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Following or going back and researching production histories of your favorite movies can often yield interesting stages of development. For more troubled productions like Alien 3, a whole ton of writers submitted drafts, many promising, and many who probably would’ve murdered a then smiled upon franchise. Screenplays are written all the time, but are get the go-ahead much, much less often. In science-fiction, there can be any number of reasons for cooked projects. Budgets, that thing when an executive is replaced and he says “yeah none of these projects go forward,” you know how it is. Crazy world.
There is precedent for this type of thing, though I don’t think Dreck Fiction has enough clout to influence publishers, but Harlan Ellision’s I, Robot is widely available, so who knows. Maybe we will see some of this stuff. I also don’t even know if any of it is ‘lost,’ or just difficult for me to find. I don’t stray far from Amazon.com.
James Cameron’s Mother
Avatar is old, son. Older than me, came about in the days of Xenogenesis and Alien II. At the start of his career, James Cameron was just as much of a work horse as he is now (he does indeed take pretty epic breaks to dive to the Trench and stuff, but hey), at one high point writing three screenplays at once — a Terminator rewrite, an Alien sequel (terrifying I’m sure), and First Blood 2. Alien 2 benefitted from the research he was doing into the Vietnam War for Rambo, but it also happened to be influenced by Mother, a science-fiction movie.
The details are scarce, and if they aren’t I don’t very well remember them, but some of it had to do with Avatar (see, I didn’t mention it for nothing), and the Alien Queen. No matter what it is, it combines two of the greatest things ever, James Cameron and science-fiction, which has yielded some classics (T2, Aliens, The Abyss), and some clunkers (Avatar) — Cameron is definitely a hugely influential name in recent scifi, despite being a filmmaker and not an author.
Unfortunately, Mother has been so cannibalized by other Cameron movies it couldn’t possibly be made today (also taking into account Cameron’s Avatar-only agenda until 2020 AD), which isn’t quite the Planet Terror scenario — in that case, an old Rodriguez screenplay was chock-full of stuff, like Savini’s crotch rocket in From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado, but by 2009 still had enough to make for a crazy-ass zombie movie. Maybe it’s fortunate though, because reading Mother would be a warm, familiar place for any fan.
William Gibson’s Alien 3
I gotta be honest, the premise for this screenplay is pretty absurd. The origin behind the Alien, which I suppose preempts Prometheus by almost exactly two decades, is nano-robots, in true Gibson fashion. We know that William Gibson is a good writer and he’s got a fascinating imagination, but in the film and television realm, he hasn’t had great success. I’ve heard that his two episodes of The X-Files weren’t among the most memorable (or were, but for the wrong reasons), and of course Johnny Mnemonic stands as a shining example of the author at its worst, despite the film’s lasting entertainment value.
It’s hard to know whether the scripts are good and the direction and Keanu “I Want Room Service” Reeves performance are what kills it, but I think that either way it’d be an interesting read.
David Hayter’s The Chronicles of Riddick
You might be scratching your head over this, but for me it goes two-fold. I would love, love to see an earlier draft of The Chronicles of Riddick, which is in concept a fun space romp. Modern pulp fiction with a dash of badass angst. And though I have little reason to be, I’m a huge fan of David Hayter. He’s the screenwriter behind the first two X-Men movies, which I don’t really care for, and The Scorpion King, which is not as good as my beloved first two Sommers Mummy movies but was enjoyable enough to a twelve year old, and the voice of Solid Snake, the mascot for a video-game system I never had until a few years ago.
But I follow him on Twitter and I really like hearing him talk about Watchmen and Lost Planet and stuff. And when I saw that he wrote a draft of The Chronicles of Riddick I was shocked. I’d like to see an unfiltered voice (not audio) for this guy.
Interestingly, David Twohy (writer/director of The Chronicles of Riddick) wrote a draft of Alien 3, another in the long line of screenwriters on that film with such a tortured development history that also includes Walter Hill, the great action director and career producer for the cycle.
Philip K. Dick’s Ubik
Need I say more? I know I just got through talking how Gibson can’t adapt his own shit or whatever, but that’s only because we do have Johnny Mnemonic on hand. Philip K. Dick didn’t have much experience with movies, but had something of a hand in rejecting the initial drafts of Dangerous Days, or Android or whatever, which were allegedly rather hokey. So from this I shall jump to the conclusion immediately that he’s got good taste.
