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Archive for the ‘Speculative Fiction’ Category

Eric Luke was (and probably still is) a tallish person with pleasant manners. This interview took place at A Change of Hobbit, the world’s largest speculative fiction bookstore. The time was somewhere around 1982-84. And then more was added some time in the ’90s.

In the back room among stacks of paperbacks, Luke said he had been there since January of 1981. “There was a sign on the window so I went in and applied. Sherry called me up almost the next day and said, ‘It looks like you’ve got the qualifications.’ They needed someone to take over the back room. She said, ‘Your new title is Head Stock Clerk.’ At the time there wasn’t really anybody else, so I was head stock clerk of nothing.”

I asked Eric Luke about Sherry Gottlieb, founder and owner of the unique emporium.

“She’s very disciplined where she has to be and very loose where she can be. It’s nice to work for her. Practically all my jobs have been for a combination of men and women bosses or a woman boss. A lot of my film work was done as a production assistant, and that’s always done for the production coordinator, who’s usually a woman.”

Luke elaborated on the positive aspects of working in a bookstore. “I get a real personal sense of satisfaction when someone comes in looking for something they read when they were a kid, and they don’t know the name, don’t know the title or the author. But they know there was a boy who found a stone and wished on it, and he went into this other world, and such and such happened…and you go, ‘Yep, I know what that is,’ and their face just lights up. When you help somebody find something that’s real satisfying, ’cause they’re so happy…. If more people read science fiction there would be more imagination. People wouldn’t be rotting in front of their TV sets. They’d be expanding their minds.”

This Dungeons and Dragons aficionado had already made an 8mm film called The Farmer and the Wise Man, gained an agent through his short feature Dark Ages, and had a number of scripts making the rounds including one he described as “an amalgam of all the 1950’s science fiction movies.” This project had attracted the interest of some backers “who wanted to do a post-holocaust film with barbarians running around hacking each other up,” a project Luke declined.

Dark Ages is a clever and amusing exercise in science fiction comedy. The hero, Jack, is accompanied on his picaresque adventures by a personal computer which resembles an edematous golf club, provides advice (‘You might want to get behind something, if you had any brains’) and plays a lullaby at bedtime. When chivalrous Jack and his yenta-stick set out to rescue a fair maiden, the cyber-counselor is annihilated and Jack’s encounter with his archenemy is resolved in a quite original manner.

In the review I quoted the maxim ‘Money is what you use when you run out of imagination,’ and pointed out how brilliantly this low-budget, high-quality independent work proved it. Still, I expressed the fervent hope that the future projects of Eric Luke would find the financing his talent clearly deserved. And it came to pass. Before long his screenplay Explorers was bought by a studio and made into a feature film, released in 1985.

Today, Luke says, “If you keep slugging away, hold on to what it is that you enjoy about creating, try to be true to that, you can make a living at it.” Since Explorers, he has written and directed Not Quite Human II (1989) and written Still Not Quite Human (1991), a Disney Movie of the Week. He has written the four-part movie Gargoyles that has since become a series, been interviewed on Hour 25, and had various projects in development at Paramount that, for one reason or another, didn’t get produced.

Lately, Luke has been writing a comic called Ghost, published by Dark Horse, whose heroine is a crime fighting paranormal. (According to an expert in the field, the series is one of the more intelligent of the “battle babe” genre.) Ghost is also in development at Universal, on its way to becoming a live-action feature. Dark Ages may also become a series or feature.

Sometimes there is justice, even in Hollywood. Nice guys don’t always finish last. It’s enough to make you believe in good karma.

“When you help somebody find something, that’s real satisfying, ’cause they’re so happy…….”

