Celebrating The 90th Anniversary of the Classic Fantasy Film Masterpiece “King Kong”

By Steve Vertlieb: King Kong premiered ninety years ago on March 2, 1933, opening simultaneously at both the Radio City Music Hall and Roxy Theaters in New York City, followed by an “official” March 23,1933, opening at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  I guess that I first saw the film as a ten year old, somewhere around 1956, on WCAU TV, Channel 10 in Philadelphia.  I’d grown up hearing stories from my mom about being a young woman in the early 1930’s, and seeing a wonder-filled motion picture concerning a giant prehistoric ape in a lost world, escaping from captivity and carrying a woman to the top of the Empire State Building.  I was so entranced by her stories that I often dreamt of Kong searching for me in the sometimes nightmarish realm of slumber, an enormous phantom stalking the streets of the city, peering through bedroom windows in menacing search of its prey.  While I’d awaken from these dark fantasies screaming in the night, the imagery of the great gorilla both thrilled and mesmerized me, enticing this small impressionable boy into a surreal nether world of “beauties and beasts.”

I can remember my excitement when it was finally announced that “Kong” would make his long awaited debut on local television over WCAU TV, the then CBS affiliate.  My mom had punished me for something that I either did or didn’t do, refusing to allow me to watch the film on our living room television set.  I ran out the door in a panic, longing for an opportunity to finally see the movie that had tormented and tantalized my fertile imagination for so many desolate childhood years.  I was swept from household to neighborhood household, visiting with each childhood friend until their moms summoned them to the kitchen table for dinner.  I saw only scraps and isolated fragments of the film during that troubled afternoon but what I saw thrilled my thoughts and dreams beyond imagining.  

The following Saturday afternoon I went innocently to The Benner Theater near my house to once more attend my fabled ritual of the weekly Saturday matinee.  As the trailers to coming attractions unspooled, I suddenly felt a bolt of electricity surge through my little body, for there upon the magical movie screen came the black and white imagery of giant native doors slowly opening while a giant presence pushed his way to freedom on Skull Island.  It was fate giving me a second chance, another opportunity to see King Kong at last, in the way that it was meant to be seen, upon the seemingly huge motion picture screen.  I waited breathlessly for the days to expire and then, magically, it was Saturday once more.  The majestic three notes that began and accompanied Max Steiner’s triumphant musical score filled my ears, and I was transported to another world … a land of strange, forbidding islands, dangerous coral reefs, and a majestic gate jealously guarding and concealing the wonder and power of the mighty KONG.

I’ve probably seen King Kong over three hundred times.  I’ve never tired of the exhilaration and wonder that I felt when I first fell in love with the greatest, most revered “monster” movie ever conceived.  As I approach relative maturity, I reached out to Bantam Books who had recently published a paperback version of the original novelization of the picture by Delos W. Lovelace.  The editors of the publishing company were kind enough to provide me with a post office box by which I might contact the original creator of the story and subsequent motion picture, Merian C. Cooper.  Although I never had an opportunity to meet this legendary adventurer and film maker, we conducted an intense correspondence over the last eight years of his life from 1965 until 1973.  During those years there was rarely a week that went by when my mailbox wasn’t deluged with letters and special packages sent to me from this giant of the film industry, lovingly addressed to his youthful admirer and fan.  Through mail, he introduced me to beloved animation genius Ray Harryhausen whose friendship, both through correspondence, telephone calls, and personal gatherings, endured for nearly fifty years.  It was also through Merian Cooper’s posthumous introduction that I found an eagerly anticipated opportunity to meet and develop a relationship with his star, Fay Wray, at her apartment dwelling in Century City, California in 1980.

Acclaimed cinema journalist, and primary historian for American Cinematographer Magazine, George Turner, was scheduled to appear as a guest speaker at the official Sixtieth Anniversary King Kong birthday celebration at the historic Gateway Theater in Chicago during the Winter of 1993.

Optical Effects pioneer Linwood Dunn was booked with him as a guest speaker for the event. At the last moment, Dunn was unexpectedly called away for another important assignment, leaving the festival without one of its two special guests. Scott Holton with Varese Sarabande Records suggested that the vacancy should be filled by a little-known writer who had known Merian C. Cooper through intense correspondence, and who had written a series of articles about the making of King Kong for the premiere issues of The Monster Times (January 1972), as well as the lead chapter for Avon Books’ The Girl In The Hairy Paw in 1976.

Consequently, I was flown into Chicago and booked at the Chicago Hilton Hotel (several days following the departure of Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, and the cast and production crew for The Fugitive) and, along with George Turner, appeared on stage before an audience of 500 fans to talk about the making and production of the beloved fantasy film classic. It was an experience that I shall forever remember as a spectacular highlight of my own life and career.

In the years since 1968 when my own byline first appeared in a published magazine, I began my own writing career, sweetly encompassing over half a century of essays, articles, and commentaries in genre related books and magazines, concerning the immortal films and film makers whose works and creations continue to inspire my dreams.  What follows is a visual remembrance of just a few of the memories, publications, individually inscribed photographs, and personal communications that have elevated my dreams and remembrances to gratifying reality.

The premiere issue of America’s one and only bi-weekly monster tabloid, The Monster Times, published by Larry Brill and Les Waldstein from their corporate offices in New York City in 1972. The spectacular first issue, edited by the late Chuck McNaughton, featured my earliest professional gig as a published writer, offering my original series of articles on the making and production of Merian C. Cooper’s classic 1933 “King Kong.”

My work was later re-written, and re-structured, becoming the lead chapter for Avon Books’ legendary tribute to Kong…The Girl In The Hairy Paw, compiled and edited by Ronald Gottesman and Harry M. Geduld four years later in 1976.

My series of essays on the making and production of the original 1933 production of the greatest “Monster” movie of all time appeared initially in the 1972 premier issue of The Monster Times. Editors Ronald Gottesman and Harry M. Geduld approached me about using my articles as the lead, or opening chapter, of their forthcoming book about the film, The Girl In The Hairy Paw.

Scheduled to be published by Prentice Hall the following year, a change in management at the prestigious book company cancelled production, causing a delay of several more years. Avon Books in New York finally agreed to publish what would have become the very first volume ever printed about the iconic gorilla.

The Girl In The Hairy Paw became a long awaited, and eagerly anticipated reality in the Spring of 1976 and did, indeed, feature my revised and revisited look at the production and reception of the classic King Kong as its opening chapter. Its wonderful cover art by Dave Willardson is reproduced here on the 90th anniversary of the film’s “official world premiere” in Los Angeles on March 23rd, 1933.

In subsequent years my involvement and participation in the enduring legend of “King Kong” has continued to evolve.  In 1981 I was invited by popular Philadelphia television host Gene London to appear with him on stage before a live audience at the city’s prestigious cultural institution, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, speaking for one hour on the cultural and historical significance of the original 1933 “King Kong.”

On August 11th, 1990, Gary and Sue Svehla’s popular “Fanex” Convention played host to Ray Harryhausen’s first major personal appearance in Baltimore, Maryland, and I was asked to host the well remembered event. Ray and I sat down on stage together for a two and a half hour discussion, before some five hundred fans and admirers, during which I interviewed him not only about his own fabulous film career, but about his love for 1933’s “King Kong,” and how it had inspired and influenced his own substantial stop-motion animation motion picture legacy.