And Ubik is a nice and rounded story. A Scanner Darkly seems kind of oddly paced and everything, but Ubik builds toward an ending — it’s more cinematic. In fact, Linklater attempted to do Ubik before ‘settiling’ on A Scanner Darkly. So this isn’t the only time Ubik was tried and shot down. Meanwhile Open Your Eyes and Vanilla Sky happen, so I wonder how the near future Ubik movie will bode now that people can guess the ending.
David Cronenberg’s Red
Red or Red Racers. I’m sure if I saw Fast Company I’d have a pretty good idea of what this movie was all about, but this is a passion project for Cronenberg that never got off the ground due to the whole “Cronenberg never ever made money,” thing. Now, David Cronenberg has asserted that screenplays are not art, so he wouldn’t appreciate this post none, but I’d still love to know what Cronenberg thinks about outside of sexual body horror and hardcore violence. In this case it’s formula racing, a peculiar obsession of the man. I wonder what a movie would be like with the Dronenberg thematic eye, but applied to something like… racing.
You know, we got ourselves into this. No one made us chew Chew-Z.
PKD scholars tend to divide the author’s career into three eras: the 50s pulp with flashes of literary merit, the golden era of the 60s and early 70s with many of his masterpieces, among them Ubik and Flow My Tears, and then the late 70s and early 80s with the fascinating spritual journey that yielded, among other things, the VALIS trilogy. Published in 1964, one might view The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as a prelude of things to come, a blend of science-fiction and faith that maintains a relatively grounded story. Through the three eras, we can trace an analog to Philip K. Dick’s life, one that began in the dregs of pulp science-fiction with mainstream aspirations, and was bombarded with drugs and bizarre religious experiences into the oblivion of quiet tragedy, ending on March 2, 1982. As Philip K. Dick was buried next to his long dead twin sister — the original dark-haired girl — the mainstream was finally introduced to him through Ridley Scott’s brilliant Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? adaptation released later that year in its first of many forms.
Nowadays that mainstream often considers The Three Stigmata to be one of his best novels, along with A Scanner Darkly and The Man in the High Castle, and I must say real quick that I’m glad this is our reality, where we can evaluate his work and not be laughed at, where my mom knows who Philip K. Dick is and we’ll all be lining up to see the Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said or Disney’s King of the Elves in years to come. But anyways The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch tells the story of an Earth on the brink of destruction, where people are forced into emigration to a miserable existence on Mars, and find sole respite in Can-D, a drug that offers shared hallucinations — the ultimate escapism. Or is it? There’s talk in the wind of a competing substance known as Chew-Z, as manufactured by the enigmatic Palmer Eldritch. God promises eternal life, Chew-Z can deliver it, as they say. Corporate bigwig Leo Bulero and his top psi consultant Barney Mayerson investigate and soon find themselves in a plot to assassinate Eldritch, who may or may not be human. Or God. They travel across space, time, and everything, often propelled along by the fierce women in their lives.
What starts as a pretty typical Philip K. Dick novel, one that could conceivably share the world of Ubik or Flow My Tears, with its flying cars and vidphones and corporations, mutates into a spiritual meditation on the big questions. Science-fiction is being used here as means to reach these areas of exploration, which is why it’s important to remember that Philip K. Dick was definitively an author of science-fiction. Like Kurt Vonnegut. I’m not just saying this because I’d like to use this useless blog in defense of the genre, and don’t want to lose one of its key players, but because with The Three Stigmata we witness the growth of an artist. Dick always wrote about ideas close to his heart through fantastical worlds and scenarios, but in his discussions of faith and God strike a profound chord.
We know they’re coming from a very genuine place, as Philip K. Dick would not only become obsessed with the religious half of these books, but always stuck by the science-fiction half. He always hoped to be accepted by a popular audience, but knew that the perception of his genre was that of the literary ghetto. 40 novels, 50 short stories, only a handful non-science-fiction — that’s dedication.