Eric Luke at Internet Movie Database

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Here’s an unusual hybrid creature: a film that’s packed with action, yet gives the viewer plenty to think about, too. Strange Days, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, covers the last two days of the millennium. People go to all sorts of extremes. Most of the police are corrupt and some are berserk. On a radio call-in show the topic is, “What’s going to happen tomorrow night?” One caller says, “The economy sucks, gas is over three bucks a gallon, fifth grade kids are shooting each other at recess, the whole thing sucks.” Someone else says of the fin de siecle mood, “:It’s all over, we used it all up.” In the streets, cars burn and the police whack the citizens. Jeriko One, leader of the black militants, has prophesied that 2K will be the Day of Reckoning. Racial tension notswithstanding, there’s a whole lot of interracial dating, and in South Central L.A. they’re still listening to rap.

Ralph Fiennes, as Lenny Nero, is a beautiful loser: wonderfully handsome, charismatic, raffish and doomed. On December 30, it’s business as usual for Nero, an ex-cop now participating in the underground economy as a purveyor of dangerous contraband. What he sells is vicarious experience, in the form of hardware and software products that give the user instantaneous virtual reality. The way it works is, a sqid head (sqid stands for superconducting quantum interference device) wears the recording equipment, a spidery headset that can be hidden under a wig. Then he does something exciting, like armed robbery or falling off a tall building. Of course it’s just as often a woman who makes a recording of her experience, such as witnessing the murder of a radical by rogue cops, or perhaps even her own death by torture. The sqid headgear has no wire, but the recorder can’t be farther than five or six feet away.

The playback is what people pay for. The recordings are little disks, but are also called tapes, in much the same way that a CD is also called an album. Jacking in is the ultimate in virtual reality. There are no clumsy datagloves or body suits – there’s only the fact of being someone else, experiencing their experience. Like any other tool, this can be used in a positive or negative way. Nero makes a tape for his legless friend to let him feel again what it’s like to run along the beach. On the other end of the scale is blackjack, a snuff clip, where the wearer dies.

The concept and terminology of wiretripping are borrowed from William Gibson’s Neuromancer and other cyberpunk works, as well as the lexicons of heroin addiction and computers. To play back a tape is to “boot” it. When someone commits a gruesome rape-murder, Nero says of the perpetrator, “He’s jacking her into his own outfit. She’s seeing herself.” When one character gets his brain fried by over-amplified signals, another says, “He’s been cooked off.”

To his customers, Nero is both priest and psychiatrist, a “connection to the switchboard of the soul.” It’s his job to find out their deepest, darkest wishes, and sell them a tape that panders to those fantasies. If it’s not available from one of his middlemen, he’ll commission a wearer to produce it.

Nero knows what it is to have a shameful secrets. His besetting vice is jacking in to tapes of his own golden past with his lost love. Faith is played by Juliette Lewis, whose performance here just might be the hottest thing on film. The faithless Faith is a masochist’s wet dream of a bad girl, a slinky vixen who left Nero for a guy who can boost her singing career. She explains to Nero the big advantage that the movies have over the wire – in the movies you know when it’s over. “IT’S OVER!”

Then of course there is the woman who loves Nero and sticks by him through all his bad times. This extremely strong, bold and fearless lady who kicks ass with panache is played by Angela Bassett. At the end he finally realizes – well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.

So here they are, in the last hour of the last day of the millennium. In the neighborhoods, there are parties and fireworks everywhere. Downtown the streets are jammed, with bands playing on every corner, people just as crazy as can be, and cops all over the place. The crowd scenes are triumphs of technical filmmaking. In fact, the cinematography in general is pretty amazing.

As the evening progresses, the violence gets worse and the armored personnel carriers roll in. The good guys sneak into “the most sold-out party in history,” trying against all odds to prevent a catastrophe. The bad guys are awfully bad, like the bizarre female bodyguard who looks like a sex kitten and is mean as a snake. Strange Days has lots of blood and shooting and kinky sex. It has a convoluted plot, devious motives, dreadful betrayals, great dialog, and a dead hooker. But hey – “Nothing matters, the world is going to end in ten minutes.”

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