Together with stop-motion pioneering genius Ray Harryhausen at the “Fanex” Convention in Baltimore, during late Summer 1990, following our in-person, on stage interview.

I had an opportunity in the Fall of 2021 to sit down with Host, Actor, Comedian, and Writer Ron MacCloskey for his Emmy Award Winning Public Television Series, “Classic Movies with Ron MacCloskey.”

Ron is the writer and producer of the new feature length documentary motion picture, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster, now playing in theaters all across the globe.

For this Halloween themed episode of the popular program, however, we explored the cultural significance, history, and legacy of the most famous “Monster” of them all … King Kong … and his ninety year influence on gorilla films of all shapes and sizes, as well as his career defining impact on the lives and reign of Stop Motion Animation legends, Willis H. O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen.

In 2022 I was invited by British producer/director Tom Grove to appear on camera for a thirty minute interview concerning my own lifelong involvement with Merian C. Cooper’s creation for the three part documentary motion picture, The Legend of King Kong, currently in release, featuring interviews with actor Jack O’Halloran, special effects pioneer Jack Polito, and myself among many others.

These personal involvements over a lifetime of adoration for the most enduring fantasy film in motion picture history, as well as the beloved collection of memories and mementos that follow, have enriched my life experience more than mere words can ever adequately define or express.

  • A rare, commissioned “King Kong” sculpture designed and built by the late Stop Motion animator, David Allen, sitting proudly in my “dining room.”
  • An impossibly precious, rare surviving “fin” from the back of the Stegosaurus model built for the original 1933 King Kong by Marcel Delgado that sits prominently in my home apartment.
  • A re-production of the original Grauman’s Theater premiere program, designed especially for the official opening of King Kong in Hollywood, with handwritten notes and observations by Merian C. Cooper, the co-director and creator of this motion picture fantasy masterpiece, and a variety of autographed stills signed by both General Cooper, and his exquisite heroine, the lovely Fay Wray.
  • The outer lobby of a movie theater in Australia, heralding the premiere of the now legendary RKO fantasy masterpiece.
  • Two photos of American Cinematographer Magazine featured journalist and special effects film scholar George Turner and I in the lobby of The Gateway Theater in Chicago, posing for publicity pictures, at the official sixtieth anniversary celebration and screening of King Kong.
  • The cover of Black Oracle magazine by artist Tim Johnson, published in the mid-Seventies, and highlighted by my review of the unfortunate remake of the early film, produced by Dino De Laurentis. Appropriately, echoing Robert Armstrong’s final line as Carl Denham in the 1933 motion picture … “Oh no … it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast,” I titled my critique “Twas Dino Killed The Beast.”
  • An original 22 x 28 poster from the 1956 theatrical reissue of the original King Kong, hanging, proudly framed, upon my bedroom wall.
  • This special birthday cake, patterned from The Girl In The Hairy Paw cover art by Dave Willardson, was presented to me in Baltimore some years ago by friends Bruce and Ann Gearhart for my 70th birthday.

An Appreciation of “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

By Soon Lee: I first watched Everything Everywhere All at Once at an Auckland cinema on April 19, 2022 and it has been living in my head ever since. I saw it again on the big screen before its Auckland run ended. I have never done this before.

It is the most remarkable movie I have seen in years. It straddles multiple genres, Science Fiction, you can ‘Verse Jump’ to access the skills and abilities of alternate universe versions of yourself, Drama, exploring family relationships, Action, with spectacular martial arts fight sequences, lowbrow Comedy, with dildo and buttplug fights, all in a surprisingly cohesive whole. It is also a quintessential Chinese-American immigrant story. I can talk about its technical brilliance like its use of visual symbology, aspect ratios, or color palettes, and I will. But none of that brilliance matters without the core story. At heart Everything Everywhere All at Once is about finding meaning amongst the noise and chaos of modern life. It’s about the power of kindness. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the movie we didn’t know we needed in 2022.

If you haven’t already watched Everything Everywhere All at Once, I urge you to see it at your soonest convenience before proceeding. Be one of today’s Lucky 10,000. Spoilers follow.

Michelle Yeoh is Evelyn Wang who with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) live above their failing laundromat. Most of the movie unfolds over a single day. Evelyn is busy trying to cook breakfast for her disapproving father Gong Gong (James Hong) just arrived from China for Chinese New Year, while trying to get her taxes ready a meeting with IRS Auditor Deirdre (Jamie-Lee Curtis) later that morning. Auditor Deirdre has placed a lien on their laundromat. There are also last minute preparations for the Chinese New Year party the Wangs are hosting that evening. All this while also trying to run their laundromat. Evelyn’s daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has just arrived with her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel). Evelyn has issues with Joy’s relationship with Becky and doesn’t want Gong Gong to know. Joy meanwhile provides an example of reverse nominative determinism: Joy is joyless. Evelyn’s relationship with her daughter Joy is dysfunctional, as is her relationship with her father Gong Gong. Her relationship with husband Waymond is not much better, thinking him flighty: he dances with laundromat customers, sticks googly eyes onto random items including laundry sacks. Evelyn’s life is frenetic and overwhelming. Everything it seems is happening all at once, none of it good.

An aside here. The Daniels (Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan) who co-wrote and co-directed Everything Everywhere All at Once have said that they delayed release of the movie (principal photography was completed just as lockdown began in 2020) so that it could be experienced on the big screen with an audience. Watching this on the big screen is qualitatively different. Everything Everywhere All at Once attempts to simulate the overwhelming informational firehose of online life constantly demanding our attention. It’s relentless. But if you were to watch it on your own device, you can pause anytime to take a breather, and/or rewind to catch something from the firehose you may have missed. That’s not possible when watching it on the big screen. You are on a rollercoaster ride trusting the implicit contract you have made with the makers of the movie will pay off, that you won’t be left confused.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a lot, but the movie walks a fine line, almost overwhelming us without going over that line. We get a taste the chaos that is Evelyn’s life. But if we are confused, we don’t stay that way for long. Behind the chaos and noise projected at us underlies deep structure and purposeful storytelling. It uses both techniques of “show” and “tell”, and repetition. If you are confused, for example by how ‘Verse Jumping’ works (the method to access your alternate universe self and gain their abilities), that information is repeated in different ways, incluing those who missed the first time, while conveying additional information to those who got it the first time.

As Evelyn and Waymond ride the elevator to their IRS meeting, Alpha Waymond takes over and tells Evelyn that she is his hope to defeat Jobu Tupaki, a grave threat to the multiverse. All she has to do is to follow a set of instructions starting with turning right on exiting the elevator and going to the janitor’s closet instead of left to the auditor. The Call to Adventure is declined. But that doesn’t last long as Evelyn is drawn in and has to learn to Verse Jump in order to save herself. It turns out the threat to the multiverse Jobu Tupaki is a version of Evelyn’s daughter Joy. Too much Verse Jumping broke Joy so now she experiences everything everywhere all at once, gaining chaotic powers that she’s unleashing upon the multiverse. Evelyn has to learn to Verse Jump and level up sufficiently to be a match for Joy.

