Alien Autopsy UFO roswell aliens weird footage

Extraterrestrial Aliens Should be Less Human, and More Alien

Okay, let’s be honest. If aliens are out there, whether they’re monitoring our world or flying around their own little corner of the cosmos, they probably aren’t hairless, bipedal primates like us. They might not even perceive the universe in the same way we do. And yeah, they definitely don’t speak English. So why is that in the vast majority of books, movies, and TV shows about aliens, they seem so much like human beings with unique skin tones, claws, or bigger heads?

Why aren’t aliens… more alien?

This exact thought was a huge part of what inspired me to write Intraterrestrial, my upcoming weird, emotional, psychedelic alien novel which will be floating your way later this month.

Star-Trek-Discovery-TKuvma-Klingon-Leader alien human

In most sci-fi media, “aliens” tend to resemble futuristic humans. Sure, maybe they have grey skin and tentacles, but the differences from us are relatively minor. Aliens still wear clothes or ceremonial armors, they still pilot metal ships, have families, and interact with the world using the same five senses. Alien technology, while usually more advanced than Earthling technology, is nonetheless quite similar to ours. (Though Giger’s hyper-sexualized designs in the Alien movies are a notable exception.)

Now, the reason that fictional aliens are so “human” is easy to understand. For one, humans have a tendency to try to imprint our image on everything, whether it’s finding human faces in wood grain (the pareidolia phenomenon), or believing that an omnipotent creator would resemble an old white guy with a big white beard.

This is also because from a storytelling perspective, it’s easier for readers and audiences to connect with “creatures” that resemble us. That’s why it’s easier to recognize the “life” in an animal than it is a plant, even though both are equally valid lifeforms. The use of “human” aliens has been a necessary ingredient in many important media franchises, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Marvel Universe. That’s because the “aliens” in these tales aren’t there to explore the sci-fi idea of aliens: these “aliens” are representative of humans, so it suits the story to make them as human as possible. This aspect is particularly strong in Star Trek, which uses a utopian “Federation” of alien races to represent the ideal of humankind’s many races/cultures/societies one day working out their differences and living in harmony. It’s powerful stuff.

Ufo flying saucer nicholas conley aliens

So, I’m not criticizing the use of “human” aliens, because they serve a valid narrative function for many stories. However, I am asking: shouldn’t our stories have room for both types of alien, both human and…. less human?

And furthermore, can’t we see more stories featuring inhuman aliens, which don’t simply write the beings off as “monsters,” or “beasts,” and instead work to engender audience compassion and connection for creatures that aren’t just like us?

 

I say this, because many stories demonize inhuman creatures, and that’s problematic, because it signifies how we feel about (and treat) animals, plants, and other lifeforms that don’t have smiling faces. For example, when I used talking slugs as characters in my last novel, Pale Highway,  I did so hoping that it might make at least one reader reexamine these “slimy” creatures, and perhaps come away with more respect for them. Slugs might be totally different from us, but they are a valid form of life. If my story convinced even one person to never pour salt on a poor slug again, then hey, that’s an achievement I’m proud of.

Anyway, getting back to the central point, depictions of truly otherworldly aliens—particularly more sympathetic portrayals—are rare. Off the top of my head, the most noteworthy example of this in recent times was the film Arrival, where the Heptapods were seen as complex, intelligent beings of a truly alien background. The other example that comes to mind are the “Scramblers” in the novel Blindsight. While these creatures certainly weren’t “sympathetic,” due to their total lack of free will and/or emotions, the novel itself presented their strange nature as a plot point, and an examination of what our “free will” really is.

 

Arrival aliens ufo space science fiction ship.png

Now, why am I interested in seeing more alien-like aliens? A few reasons. One, it’s largely unexplored terrain. It’s a big, cosmic horror (or mesmerizing wonder) of possibilities that fiction has only begun to tap.