There’s not much I can say about this book, and not much I can say to remember the author that hasn’t already been said. For a better resource, be sure to check out the review catalogue on the Genrebusters website, which has many of his works, and if for all diehards, make sure to pick up the recently released Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. It’s an involved, thoughtful tale of endless unpredictability and spots of humor that punctuate a terrifying, absurdist reality.
For a two hour interview with the author I just found on YouTube but haven’t yet listened to, click here
Spoiler Alert, seriously. You should make the effort to read Ubik if you haven’t already, and then come back and skim this, the usual stuff. It’s actually a pretty quick read, and this is coming from somebody who rarely meanders onto the printed page. It must have taken me three months to read Childhood’s End, but Ubik was only a matter of three days.
Ubik is the most maddening, perplexing, fascinating, and mind-blowing novel I’ve yet to read. It feels, essentially, like a funny PKD short story like “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” but blown up to 200 pages. That’s not a bad thing, but it does present one crucial problem. There’s a punchline to the novel, and it feels like a giant joke, in some way, that Philip K. Dick is dictating to us with his usual wit and entertaining prose. That’s fine, except that I didn’t feel nearly as much sympathy for the hero of the aforementioned short story as I did with Joe Chip or Glen Runciter – or even Pat Conley, who’s involvement in the narrative took me the most. When the characters are victims of some massive farce by the end of a phildickian short story, it’s the story itself that sticks with us; the characters are just vessels by which the story’s punchline gets through. In the longform medium, the paradigm shifts, and the length and complexity of the journey undertaken by the characters engages us on a higher level with those characters.
And yet, Ubik ends with the short story kick, which, by the time I reached the About the Author section and gazed upon it with wild eyes, caused me to emit a sound not unlike a groan, but more like a yelp. I was shocked, but this feeling was both amplified and frustrated by emotions gathered in the immediately preceeding chapter: disgust, mostly. When Jory was revealed I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to reveal how hero Joe Chip would resolve this larger-than-life conflict in the last twenty or so pages, meanwhile ticking away in my mind about how the scenario depicted is like The Matrix (or Inception, if you’d rather) but so much more fucked up, unbelievably so.
In the novel’s final moments, I was constantly reminded of how close to death Joe Chip was, how horrible this death would be, how irreversibly screwed he was, and how no matter what satirical 1992 future he lived in where life and death operate on a strange new level – he could never escape it. My mind was churning with these dark, intense thoughts, and after I put the book down one last time I experienced something very rare.
Usually in science-fiction I really fall in love with, I find myself thinking about the themes and ideas explored long after the title has expired, and usually I relate them here on this website. After Ubik, I was literally thoughtless. My mind was actually blown, taken up to a height unprecedented by an author with golden wings and dropped at the turn of the final page onto hard pavement. The disturbing nature of half-life and of Jory shook me, carrying me with jolting unease through the rest of the novel, where my mental discomfort paralleled hero Joe Chip’s frantic and shattering struggle to regain control of his body – inside his mind.
Based on what Wikipedia has to offer, and the scrawling I’ve found on the inside covers as penned by the book’s previous owner, the eponymous Ubik has been interpreted as God, something that heals us and is everywhere. The argument is that Ubik restores our faith in ourselves, makes Joe Chip believe that he can win the unwinnable fight against Jory. But in the end, he cannot. Eventually things run out – everything ends, and in the Ubik universe, things seem to end with Jory. So is Dick in this way criticizing God and our faith in him? The ending makes me think so, which essentially says that we can’t be sure of anything, not even God or his healing powers, but death is a constant for everyone, no matter how far we get into the future.
I don’t know. Philip K. Dick would go on to write more blatantly theological novels, yet Ubik isn’t considered one of them. It is however, very phildickian, and one clear tell is the inclusion of the dark-haired girl. This time it’s a character named Pat Conley, who indeed is malevolent and a force of destruction. For me, she’s also a force of more discomfort – I really didn’t take to the idea that she was eaten by Jory, that just didn’t sit well with me. Otherwise she was an interesting character among a cast of interesting characters, and I can’t help but wonder how Philip K. Dick manages to balance so many well-rounded elements in one novel, considering how fast he put these and the short stories out.
There’s a lot to be said about Ubik, but I don’t have the capacity to say it. I’ll leave this one up to you, dear reader, because I think what we have here is something of a personal journey to be undertaken, and I can only point you in the Dickiest direction.