Yeoh, Quan and Hsu get to portray different multiverse versions of Evelyn, Waymond and Joy in a thrilling chaotic ride into multiple universes and multiple genres. We get thrown into different alternate universes as the story unfolds, but are rarely lost thanks largely to the technical brilliance of the production. The full filmmaker’s toolkit is used to great effect to delineate between the universes so that we are immediately oriented. Each universe has its own look and feel, from the pink pastels of the Hotdog Universe to the slow-mo effects of the Movie Universe reminiscent of Wong Kar-Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” (the Daniels wear their influences proudly). Color palettes, aspect ratios, set designs are all harnessed to make each universe distinct.

The visual elements not only allow us to distinguish between the multiverses, but they are also integral to another facet of the movie: this is a Chinese-American immigrant story and Chinese symbology is writ large. The circle is a consistent motif seen throughout. The movie opens with the family unit Evelyn, Waymond, and Joy seen in happier times reflected in a round mirror. The laundromat has many washing machines and driers, every one has a round door. The concepts of nihilism and optimism explored in Everything Everywhere All at Once are embodied by the symbols for Yin (darkness) and Yang (light) which together form a circle. In Everything Everywhere All at Once Yin and Yang, the Chinese concepts, are represented by Western objects. Yin is black with a white center (the Everything Bagel) while Yang is white with a black centre (the Googly Eye). At the climax of the movie, Evelyn fixes a Googly eye onto the middle of her forehead, opening a third eye and an awakened consciousness.

Writer Jacqueline Woodson says, “The more specific we are, the more universal something can become”. Everything Everywhere All at Once portrays the Chinese-American immigrant experience in detail, and by doing so makes it more easily relatable to everyone. Code switching is common in immigrant families, where you switch languages depending on who you are talking to, sometimes within the same sentence. How you communicate says a lot about your relationships. The Wang family speak English, Mandarin-Chinese, and Cantonese-Chinese. Evelyn speaks to her father Gong Gong in Cantonese-Chinese but to her husband Waymond in Mandarin-Chinese, indicating Evelyn and Waymond came from different backgrounds, which could have added to Gong Gong’s disapproval of Waymond. Joy speaks predominantly English, having only a few words of Mandarin, but apparently no Cantonese so when Joy tries to talk to Gong Gong it is Mandarin she attempts with. The few words of Mandarin I have were enough that I winced watching Joy try to formulate a sentence, try to contort the few basic words of Mandarin in her vocabulary to convey the desired meaning. Joy, in halting Mandarin asking Gong Gong how his flight was literally translates to “Your airplane, good or not?” Most viewers won’t speak Mandarin, but it didn’t matter. The awkwardness of that exchange is obvious. We can all understand trying to communicate and failing.

And character arcs? Evelyn and Joy have them and their relationship form the core of the story but with Waymond, Everything Everywhere All at Once performs filmic aikido. Waymond is a flighty, ineffectual husband and father when we first meet him but by the end is a warrior who fights with kindness, worthy to be partner to Evelyn’s Verse Jumping hero. But the character of Waymond hasn’t changed at all. The Waymond at the start of the movie is the same Waymond at the end. His character arc happens solely in our minds, in the way we perceive Waymond, because the way we see Waymond changes as the movie plays out, until we finally see him as he truly is.

The family drama plays out against a backdrop of multiple universes and much wackiness. I mean, can we talk about the fight sequences? An early high is the fannypack fight, which takes the Chinese Dad accessory to the next level. The inspiration is clearly Hong Kong action movies specifically the ones of Jackie Chan that typically feature the use of weapons improvised from everyday objects. And what is more everyday than a fannypack? Brothers Andy and Brian Le of Youtube channel @MartialClub are fight choreographers as well as performers, drawing inspiration from Hong Kong action movies. In Everything Everywhere All at Once they not only get to showcase their skills, but also get to fight in a scene with Michelle Yeoh who first came to prominence in the Hong Kong action movies they loved, thus completing the circle.

Everything Everywhere All at Once features a genuine ensemble cast, every actor is exceptional. Michelle Yeoh turns in a career defining performance showcasing her ability for comedy, action, and drama. Ke Huy Quan back after nearly two decades away from the screen is the heart of the story: “The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind especially when we don’t know what’s going on.” A simple message. But so powerful. Stephanie Hsu who I knew from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” puts in a breakout performance as Joy/Jobu. Jamie-Lee Curtis as Deirdre the unlovable IRS auditor we come to love. And what more needs to be said about James Hong, who boasts over 400 actor credits spanning almost seven decades?

And THAT rock scene. If you had said that I would be laughing and crying at a scene featuring two rocks, with no sound save the blowing wind, I would have been incredulous. But that scene would not have worked without us having come to care deeply about Evelyn and Joy. The preceding scenes were filled with noise and mayhem, so by the time we come the rock scene with its quiet serenity, it is much needed relief. It is also the first time Evelyn and Joy aren’t fighting. For once they can just be rocks and “talk” to each other. Just be a rock.

This is a movie of contrasts. The movie’s deeper explorations of meaning are juxtaposed with the absurd. On one hand we are trying to find meaning when nothing matters, while on the other are fights involving buttplugs, and dildoes, not to mention a universe where humans have hotdogs for fingers, or a universe where a raccoon can manipulate a human like a puppet a la “Ratatouille”, to a scene with silent rocks filled with emotion. It shouldn’t work, but it somehow does, and that is a large part of its brilliance.

Though I loved EEAOO from my first watch, I wasn’t sure if it had mainstream appeal. As an immigrant of Chinese descent, who loves Science Fiction, who grew up watching Hong Kong action movies, it felt like Everything Everywhere All at Once was made especially for me. A multi-genre movie about Chinese-American immigrants encompassing Science Fiction, Drama, Action, Comedy, in a wacky, sprawling package from A24, an independent studio known for arthouse-style movies? That’s the sort of movie that becomes a cult classic, not a blockbuster. But Everything Everywhere All at Once has been the little movie that could: it has resonated with so many, its appeal surprisingly wide. Everything Everywhere All at Once has received critical accclaim and has attracted enough of an audience to become A24’s highest grossing movie. To my surprise and joy it has eleven nominations for the Academy Awards, and during this awards season has been raking in multiple nominations and wins. It would make me tremendously happy if Everything Everywhere All at Once won all the Oscars but that is unlikely. The Academy votership has traditionally preferred worthy dramas, typically bypassing genres like Science Fiction and Comedy which Everything Everywhere All at Once clearly is. Any Oscars it wins would be icing on the cake but really, it doesn’t need them. It is self-evident that Everything Everywhere All at Once is a highwater mark movie, in any genre. It is an instant classic will be studied in film schools for years to come. Everyone in the cast and crew who collaborated to create “Everything Everywhere All at Once” should be immensely proud of what they achieved with this movie. I’m going to watch this again.

Essay: A Fresh Look at “Cold Equations”

By Danny Sichel: [Reprinted from the Winter 2021/2022 issue of WARP.] The latest Clarkesworld is out, and it includes “The Cold Calculations” by Aimee Ogden, most recent in a string of answer stories to Tom Godwin’s 1954 “The Cold Equations” – from “The Cold Solution” (Don Sakers, 1991), to “The Cold Crowdfunding Campaign” (Cora Buhlert, 2020), and many others with less obvious titles.

