January 8th, 2014

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Poop poop!

Emerging technology is a dreadful Siren for a fiction writer. Nothing dates faster than the future. How many films from the '60s and '70s have been rendered ridiculous by room-sized computers a-flicker with lights and reeling with tapes? How many trendy yuppies had the line of their jackets spoilt by mobile phones the size and weight of bullion? Then of course there’s the problem of inflation...



It's not an entirely new problem. I've just been reading "Lord Beden's Motor" (1901) by J. B. Harris-Burland, in which the narrator experiences a terrifying night-time drive, courtesy of the eponymous peer. It's full of descriptions like this:

"What the deuce is it?" I said.

"You'll see when we come up to it," the Earl answered, between his teeth. "We shall go faster in a few minutes.""

We were, however, going quite fast enough for me, and though I have ridden on many motors since, and occasionally at a greater speed, I shall never forget that ride along the Kelston Road. The powerful machine beneath us trembled as though it were going to fall to pieces

[...]

We dashed through Kelston like a streak of light. It was fortunate that all the inhabitants were in bed. Then we shot out on to a road leading across the open moor, which stretches from here to the sea, twenty miles away, and I remembered that eight miles from Kelston there was a steep descent into the valley of the Stour, and it was scarcely possible that we could escape destruction. I quickly made up my mind to overpower Lord Beden and gain control of the machine.

[...]

[Lord B's response] "If you meddle with me we shall be smashed to pieces. We are going at forty miles an hour, and if you distract my attention for a single instant I won't answer for the consequences."


Forty miles an hour? Night-time or not, that's somehow a little deflating.
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The Tomorrow People

It wasn't too disappointing, but only because I went in with low expectations.

I bridled at some of the sly digs at the British series: "The Tomorrow People - we didn't choose the name." "Homo superior - we didn't choose that name either." Of the computer, Tim: "Like Hal, but not evil". Fair comment in one sense, but on the other hand if you can't bring yourself to treat your source material with respect, why not invent your own fucking series concept, arsehole? Forgive my language, but we've been this way before. Those Seeker scars run deep.

Actually it was very much a Seeker-ised version. It came with the standard kit of American characters: high school bully, girlfriend who wants to understand but is driven away by hero's "strange" behaviour, hard-pressed single mother, missing/dead messianic father, etc.. There's no sign of aliens yet, just a dubiously motivated organization devoted to wiping the TP out, a la The Matrix (there was even a bit of bullet stopping to drive that home). There's more violence, more sexual tension, and American teens in the 2010s clearly work out more than their weedy British 1970s counterparts, raised as one on white bread and spaghetti hoops.

The one ray of hope is that our confused hero decided at the end of Episode One to leave his fellow TP in the lurch and go and work for the baddies. That could be interesting, if he really means it - but I suspect he's just undercover.

What other '70s shows are ripe for Americanization? I wonder about Blake's 7 - but I suppose Firefly queered that pitch. Most of my favourites are too tightly linked to particular locations to survive transplantation.