December 2020 Books Read Standouts: Heart-Shaped Box/Alien: The Original Screenplay

 Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill

    Joe Hill is the man! I’ve really enjoyed just about everything I’ve read from him; 20th Century Ghosts, Full Throttle, Strange Weather and NOS4A2 are all so solid that “Let’s read a Joe Hill” has become a go-to solution when my wife and I can’t think of anything for me to read her at bedtime (which is not a dunk; his work is just reliably, regularly good), and his work in comics has continued beyond the absolutely stellar Locke & Key and delightfully bonkers Basketful of Heads to founding his own horror-centric imprint, Hill House, for DC. The dude does good work is the point, and also, as an afterthought, he happens to be Stephen King’s son. I tend to think that his short-story and novella collections are stronger offerings but his novels are also reliably good, and this is no exception.
    Heart-Shaped Box is the story of agéd rock star Judas Coyne who, in a fit of Rich Guy Whatthefuckness, buys a ghost on eBay. Said ghost is bound to a dead man’s suit, which arrives promptly, presumably earning the seller a hearty crop of review-stars for shipping and service. AND THEN, THE DEATHS START, and he and his new girlfriend go on a road trip to find the source of this sartorial curse and put a stop to it before it’s too late. It’s very spooky and engaging, and is definitely invested in its Protagonist Is A Rock Star premise, so be prepared to hear a lot about music.
    The only thing I really don’t care for about Joe is that, even compared to his father, his work is sometimes unpalatably vulgar, like “had to tell my wife I’m not reading this out loud to her” vulgar, not necessarily in the content itself but in the description, and that is perhaps truer here than in anything else of his I’ve read. That said, and slight thematic spoiler I suppose, it is kind of in service of highlighting the poisonousness of mental, emotional and sexual abuse, and it’s a fair point that blunting and smoothing those ideas with softer, more deflectionist language wouldn’t do those topics the justice that the story is after. Heart-Shaped Box is a rough ride and maybe a little too long, but there’s a lot to like and it’s one hell of a ghost story if you’re willing to put in the time.

Score: 7/10 Black Eyes, But Not The Ones You Think I Mean

Alien: The Original Screenplay

    God, I love everything about Alien. So last year–at least I think it was last year; I have a feeling we’re going to be thinking of 2019 and 2020 as one big dumb Jughead Double Digest for the rest of our lives–saw the release of William Gibson’s Alien 3, the graphic novel adaptation of the unproduced screenplay completely unrelated to the movie we got, which was PRETTY WILD and was received well enough by people more influential than a humble dumbass like myself to warrant the adaptation and release of the screenplay that eventually became one of the best suspense film and the first haunted-house in space film ever made. WHAT A SENTENCE; WHAT A COUNTRY.    
    Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger ended up changing quite a lot of the major and minor aspects of the story; whether for the better or worse is a question I think is probably unanswerable considering the impact the results of those changes made in film forever, and in any event I don’t think comparing two versions of the same story is generally a useful or kindhearted idea. Suffice it to say this would’ve made, unaltered, for an entirely different movie, one in fact called Starbeast: the Nostromo is called the Snark and is a cargo vessel of indeterminate nature instead of a mining ship that allows for the film’s industrial-dungeon decor, the pace and atmosphere are much more action-oriented, the creature aesthetic is equally creepy but less hyper-phallic/yonic biomechabomination and more…vegetal, with much of the monstrous having a quality that clearly evokes twisted, wickedly spiny thorns powerfully reminiscent of Junji Ito’s body-horror masterpiece Uzumaki and the excellent, extremely upsetting Soulslike platformer Blasphemous, both of which I cannot recommend enthusiastically enough for those with the stomach.
    The major story beats are largely the same; the crew of a sleeper-ship wake up before they should have due to a Mysterious Signal, investigate on a nearby uninhabited planetoid, Mistakes Are Made, chaos ensues, sole survivor, kaboom, Not Quite Dead reveal, ignoring Genghis Khan’s advice–

–Goodnight Moon. Most of the differences are aesthetic but there’s one major structural change that, depending on how big an Alien-lore nerd you are, changes literally everything. If you aren’t about that life feel free to skip to final judgments below.
    Okay, as we all know, in the film the Nostromo was a mining-freight ship whose patrons, Weyland-Yutani, had somehow come to understand that LV-426 was the site of the crashed Derelict and programmed the ship and its android to collect a sample of its cargo and return so W.Y. could use it for their bio-weapons division. All other considerations secondary; crew expendable. And then of course, depending on how deep you wanna go into the worldbuilding with Prometheus and Alien vs. Predator and so on, humans and xenomorphs were both created by the Space Jockeys, existential horror, etc. In the screenplay, and so in this comic, the Snark simply has a standing directive to wake all crew if it picks up an unidentified signal, and upon landing on the planetoid they discover two structures: what we would recognize as an early version of the Derelict, complete with fossilized Space Jockey, and an onyx ziggurat that is openly stated to not possibly be of local planetary origin, inside which the Snark‘s crew find an ancienteldritch temple to impossible, teuthoidal gods, the worship of which apparently included facehugger-impregnation rituals, and in landing and investigating the crew has unknowingly retraced the steps that led to the Jockey’s demise and the Derelict’s permanent naufrage. It’s completely understandable that they changed it for the movie because that’s fewer sets to build (some of which would’ve been huge and incredibly detailed) and it’s just fewer balls for the story and the audience to juggle, but it blew my mind because it means that what the xenomorphs are and where they came from is still a mystery, which is more than can be said for the ever more diluted and convoluted origin story with which the film franchise insists on ruining itself. Also present are several elements that would be used in later entries in the film series, such as xenomorph victims not just being killed but cocooned and enwebulated alive and mutated into new facehugger eggs (or POSSIBLY new grown xenomorphs), which idea would eventually be used for Aliens, albeit removed from the theatrical release and only restored in the director’s cut and supplementary materials.
    Overall Alien: The Original Screenplay is not a fundamentally different experience from that provided by the film version or the countless comic adaptations and expansions based on the final film, but is a fascinating and clearly love-labored look at the fossil record of a thing many of us hold dear, and manages to present an alternate-timeline version of the story that may not have become one of the most iconic horror franchises of all time no matter what any bluecheck stating their opinions as facts has to say, but has bones of iron and gold and is absolutely able and deserves to stand on its own in addition to being complimentary to the franchise we ended up getting.

Score: 8/10 Surprisingly Cooperative Cats In Suitcases

there’s a mighty judgment coming, though I may be wrong

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