“The Cold Equations” — also known as the “throw the girl out the airlock” story — has long been criticized for multiple shortcomings, in both its themes and its content. The situation is contrived! The society is broken! The EDS is bad engineering! There are other things Barton could have thrown out! Many people have complained about this last one, incidentally. There are indeed items on board that could very well have been sacrificed (including, as in Sakers’ story, the legs of both the pilot and the stowaway, which Sakers’ pilot assumed could be re-grown); apparently Damon Knight came up with a whole list.

Lately, though, a far more common criticism has been that “The Cold Equations” isn’t the story that Tom Godwin wanted to write. When Godwin sold the story to John W. Campbell for publication in Astounding Science Fiction, Campbell sent the story back for rewrites three times, because — in the words of Joseph L. Green, who spent five days with Campbell in 1970 — “Godwin kept coming up with ingenious ways to save the girl!” The moral of the story is often seen as being “space is dangerous”. This may be the case, but as Campbell biographer Alec Nevala-Lee found in a letter Campbell wrote to a friend, the story was also written as a “gimmick on the proposition ‘Human sacrifice is absolutely unacceptable.’” The situation in “The Cold Equations” is intended to force the reader to agree that human sacrifice can be not just acceptable, but necessary. As a result, you can definitely see a lot of places where Campbell’s thumb is on the scale, and remnants of earlier versions.

There are a lot of things wrong with “The Cold Equations”, and therefore I choose my words very carefully when I say: Campbell’s interference made the story better, but not for the reasons he thought.

What makes “The Cold Equations” special, what makes it an enduring classic, is that it’s about failure. Given the grossly negligent environment in which Marilyn was able to stow away in the first place (per Richard Harter, “there is a word for pilots who short cut their preflight checklist. They are called dead.”), without which the story couldn’t have happened in the first place, and the complete lack of margin for error, and, really, all the other factors that Godwin-under-Campbell’s-guidance used to make the story possible… given all that, if Barton had been able to jettison the pilot’s chair, or whatever “ingenious” thing Godwin had originally intended as the basis for a happy ending, then today… no one would remember it. It would have been Just Another Puzzle Story.

It’s more than that, though. I first read “The Cold Equations” in the early ’90s, in the same general span of time that I read “The Old Man and the Sea”, which is also about failure in some very important ways, and which may have nudged my thinking in certain directions. As is typical, I was aghast by the story’s conclusion, especially because there were so many possibilities as to how it could have been resolved without a death. But, I thought, that was the whole point.

I saw “The Cold Equations” as a classic not because the tragedy was unavoidable, but because it wasn’t.

This is what makes literature, isn’t it? Characters who aren’t perfect. They have flaws. That’s why the whole concept of the “tragic flaw” exists.

Barton was in a puzzle story. A life was on the line. All the pieces of the solution were there. And… he didn’t put them together. He wasn’t  insightful  or  creative  or educated enough to see the solution. He wasn’t bold or confident or stubborn enough to go against regulations. The pressure was on… and he didn’t make the right decision at the right moment. He wasn’t good enough.

He wasn’t the hero. He was only the protagonist.

“I didn’t do anything,” Marilyn says at the end, as she goes out the airlock to die. “I didn’t do anything.”

And neither did Barton.

And that’s why, despite everything, the story works.

Illustration posted by @23katiejoy.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask #70

Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett in a scene from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, A (Spoiler Free) Review 

By Chris M. Barkley: (Author’s Note: I wish to state for the record that I, like many others, would have preferred that the role of T’Challa, the King of Wakanda, had been recast for this film. Alas, he was not. But, we do have THIS film to review and I do so gladly and without (too much) bias or reservation. I hope you enjoy it.)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (4/4 stars) with Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Directed by Ryan Coogler. 

Bechdel Test Rating: OFF THE CHARTS!

Since the turn of the current century, I can personally account for only a few films that have transcended being “only a movie” and have been genuine, world changing, cultural events. And most of them have been either genre, or genre-adjacent, films.

My own personal list includes Casino Royale (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Avatar (2009), The Avengers (2012), Frozen (2013) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), the Academy Award winning (for Best Original Screenplay) Get Out (2017) and Crazy Rich Asians (2018).

But the last culturally significant film on my list, Black Panther (also released in 2018), was also one of the best. Not only was it the very first superhero film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, it was also honored with six other nominations (and winning three, for Costume Design, Production Design and Original Score) and earned almost 1.35 billion dollars at the box office.

But, beyond its many accolades and numerous semi-trailers full of cash, it was a moment where the spotlight shone brightly on creative people of color in the motion picture industry.

And much of the success of Black Panther was due to the efforts of writer/director Ryan Coogler, screenwriter Joe Robert Cole and an astounding supporting cast featuring Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Dani Guriria, Daniel Kauuya, Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan.

But above all the others, Black Panther was carried on the magnificent shoulders of the late Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer in August of 2020.

The cast and crew of the film and the whole world at large mourned his passing.

Now Coogler and Cole had a big problem; how could they proceed with expanding the story of Wakanda without its emotional and charismatic north star. 

But bravely, and with many, MANY trepidations between themselves and studio executives at Marvel and Disney, they did.

According to Ryan Coogler, the original plan was to have King T’Challa, who was dusted along with half the universe with Thanos’ snap (in Avengers: Infinity War) had returned to Wakanda, trying to make up for the lost time away from his kingdom for five years. Because while he was gone, a new threat had arisen…

In the opening moments of Wakanda Forever, King T’Challa’s absence is dealt in a swift and devastating manner; Shuri (Letitia Wright) is in her laboratory, fervently trying to come up with a treatment for her severely ailing brother. But moments later, her mother, the Sovereign Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), sadly announces that the King has joined the ancestors.

A year later, there is still no successor to T’Challa’s Black Panther to protect Wakanda. The Dora Milaje forces, headed up by General Okoye (Dani Gurira) are holding their own against powerful nations, including the United States, who are eager to obtain and exploit the mysterious extraterrestrial mineral vibranium, the source of Wakanda’s strength and security. 

But it turn out that Wakanda is not the only nation state with vibranium; a mysterious flying stranger named Namor (Tenoch Heurta) appears before Ramonda and Shuri, demanding that they help him keep his underwater kingdom of Talokan a secret and their sworn fealty to assist him in case they engage in a war against the surface dwellers he hates and fears. 

And, as he amply, and violently demonstrates throughout the film, Namor will do anything AND everything to protect his people…

Tenoch Heurta as Namor

Namor, also known as the Sub-Mariner of Atlantis to generations of comics fans, was created by writer/artist Bill Everett, appeared in Marvel Comics #1 in August of 1939, was THE first comic book anti-hero. “Namor’s goal wasn’t to rescue kittens or punch criminals — it was to lead an Atlantean army against the air-breathers of America,” stated veteran comics writer Mark Waid to the New York Times in 2019. 

As such, Namor was the prototype of many of the conflicted villains that would be created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and a host of other Marvel writers and artist creators a generation later.