Two, because I think it’s an important way to break through the myopic nature of human perception. I think that telling stories wherein the aliens are distinctly not-human—but are still viable creatures in their own right—could help break down barriers in human society, help tear down prejudices, and make it easier for people to relate to others who aren’t like them.  After all, the “other” is not the enemy.

alien sky weird ufo nicholas conley intraterrestrial

For Intraterrestrial, the key difference I wanted to explore was the notion of perception. The main character, Adam Helios, is a 13 year old boy with a brain injury: this injury causes his perception of the world to differ significantly from a “normal” person.

However, the aliens who contact him perceive the universe in an even stranger way: while us Earthlings use five senses, the aliens do not possess senses. They explore the universe psychically, using creativity as a “sense.” They are so incomprehensible to our hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and sound that the aliens can only appear before Adam by “creating” sensory constructs of themselves, with his imagination.

A large part of what inspired me to write Intraterrestrial was my desire, both as a writer and as a reader, to see fictional aliens that are more “alien,” instead of just seeming like futuristic humans. This book will be my own contribution to the cause I’ve described above, and I look forward to you folks reading it, and letting me know if my aliens are “alien” enough!

Intraterrestrial Nicholas Conley sci-fi book aliens tbi brain injury

 

 

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Spider-Man Homecoming Marvel Cinematic Universe

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Spins a Web, Any Size

Somehow I managed to make it all the way to November without sharing my thoughts on Spider-Man: Homecoming. Don’t ask me how. I talk about Spider-Man all the time, even when I’m just reviewing totally bizarre Spider-Man knockoff games. I thought I’d already blogged about Spidey’s newest cinematic outing, but I guess not, so here goes.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is fantastic. It’s the best big screen Spidey outing since Sam Raimi left the series, and while it doesn’t quite achieve the heights of Spider-Man 2, it does successfully rebuild this character for a new generation.

Spider-Man Homecoming boat Marvel Peter Parker Iron Man

There are three key factors that make the movie work as well as it does. The first, and most important, is that the film knows its message, and it gets that message across clearly. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a story about young adulthood, and the awkward growing pains of a teenager trying to find his way in the world, while coming to understand that his actions have a real impact on others.

Following in the footsteps of past creators like Lee, Raimi, and Bendis, this movie uses Peter’s Spider-Man adventures as a superheroic representation of the more relatable coming of age story that Peter must go through. What makes this particular Spider-Man stand out is that he really is a kid: he’s only a few years past puberty, inexperienced, impulsive, scared, barely knows what he’s doing. Peter has a big heart and a genuine enthusiasm for helping people, but he has a lot to learn.

Though Uncle Ben’s “great power, great responsibility” mantra isn’t recited, this classic concept is the unspoken theme of every scene in the film. Even when you’re laughing at Peter’s jokes or swinging between buildings with him, Spider-Man: Homecoming always reminds you that actions have consequences. There are multiple occasions where Peter swoops in to save the day, totally unprepared, causing catastrophic situations to occur that risk real lives. Even when he successfully stops a supervillain, saving innocent lives, it leads to the equally real lives getting shattered, as the villain’s loved ones must then grapple with what happened. Every glory is bittersweet, every failure followed by another one, but Peter keeps going, staying true to the very themes that have always made Spider-Man’s story so universal.

Perhaps due to this focus, Homecoming nails the feeling of being a teenager in a way  that prior movies didn’t quite capture. It’s often funny, but there’s a serious undercurrent of anxiety and social pressure lingering beneath the humor. Peter is at the age where he feels ready to prove himself, to be considered an adult, just like anyone his age does — but he’s still young at heart. He gets scared when he’s too high up. He doesn’t know if he’s going to survive when the Vulture drags him into the sky. He’s a hero the audience can’t help but love and relate to.

Spider-Man Homecoming Tom Holland Marvel

That’s why the second factor that knocks this movie out of the park is, of course, Tom Holland, the Spider-Man of a new generation. Holland portrays a young Peter Parker who feels ripped straight off the comic book page. The sequence where Holland really shines is in a scene adapted from the “Master Planner” story in the comics.

