknown War” (2011)

 

 

art09

Kriegsgraben und Stormvogel

First-person avoider/ horror survival

This game reminds me of Alien: Isolation you have to hide from the xenomorph and stay one step ahead of it. Ditto for this game. You’re in the trenches. Your goal is to find a ladder, collect some needed items – and avoid the dinosaurs. In the trenches. Your trenches. Yes you read that right. Yes, it’s scarier than you think. You can check it out on YouTube if you’re curious.

  Do you know of any other video games with a fantastic first world war setting?

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