But Coogler and Cole have repurposed Namor’s origin and those of his people as descendants from the Yucatan region off the coast of Mexico instead of the mythic realm of Atlantis. His fears, of discovery and the threat of exploration and colonization by the surface dwellers, are highly relatable under the circumstances, even more so than Killmonger’s nationalistic motives were in Black Panther

Of particular interest is the introduction of a new character in the MCU, Riri Willams (Dominique Thorne), an M.I.T. student and engineering genius who is a target of Namor’s attention. She’s paired with Shuri for a great deal of the film and although she seems to be in over her head most of the time, she handles herself well and her great chemistry in her scenes with Wright make her the perfect foil to Shuri’s all too sure scientist. (And, rest assured, Williams will be back in her own Disney + show next year!)

Also lurking along the edges of the action are Wakanda’s C.I.A. ally Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) who is saddled with his all too nosy boss, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a quasi-villainous character who was last seen recruiting disgraced the ex-Captain America/U.S. Agent John Walker (Wyatt Russell) for nefarious purposes in the Marvel +’s tv production of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But this all too brief appearance by Fontaine is actually an easter egg that promises a MCU payoff somewhere down the line as well.

And, I can guarantee that there are a few other narrative surprises that will take your breath away.

But of all of the performances in Wakanda Forever, I would be very disappointed if Angela Bassett is not given any consideration by the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards next year. Her dual portrait of a grief stricken mother and a political force to be reckoned with is a wonder to behold and should be rewarded as such. She is the heart of Wakanda Forever.

It is my belief that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not only the best MCU movie since the first Black Panther, it is also one of the outstanding and entertaining films of 2022.

I went in not knowing what to expect and came out not only pleasantly surprised but immensely pleased that this was not only a brilliant, stand alone sequel but a tearful and loving tribute to the memory of Chadwick Boseman as well.  

This Marvel film has a single, mid-credits scene. And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it is one of the most unexpected and touching things I have ever seen committed on film.  

Excelsior, Marvel and movie fans.

Dedicated to the 



Chadwick Aaron Boseman (November 29,1976 – August 28, 2020)


Kevin Conroy (November 30, 1955 – November 10, 2022)

Here is a helpful article suggesting the chronological order you should view of all THIRTY (and counting) films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Marvel movies in order: How to watch all 30, even ‘Black Panther 2’” at USA Today.

“12 O’clock High” Legendary Soundtrack Release By Composer Dominic Frontiere

By Steve Vertlieb: Very exciting news. The long awaited CD soundtrack release of 12 O’Clock High is now available for purchase through La-La Land Records and is a major restoration of precious original tracks from Quinn Martin’s beloved television series. Airing on ABC Television from September, 1964 until January, 1967, 12 O’Clock High was based upon the 1949 20th Century Fox classic starring Gregory Peck as General Frank Savage, a stern commanding officer demanding the best from his pilots during stressful encounters in the Second World War. The film co-starred Dean Jagger, and featured a brilliant musical score by composer Alfred Newman.

20th Century Fox Television and Quinn Martin Productions joined forces to present a realistic, faithful presentation and extension of the original story with a powerful recreation of the lead character in the performance of star Robert Lansing. Always among the most versatile and compelling lead actors in television, Lansing delivered a towering vision of General Frank Savage for the TV series which was every bit as powerful in its interpretation of the confidant, yet emotionally conflicted commanding officer, as was Gregory Peck in the original motion picture.

Sadly, the network decided that Lansing’s performance was, perhaps, entirely too realistic for television audiences and that a younger, less intense actor was needed to appeal to a wider television audience. Lansing was replaced in the second season by actor Paul Burke who had shone so brightly as the star of television’s long running Naked City New York police series. Burke tried valiantly to elevate the series to its original levels of brilliance but, unfortunately, was never able to capture the magnetism of Robert Lansing once the character of Frank Savage had been unceremoniously killed off at the beginning of season two.

The one element of the series that continued its excellence into subsequent seasons and episodes was the musical score by Dominic Frontiere that remains to this day among the finest examples of thematic scoring for episodic television in history. Frontiere was a skilled and gifted composer whose hauntingly reliable themes were utilized not only for this groundbreaking program but heard, as well, throughout the first season of ABC’s science fiction classic The Outer Limits (replaced by One Step Beyond composer Harry Lubin for the second year), The Invaders, and (along with primary composer Pete Rugolo) the original Quinn Martin, history making tv classic The Fugitive.

Now, for the first time, the classic scores and themes for 12 O’Clock High by composer Dominic Frontiere (1931-2017) have been released in a limited edition soundtrack CD of just 2,000 copies. For anyone who has ever hummed and cherished the familiar musical cues of this landmark television series, this is an historic release.

How Many People Are Leaving Twitter?

File 770 usually has a tiny uptick of Twitter followers every month, and I happened to notice that what was tracking +19 a few days ago is now +6. Since I don’t think I did anything new to make people irate during the week I am going to guess it’s not about me and instead reflects the followers who have terminated their Twitter accounts because Elon Musk took over the service.

I’ve seen many Twitter users in the sff community discuss what course they should take once Musk assumed control because at times he has signaled there will be a radical change (for the worse) in content moderation and a weakening of rules enforcement. Some wrote they were thinking about leaving. I read a few announcements by others just before they did terminate their accounts. Their decisions are to some degree a protest, and an obviously more quantifiable one than the subtle changes that will be registered in other users who, although unhappy with developments, keep their accounts but filter more severely what they post, or simply post less.

I wondered if there was data that could be used to infer how many people have taken the step of actually quitting the service.

I laid the subject before John Scalzi and asked if he’d experienced a fluctuation in his large Twitter following this week. He had:

I was at 204.2K this time last week; I’m down to 202k today, so I’ve seen a drop of about 1%. When I noted that, other people also anecdotally noted similar percentage drops. My expectation is that the drops may be skewed by general political affiliation and/or antipathy to Musk, either as a person or with regard to his stated aims for the service. 1% is not a large number overall — I’ve had larger drops before when Twitter cleared out some bot accounts — but the question is whether these drops will stabilize, as they’ve done in the past, or continue as Musk continues to bumble along. If I drop below 200k, and especially if that happens by the end of this month, I will consider that not great news for Twitter’s general direction.

(Thanks to John for permission to quote his reply.)

That people are actually terminating their accounts speaks to their determination to separate themselves from the future of Twitter. Because there are easier alternatives, like just abandoning the account. Think how common that phenomenon is anywhere in social media where accounts are free. Therefore, the wave of departures from Twitter this week indicates an intentional message, and we will watch to see whether it is the start of a trend.

The Hobbit: A Guest Post by A.K. Mulford

A. K. Mulford is a bestselling fantasy author and former wildlife biologist who swapped rehabilitating monkeys for writing novels. She/they are inspired to create diverse stories that transport readers to new realms, making them fall in love with fantasy for the first time or all over again.

She now lives in New Zealand with her husband and two young human primates, creating lovable fantasy characters and making ridiculous TikToks (@akmulfordauthor).

By A.K. Mulford: If only I knew the first time I picked up The Hobbit, how closely my life would be tied to the world of Tolkien. As a child, I kept a notebook filled with my favorite quotes. (How did I not know I was going to be an author?) The first quote? “Not all who wander are lost.” There was everything from 90s rom com lines to Wordsworth poems in that notebook, but Tolkien filled the most pages.