The third factor that makes the movie so terrific is Michael Keaton, the Vulture. Adrian Toomes has been a favorite villain of mine in the comics since “Funeral Arrangements,” a lesser-known Spectacular Spider-Man by J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema. Vulture’s come within striking distance of the big screen on many occasions, but the wait was worth it. Keaton’s Vulture is one of the most interesting MCU villains to date.

Vulture Michael Keaton Spider-Man Toomes Marvel

To explain why the Vulture works so well, I’ll just quote my own answer to a question that was posted on Quora, regarding which Spider-Man movie villain was the best. To read my full answer, check out this link, but here’s the part regarding the Vulture:

Having just seen Spider-Man: Homecoming last night, I’m honestly willing to say that Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the Vulture gets a firm second place. As a villainous presence, Vulture is like a horrifying creature of the night, both unstoppable and deadly… but at the same time, the man behind the wings is revealed to be very human, very realistic, with beliefs that are understandable and relate deeply to contemporary times, even if his actions themselves are pretty horrendous and immoral. He’s a hardworking guy just trying to support his family, but he won’t flinch about killing anyone who gets in his way.

What makes both of these villains work so well is how they play off of Peter Parker himself. The key to what makes Spider-Man such a great character is that he’s the everyman, the working class superhero, the awkward regular guy who gets super powers. Both Molina’s Otto Octavius and Keaton’s Adrian Toomes also seem like regular people, with real lives and real goals they care about, both of whom just happen to fall on the wrong side of the tracks.

Homecoming doesn’t top Spider-Man 2, if only because the new film doesn’t grapple with the themes of despair, guilt, and bittersweet failure that Raimi did so beautifully. However, that’s to be expected: while Spider-Man 2 showed an older Peter who’d been wearing the webs for a few years, this new Peter is just getting his footing. He’s only fought one supervillain, and hasn’t even been tortured by the Daily Bugle yet.

So, needless to say, Holland’s Spidey certainly has some tough challenges ahead of him. But as seen in this movie, he also has a heart of gold — just like the comic book character — and it’s going to be an absolute thrill to see him return when Avengers: Infinity War rolls around.

Hilarious Spider-Man Ripoff Games in the Google Play Store

Okay, so one day I was on a long ride, and had some time to kill. I’ve always enjoyed Solitaire, though I haven’t played it for a few years. However, since my tablet was fully charged, I figured that it was a good opportunity to download a Solitaire app, and get back into the game. And hey, I figured, why not do Spider Solitaire while I’m at it?

So anyway, I go into the Google Play Store, and as I start typing “Spider,” it pulls up a search for “Spider-Man games.”

Now, I have to admit, I’m not a gamer. Don’t get me wrong, I shot up my fair share of demons back in the Doom days, but the world has changed a lot since then. However, as longtime readers know, I’m pretty passionate about superheroes, and Spider-Man in particular. Seeing the term “Spider-Man games” got me immensely curious about how such an acrobatic character could be adapted to a game playable by cell phones and tablets. Was it even possible?

I had to know. So I accepted the search for “Spider-Man Games,” but I could have never prepared for the array of hilariously dubious parodies that soon presented themselves to me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I get it: programmers want to make their own Spidey game, and can’t afford the official license, so they skate as close to the edge as they can without tipping over it. Nonetheless, the results are pretty amusing. Coming up ahead, here are the best ones I saw.

 

Spider Adventure

Spider Adventure Doc Ock Spider-Man ripoff knockoff

Hey, it’s Spidey vs. Doctor Octopus, just like Spider-Man 2!

Oh, wait. No, it’s not. It’s just a spider-themed vigilante in a Spider Adventure, facing off against a bad guy with metal arms. What a weird coincidence, huh? Though I don’t know if that’s actually a spider on the hero’s chest, a biohazard symbol, or some weird combination of the two. Maybe it’s an abstract representation of a nuclear-powered spider. Who knows.

