Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The game is done, I’ve won, I’ve won!

Which is to say that as of 3 AM Monday morning, my book Alien Visitors is finished. I still have to submit the manuscript (McFarland has to set something up on their end so I can send it digitally) but until it comes back for galley proofs and indexing, I’m done.

The title of this post is from Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I read when I was about 10. It’s way, way out of context; in the poem it’s what the monstrous Life In Death shrieks after winning the Ancient Mariner from Death in a dice game. She is not a pleasant person: “Her lips were red/her looks were free/Her locks were yellow as gold/The nightmare Life in Death was she/Who thicks man’s blood with cold.”

Nevertheless, it’s lodged in my brain as the thing to say when I complete something big.

I have a couple of posts in mind related to the book, but this one is about three things I learned while working on it.

1)Proofreading is important. Which I knew already, of course. But it turns out in quoting Revelation (while writing about the bizarre mockumentary Tribulation 99), I’d written that “When the thousand years are ended, Stan will be loosed from his prison.” That’s not quite correct. Though I know have an urge to write a short story about why Stan was locked up for a thousand years.

2)Books are sometimes better than the Internet.

For the past month, that’s been the coffee table next to my usual writing spot. I celebrated finishing by putting everything away (do I know how to live or what?).

I use the Internet a lot, of course, but in many cases that’s frustrating: Google film or TV show, click on link, find there’s next to nothing, click on another link, rinse, repeat. With those old issues of Epi-Log I know I can get detailed synopses for the shows. It saves a lot of time.

3)When writing about movies, comics, TV or whatever, it’s always important to see or read what you’re writing about. It’s not always possible, but it’s important to make the effort.

While wrapping things up I remembered Brother John (1971) as involving aliens and looked it up online. Pretty much everything refers to John (Sidney Poitier) as an angel, which didn’t jibe with my memory. I rented it off Amazon and I was right.

The film is the story of John returning to his Southern hometown when his sister is about to die. The town doctor (Will Geer) says he always returns when a family member dies, which may explain where the idea came from (i.e., John’s an angel of death). When John shows up he’s clearly an educated, classy guy which automatically makes the white power structure assume he’s there for nefarious purposes. They search his room and discover he’s been all over the world, even Cuba, where Americans couldn’t legally visit. They’re more convinced he’s nefarious.

It turns out that John has spent the past couple of decades following up on Klaatu’s work in The Day The Earth Stood Still (that’s my description, not the movie’s). As we keep moving into outer space, intergalactic civilization is once again worried we’re too violent, too savage. John has reported back how consistently man continues raising his hand to his fellow man; the decision has been made. Gort’s coming to eliminate us. It’s a striking movie and merited a mention in a book about extraterrestrials on Earth (even though John himself appears human). And really, once you watch the movie, there’s not much ambiguity about angel or alien.

Working on Alien Visitors showed me a couple of mistakes of my own in that line,. When I wrote my first film book, Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, there were some movies I couldn’t find tapes of and had to make do with descriptions. In two cases I was wrong. I described the 1994 TV movie The Gifted One as a story about a guy who discovers he possesses mysterious powers because he’s half-extraterrestrial. Finally catching it for Alien Visitors, it turns out I was wrong. The protagonist never learns his origin, only that he’s millennia in advance of current Homo sapiens (which suggests mutant but doesn’t rule out little green men). Not for the book, and also incredibly boring, too fixated on how the protagonist has suffered his whole life from being different.

I’d described 1994’s Without Warning as yet another asteroids-strike-Earth story. In reality, it’s a War of the Worlds homage that starts with what appears to be a Loni Anderson TV movie, then breaks away to the network newsroom to report on an asteroid crashing near Grover’s Mill, Wyoming (Grover’s Mill, NJ was where the Martians landed in the legendary Orson Welles broadcast). Except as the reporters try to piece together the story, it appears that maybe the meteor was a spaceship — are we under attack? Or did the government just botch first contact? We never learn for sure but this does make much better viewing than I thought it would. And so it does get mentioned in Alien Visitors.

Nobody’s perfect, but I improve with practice.




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