I remember that when I read The Hobbit in fifth grade my mind exploded at the idea of world building. I’ll admit, I spent math class filling the margins of my pages with conjugated words in made up languages. At the time I thought it was just more fun to create other worlds than write stories in my own, but the seed was planted and, despite my left turn into wildlife biology, that seed kept growing.

Then the Lord of the Rings movies came out . . . and I watched every single director’s cut and behind-the-scenes footage over and over, wishing I could be an elf and live in Middle Earth. Cut to a decade later and I meet a very handsome kiwi chap while living in Guatemala as a wildlife biologist. We moved to New Zealand and there I was, living in Middle Earth. The Hobbit films were being shot at the time and my partner was working on them (!), so I fell even more deeply in love with the art of making fantasy worlds come to life. A CGI version of my pet hedgehog even made it into the films (how’s that for a claim to fame?).

I thought that would be it–– I was just a Tolkien-adjacent fan who happened to write high fantasy stories. But the world of Tolkien had one more big adventure for me: having my series picked up by Harper Voyager. Seeing the new covers of the Lord of the Rings books across their socials was such an awe-filled moment for me. If only I could go back and tell that fifth grader making up languages in class that one day her books would be published by the same publisher as Tolkien. (I’d also like to tell my math teacher that me slacking off in class ended up paying off too!). Being an author was my very first big dream––creating stories that transported readers to other realms, where they could get lost in another world for a while, where they could wander through their own imaginations in the same way Tolkien did for me. And here I am, alongside his world.


Romantasy on an epic scale, A.K. Mulford’s newest book follows fae warrior Briata Catullus as she sets out on a mission to investigate the murder of her queen and, upon her arrival at the court, meets an enchanting princess she can’t seem to stay away from. The Rogue Crown (10/25) is a tale of star-crossed lovers packed with action and adventure, sure to please the fans who’ve been anxiously awaiting its release and anyone who loves a good romantic fantasy.


The action moves west in A.K. Mulford’s romantic, action-packed epic fantasy series, The Five Crowns of Okrith, as young fae warrior Bri investigates the murder of her queen while protecting the beautiful princess she may be falling for.

Determined to uncover who killed the Western Queen, fae warrior Briata Catullus sets out on a mission to defeat the witch hunters and safeguard her princess. But when she arrives at the Western Court, things are even worse than she feared. The icy reception from the fae is the least of her problems—they’ve heard the prophecy that Bri will seize the crown from its sovereign, and the last thing they want is for her to usurp the throne. No, the witch hunters are out for royal blood, and it will take everything Bri has to keep them at bay.

It doesn’t help that, still grieving the loss of her mother, Princess Abalina Thorne is reluctant to allow Bri into her confidence, only agreeing to let her serve as one of her guards at the behest of the princess’ cousin.

As the threat of the witch hunters grows, they find themselves thrown together, working closely to uncover the secret plot of their enemies. Along the way, the princess realizes that Bri is one of the few people she can trust. But Bri is determined to forge her own path and prove the prophecy wrong, not letting the beautiful Lina distract her from defeating the witch hunters. She has a duty to the princess, a duty to the Western Court, and a duty to her own destiny.

But what about the duty to her heart? 


SF Museum Exhibition

By Jonathan Cowie: The Science Museum (that’s the world famous one in Kensington, London) has just launched a new exhibit on what Carl Sagan once mused (though not mentioned in the exhibit itself) science fiction and science’s ‘dance’. SF2 Concatenation reprographic supremo Tony Bailey and I were invited by the Museum to have a look on the exhibition’s first day. (The exhibition runs to Star Wars day 2023, May the Fourth.) Having braved Dalek extermination at the Museum’s entrance, we made our way to the exhibition’s foyer – decorated with adverts to travel to Gallifrey – to board our shuttle.

The exhibition covered aspect of SF in all its forms: literature, cinematic, television, comics etc. But it was the science and SF interplay that was the theme linking the displays, the way science fiction inspires scientists both as a career choice and sparking their imagination.

Still from Earth to Moon next to early editions of Verne’s novel and Wells’ First Men in the Moon.

And so we had Uhura’s costume from the Star Trek film and International Space Station US astronaut Mae Jemison pictured who was inspired by Uhura as the character suggested that one day she might be an astronaut.

Along the way we got to do the Drake equation inputting our own variables to calculate the possible number of extraterrestrial technological civilisations in our galaxy.

There was much else to see including SF robots, spacesuits (both SF and Apollo), aliens, hypothetical FTL drive, SF art, comics among a great deal else including several SF Easter eggs for die-hard aficionados: ‘space is really big’, docking bay, 1138 etc.

You can do the entire exhibition at speed in under an hour, but it really is worthwhile reading all the displays’ texts and doing all the interactive items and this will take getting on three hours. If there was a flaw, it was that the list of those participating in the exhibitions planning had a dearth of scientists who have become professional SF authors. Had their brains been picked the exhibit might have been even better!

Details of the exhibition can be found at “Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination”.

An expanded version of this article with extra pictures will shortly be advance-posted by SF2 Concatenation (no doubt there will be a link from File 770.)

Concatenation Science~Com Jonathan Cowie is an environmental scientist who has had a career in science communication (science writing, publishing, author, bioscience advice to Parliamentarians and Government Departments, etc). He is also an SF fan (first convention 1977 Novacon) and is a founding editor of SF2 Concatenation (1987-present) as well as, among much else, an occasional contributor to File 770. He has never curated a museum exhibition.


By Sultana Raza.

Seeking / Restoring Green Gardens of Utopias

As environmental problems caused by industrialisation and post-industrialisation continue to increase, the public is looking for ecological solutions. As pandemics, economic crises, and wars plague our society in different ways, thoughts turn to the good old times. But were they really all that good? People are escaping increasingly into fantastical stories in order to find a quantum of solace. But at what point was there a utopia in our society. If so, at what or whose cost did it exist? Whether or not we ever experience living in a utopia, the idea of finally finding one drives us to continue seeking ideal living conditions.

Mythic utopias

Most myths are about a loss of power and/or balance. The idea of creating a utopia, or for trying to recover a lost one goes back to mythic times. For example, in the great Indian myth, entitled the Ramayana, there’s a utopia of sorts within the kingdom of King Dasharatha. But his second queen asks him for a boon, which is to send the king’s heir-apparent, Lord Rama into exile in the forest for ten years. That’s where trouble begins, and though Lord Rama manages to recover his kingdom, and establish Ramaraj, or good governance, it’s not without a price.

Also, in the Mahabharata, there’s trouble and outright war between two sets of step-brothers the Pandavas (who are five in number) and the Kauravas (who are one hundred in number). Their ideal world is shattered, and never fully recovers. Lots of heroes on both sides lose their lives, and a lot of fantastical weapons are mentioned in it. Some authors think that the outcome of the war mentioned in these Indian myths was akin to nuclear devastation. The Mahabharata also describes different types of flying vessels, which even had the capability of travelling between places on earth, and also between stars. However, that technology was lost after the great war in the Mahabharata.