Anyway, according to its description, Spider Hero is an open world adventure that gives the player the opportunity to become a “guardian of the universe” (note, not the galaxy) by stopping a corporation from creating an army of mutants. Hey, sounds good. The game gets really good reviews, so if you’re curious, you can download it here on the Play Store. 

Stickman Rope Hero

Stickman Rope Hero

Okay, Spider Adventure was one thing, but now it’s starting to get silly. This game lets you pilot around a hero who looks a lot like Spider-Man — but he isn’t Spider-Man, he’s the Stickman Rope Hero. And those aren’t webs he’s swinging around on, oh no, those are ropes. Can’t you tell?

Just to make sure that you never confuse this badass dude with that punk Peter Parker kid, the Stick Man Rope Hero takes on his enemies with some heavy duty military weapons, including machine guns, bazookas, and tanks. So he’s more like the Punisher… except, uh, he swings around on “ropes.” This game also gets really good reviews, so give it a look here. 

Strange Hero

Strange Hero Spider-Man

Huh, it’s weird how much this “Strange Hero” looks like another spider-themed vigilante. It’s also weird how this screenshot shows him doing exactly the same pose as the opening scene of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but y’know what, when a hero’s gotta jump into action, there are only so many ways he can do it.

However, while Spider-Man generally takes on crooks and burglars, the plot of this Strange Hero game has you stopping a whole alien invasion. So hey, that’s cool. Take that, Avengers!

Here is the game’s page, if you want to check it out.

Amazing Spider City Survival

Amazing Spider City Survival Spider-Man yellow

I know that you think that the superhero in the image above is Spider-Man, but it’s not. You know how you can tell? Because Spider-Man wears red and blue, whereas this guy — the “Amazing Spider Superhero” —  wears yellow and purple. See? On top of that, I’ve never seen Spider-Man fly through the air carrying lifelike clothing mannequins from the mall… oh wait, is that supposed to be a live civilian? Hmm. Maybe this is some kinda weird planking competition.

Well, whatever this guy is doing with that planking champion, the game’s description seems like a quest that the real Peter Parker would probably approve of, since it involves saving the city from gangsters, or something along those lines. Give it a look here.

Snake Slither and Block

Snake Slither and Block Spider-Man Pac-Man game

Okay, now this game here has officially gone too far for me to handle. Looking at the image above, I don’t whether to laugh, cry, or scream in terror. The more I stare at it, the more I can’t figure out whether I’m looking at Spider-Man, or the classic old “snake” game, or Pac-Man, or Tetris, or some bizarre mutant combination of all those things at once. It’s just too much!

And with that said, I’m officially Spidered out. Time to take a deep breath, and watch Spider-Man: Homecoming again.

What about you guys? Have you all encountered similarly hilarious ripoff games before—whether Spidey-related or otherwise—and what were they like?

twins nicholas conley

Writing for Grunge.com

Good morning, everyone!

So, I’m happy to share that I’ve joined up with the writers of Grunge.com. For those who haven’t read Grunge before, it’s a quality site, dedicated to diving deep into pools of weird information, exploring unknown facts, and correcting common misconceptions. Since I’ve always had the sort of brain that’s hungry to explore any corner of knowledge I find myself in, I’m having a great time.

Here are a few of my pieces so far. Thanks for giving ’em a read!

Weird Things That Medical TV Shows Always Get Wrong

House MD nicholas conley

Strange Facts You Never Knew About Twins

twins nicholas conley

Clever Movies That Trick You With Double Plot Twists

arrival nicholas conley

Animals That Evolved to Defend Themselves Against Humans

animals evolved nicholas conley

Sam Raimi Tobey Maguire Spider-Man 4

What if Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 Happened Today?

Good morning, everyone! Today I’m just sharing a post I made on Screen Rant. Since Spider-Mania is in the air once again, with Spider-Man: Homecoming aiming to break box office records next week, I thought this would be a fun time to do a “What If?” piece relating to the old Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire films.