Greco-Roman Myths

In the Greek myths, the Hesperides and Elysium are ideal realms where not everyone is allowed to enter. Even heroes have difficulties to enter these spheres. For example, Mount Parnassus, home of the Nine Muses, is supposed to be an ideal, and sacred place in pagan myths.

The prosperous and flourishing city of Troy, which was a utopia of its kind, was lost in Greek myths. Odysseus ended up on the islands of Circe and Calypso respectively, and could have lived in these utopias, but had to leave to go back home. However, he didn’t find any peace at Ithaca after his return either. It wasn’t his utopia anymore.

Celtic Myths

In the Celtic Myths, the Tuatha Dé Danann (a race of supernatural beings) lose their homeland, which was their own utopia. They are obliged to go underground by the Milesians. There are many stories of paradise lost, also at the individual level in these myths. Lyonesse is an island thought to have disappeared beneath the seas off the coast of Cornwall. Though it was a fair land in the beginning with hard-working folks in it, due to a horrible crime committed by its inhabitants it was sunk beneath the sea by a storm, as a punishment to its people. It’s yet another land that disappeared.

Paradise Lost

Biblical stories are about the fall of Man from legendary Eden, and the efforts of human beings to be allowed back into it. Consciousness in the Occident is filled with the idea that our paradise is lost, mainly due to Eve’s mistake. However, long before the advent of the three book-based creeds such as Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, all of which outline the story of the fall of man, these kinds of stories abound in myths.

Camelot as Utopia

In the Occident, Arthurian legends are about establishing or seeking utopias. Camelot was a utopia of sorts with its fabled Round Table. All the knights who were allowed to sit at this table were supposed to be equals. But all this was before trouble began. With the fall of King Arthur, the utopia at Camelot dissolved.

The Castle of the Holy Grail was a utopia of sorts for the questing knights. Sir Lancelot wasn’t allowed to go in that castle because of his ‘sin’ with Queen Guinevere. Sir Percival was allowed to go in the castle because he was pure of heart. The Isle of Avalon was also a utopia of sorts and not everyone was allowed to go there. It’s Arthur’s final resting place and he’s supposed to come back from there after being healed, since he’s the once and future king.

Camelot; excerpted from Castles. Artist: Alan Lee

Utopia in LOTR

Since Tolkien based his stories on myths and legends, it shouldn’t be surprising that the concept of a lost utopia can be found in his Legendarium as well. The new Amazon TV serial, Rings of Power (ROP) will touch upon how the utopia of the Elves was tampered with by Morgoth, and how the Elves spent a long time defending Middle Earth and ultimately their Blessed Realms against threats. Then they defeated Sauron at the end of the Second Age, and then again at the end of the Third Age

Photo above: Rivendell; Artist: Alan Lee

In Middle earth, the Elves founded some peaceful realms such as Doriath, and Gondolin, and later on Rivendell, and Lothlorien which were kept hidden from the enemy. The Shire was a utopia for its inhabitants before it was attacked by Saruman at the end of the Third Age. In a way Tolkien’s long saga can be seen as attempts to restore the peace of the utopia in the worlds of the Elves, the Blessed Realms.

Dwarves arrive at Rivendell:

Dwarves have dinner at Rivendell:

The Fellowship reaches Lothlorien:

A utopia of sorts was also restored in Middle-earth when Aragorn became king, with Lady Arwen by his side at the end of the Third Age. And finally all Elves led by Lady Galadriel were able to go back to their version of paradise, ie the Undying Lands.

Utopia in ASOIAF

The world of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF)is much darker and grittier than that of Middle Earth. Yet, it can also be interpreted as being that of a search for a lost paradise in a way. Winterfell for its problems was a utopia of sorts for the Stark children.

Feast at Winterfell:

Danaerys Targarayen thought King’s Landing and Westeros would become her own personal utopia, but at least in the TV show, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Theon Greyjoy’s personal utopia was going to be his native Islands of Pyke, but that turned out to be just a pipe dream. He was pressured by his father to turn upon the Starks who’d treated him so well that he’d forgotten he was supposed to be a hostage there. In fact, once Theon helped turn the relative peace of Winterfell into a dystopia, he had cause to regret his actions very deeply.

Bran Stark thought he would find his own version of utopia beyond the Wall, but that didn’t work out for him quite as well as he’d imagined it. Although it’s arguable who is really the person on the Iron Throne at the end? Bran Stark or the three-eyed raven controlling him? The three-eyed crow was Ser Brynden Rivers, a Targaryen. So is a Targaryen sitting on the Iron Throne at the end of the GOT TV series? Or are some parts of Bran Stark somewhere inside his own head too?

In the entire series, we’re rooting for the Stark children to go back to Winterfell. At last Sansa Stark becomes the ruler and Lady of Winterfell. At least in the Game of Thrones TV series.

Finale for the Stark children:

Utopia in the Percy Jackson series

In the YA Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Camp Hallf-Blood is a safe haven for all the half blood demi-gods. It’s located in a hidden place on the north shore of Long Island near NY. Though there’s plenty of competition and squabbling between the demi-gods, they all feel protected from monsters and threats from the outer world. The Golden Fleece keeps the place protected.

Training at Camp Half-blood:

Finding strength at Camp Half-blood:

After every adventure, the heroes come back safe and sound to this haven. In the Heroes of Olympus series, Camp Jupiter is another safe place near San Francisco for the demi-gods. These utopias serve as anchoring places for these young protagonists. It also gives them a purpose to defend these mini-utopias when they come under threat. And they have a place to look forward to returning to when their quest or adventure is over.

Search for equilibrium & survival in Dune

In Dune, after the Atreides family is destroyed when they first land on the desert planet, the whole arc of Paul Atreides (and his descendants) is to restore their house to its rightful place in their inter-planetary society. And at least in the beginning to help the Fremen get their independence too. Make Dune a utopia for its inhabitants. Since the series stretches over thousands of years and across many planets, things don’t always go according to any one character’s plans. However, the overall quest for most protagonists of this series is to restore some kind of balance in society, even if the story stretches across time and space. Things evolve in surprising ways. But at least humanity strives to find better conditions, and is saved from the threat of extinction in the end.


While dystopias may be very much in fashion, a stable and sustainable society can function in the long term in its own version of utopia. Therefore, it can be argued that utopias are more important than dystopias. In fact, if there wasn’t a balanced and sustainable society to begin with, then it couldn’t be distorted to form a dystopia. For example, in Star Wars, the Empire took over planets and societies which had been functioning independently for years. And the mission to overthrow the evil Empire is a bid to restore balance of power, and/or utopias of different kinds on the planets in its iron grip. Just escaping the oppressive regime of the Empire would be the beginning of a more steady and calmer society on most planets. Utopias also enable growth and evolution both at the individual and the macroscopic levels.

In a way dystopias are dependent on utopias (even distant ones) in order to come into existence. A social structure that is out of balance wouldn’t last too long anyway, as it would collapse one way or the other. Most stories are about restoring some kind of stability so that the protagonists can continue to live or exist in a sustainable world.

-The End-

Note: Some of these ideas were mentioned/discussed at the Utopias Panel, entitled ‘Better Worlds are Possible’ held at Chicon 8 in September 2022. ++ Sultana Raza

A World of Afrofuturism: Creating Nicole Michell’s “Xenogenesis Suite” (Part II)

Interview conducted by Rob Thornton: This is Part Two of an interview with avant-jazz composer and flutist Nicole Mitchell, who paid tribute to Octavia Butler in 2008 in her composition Xenogenesis Suite. For more information, see Part One. SPOILER WARNING: This part of the interview assumes that you have read the Xenogenesis Trilogy or don’t mind knowing its entire plot.

Rob Thornton: You have talked about the darkness and the complexity of Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy. How does your piece reflect the novels?

Nicole Mitchell: Xenogenesis is an intricate trilogy expressing a metamorphosis of humanity through the interbreeding of extraterrestrials. It exposes our lack of self love, and illuminates Butler’s vivid world of other beings more powerful than humans, while documenting a journey of human survival and resistance. I focused on Dawn for Xenogenesis Suite. I was fascinated with the concept of Lilith being stripped of our homeland and her having to work towards continual survival in an alien world, alone. I created my own narrative inspired by Butler’s story, which served as the foundation of my compositions. You can include some of this below, if you wish.

1. Wonder

In wonder, there is beauty, and in wonder there is power. The power can be equally beautiful and horrific as is the power of humans to be so creative and equally destructive to planet Earth and ourselves. There is a wonder to our intelligence to build societies, study and imitate nature through inventions, and a wonder to our immaturity expressed by our inability to hold life sacred.

2. Transition A

If everything you had known is no longer, and you were placed in a seamless space, what would you feel? The space breathes; you are in the bellow of a monster. How would you find comfort i the unknown, knowing that your state of terror can only be temporary, if you are to survive. The space breathes again, adn you awaken. There is NO WAY OUT and NO WAY Back to what you have known. The only way to survive is to be altered.

3. Smell of Fear

There is a smell of fear. A loud and indistinguishable smell that sticks to its victim. It is residue from the canal between LIFE and DEATH. When on nears the death experience, through accident or tragedy, but is saved on the side of life, she survives with the residue, the smell of fear.

4. Sequence Shadows

When one keeps trying to wake from a dream, but the dream is of the past life. Now you have awakened and try to accept the alien environment that is around you. you have entered a new and strange realm. One awakens to sequences shadows; the eyes cannot grasp the horrific strangeness it sees, so it sees sequence shadows. The new reality dances a strange dance and the human must breathe and accept this new vision in the eyes.

5. Oankali

The names of your caretakers on this new journey. Find humor in your capturers, identify with them, so that you can save your mind. 

6. Adrenalin

There’s nowhere to run, in a small space with no windows or doors, but the mind can find a place. Every once in a while, it can search for an opening somewhere, for peace, for the return of memory, of familiar. Where is this place? It is in waterside walks with family, sunshine and good food. The Earth is dead. Only in the mind can this place survive. In our Dreams we will run there.

7. Transition C 

Eventually, in your process of survival, you allow yourself to be altered, changed, improved by the unknown beings.

8. Before and After

Before being captured, before WAR and the destruction of the life we knew and loved, there were our busy lives. We were unaware and unappreciative of the simple things we loved. Then the explosions, the WAR, the suicide of humans. After, there is nothing. Nothing that we know. Just the unknown.

9. Dawn of a New Life

There is something after, the Dawn of a New Life. Only fragments of the past linger. Our memory altered, overwhelmed with new experiences, interacting with new and repulsive but fascinating beings. Together we enter the Dawn of a New Life.

RT: What method did you use to compose the Xenogenesis Suite? Did you compose for the Black Earth Ensemble or for a set of instruments? 

NM: I composed the work for Black Earth Ensemble, my main compositional vehicle. For each project, I choose specific artists who I imagine to manifest the project. For Xenogenesis, Mankwe Ndosi, the vocalist, played a central role, because I imagined her to represent Lilith, as a lone human within a strange extraterrestrial world that the other instruments would represent. I refrained from having her use a lot of language, because without it, her sounds expressed raw emotions ranging from innocence to terror. In that state, the expression of emotions through sounds without words, can also sound very alien, so the idea was to have her simultaneously represent the human element and the extraterrestrial element at the same time.  I used a hybrid score, including graphic notation and traditional notation. My handwritten score translated more to the vibe I wanted for the musicians, and the text I gave you above was a guide for them as well.

RT: When you introduced the Suite to the Black Earth Ensemble, what was their reaction?

Xeno was probably the most experimental of my projects at that time, so there were slight challenges. However, I worked with musicians that I trusted and that trusted me, because I was having them do things for this project that were often counter-intuitive, to illuminate what I was trying to express. For example, Dawn of a New Life, the last movement, would sound fantastic with a hiphop beat, but that’s not what I wanted. Marcus Evans, the drummer, had to resist that urge, to express the restrained intensity that I was seeking with the piece. 

RT: What was it like to perform the Xenogenesis Suite live? How did the audience react? Did it change when the Suite was recorded?

NM: We actually made the record at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, the day before the premiere at the Vision Festival in New York. It was a bit intense to perform it live, because the musicians really had to trust me even more in front of an audience, to resist some of the ways they normally play. But it went really well and the audience loved it.

RT: In “Before and After,” I hear some instrument (probably the piano) do a superb imitation of a nuclear weapon. Do you recall how that came about?

NM: I’m glad you heard that, because that was my intention. Actually, all the instruments are doing that sound together and it’s written in the score. The full title is “Before and After Nuclear War.” The musicians also have sections in that piece were they create animal sounds with their instruments, as well as cries for help. Butler’s Dawn speaks of nuclear war as the catalyst for the extraterrestrials to swoop down and save Earth and to take over humanity.

RT: For people who are not immediately familiar with avant-jazz sounds, could you give some advice to them on listening to the Suite?

NM: I found that science fiction is the perfect companion for experimental jazz and creative music, because both take the audience on a journey into the unknown. I’m grateful that musicians and audience members have shared with me that they started reading Octavia Butler after learning about this music. Hopefully it can be listened to while reading. 

RT: You composed the Suite back in 2008. Looking back at the piece today, how do you feel about it? 

NM: I still feel really great about the piece. This year, in 2022, it was incredible to perform Xenogenesis Suite at Carnegie Hall and receive a standing ovation, during the Afrofuturism Festival in February. I think when I wrote it, people weren’t as interested in Afrofuturism as they are now, and it is rewarding to see people’s interest increase now.

Epilogue (Nicole)

I wanted to add a few things….

Octavia Butler. Photo by and © Andrew I. Porter; all rights reserved.

Since Xenogenesis Suite, I created two additional suites of music for Octavia: Intergalactic Beings on FPE Records, which sonically revisits Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy, and EarthSeed, which was released in 2020 on Octavia’s birthday, inspired by Parable of the Sower. EarthSeed was a collaboration with Lisa E. Harris, where we created our own EarthSeed spiritual text, inspired by Olamina in the book. In 2017, I released Mandorla Awakening, which is an album inspired by my own Afrofuturist novella.

I really appreciate you interviewing me, because for a long time I’ve wanted to be more engaged with Octavia Butler scholars on the literary side. I know she would want us to be all connected.