Raimi’s Spider-Man movies are classics, and so I wanted to dive in and imagine a scenario wherein the original crew would come back, just one last time, to make a Logan-like Spider-Man 4. What would such a movie look like? Well, here are my thoughts.

Spider-Man 4: 15 Things We’d Love To See If A Raimi/Maguire Sequel Ever Happened

Sam Raimi Tobey Maguire Spider-Man 4

There’s no overstating the importance of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. Blade may have unlocked the door, and Bryan Singer’s X-Men cracked it open, but 2002’s Spider-Man was the record-breaking blockbuster that blew the door off its hinges, causing the flood of superhero movies that hasn’t ceased in the fifteen years since. Though it’s now been a decade since the arrival of Spider-Man 3 — a film which, while financially successful, was widely considered something of a letdown compared to the still beloved Spider-Man 2 — the legacy of Raimi’s lucrative series is still felt today.

Soon, Marvel Studios will be lighting up theaters across the world with its MCU-based Spider-Man: Homecoming. While that movie will almost certainly be a smashing success, let’s dream for a moment: theoretically, what if the success of Homecoming convinced Sony to get Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire together again one last time, to finally create the worthwhile conclusion that the old series deserves? Continue reading on ScreenRant.com.

Dark Tower Jake drawings Stephen King

What is Stephen King’s “Dark Tower,” exactly?

Since the release of the trailer for the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s epic, The Dark Tower, the web had been buzzing with theories and speculation, as well as questions from those who’ve never read the books.

For example: is this story a western, or sc-fi? What’s so important about this “tower?” Why does the gunslinger need to reach it?

Well, as someone who has been passionate about this series since I first picked up the books as a teenager, I recently wrote a piece for Screen Rant that explains some of the Dark Tower basics.

I’ve provided a link below, but don’t stop there. With the movie coming out later this year, now is the perfect time to catch up, and read the books that inspired it!

 

NOTE: After putting this up, I just discovered that it’s my 200th post on this blog. Crazy!

Doctor Doom Victor Von Doom fan film Marvel Fantastic Four Ivan Kander

The “Von Doom” Fan Film Reveals the Doctor Doom We’ve All Been Waiting for

Superhero films may have taken over the multiplex, and characters both A-list and B-list may have become household names, but there’s arguably one major Marvel Comics character whose legacy on film has been mistreated more than any other: Victor Von Doom, better known by the title Doctor Doom.

Famous Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee, who co-created almost all of the Marvel Universe, has long said that Doctor Doom is his favorite villain. While the Joker has catapulted to the #1 spot on most supervillain lists thanks to a long line of fantastic film and animated adaptations, Doctor Doom is a character who has long been held by many comic book enthusiasts as the greatest comic book supervillain of all time. Doom is a complex figure whose mythology combines science fiction and sorcery; he’s a vain man pained by a dark past, a tortured soul who believes himself to be the hero, believes that he could save the world if only everyone accepted him as their leader. His story is epic, tragic, one of the most developed in all of comics.

What Doom is not, and never has been, is the obnoxious, greedy businessman that he was portrayed as in the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, or whatever weird stuff they were trying to do with him in the 2015 reboot. While villains like Magneto and Loki have risen to prominence due to excellent film adaptations, there has never been a proper, faithful cinematic depiction of Doctor Doom.

Doctor Doom Victor Von Doom fan film Marvel Fantastic Four Ivan Kander

Well, until now. Thanks to filmmaker Ivan Kander, there is now a fan film named Von Doom available online, that does for Doom what 20th Century Fox has failed to do. Gritty, epic, and faithful to the comics, Von Doom may be only 14 minutes, but it’s the best 14 minutes that Doom has ever had on film. Using time travel as a plot device, it tells the story of Doom’s tragic origins, as a young boy in the small Eastern European country of Latveria, and his young adult self’s attempt to combine magic and science in an effort to change the past. Don’t be wary of the fact that it’s a fan film, either: like Truth in Journalism, the Venom fan-film that I reviewed back in 2013, this is quality stuff. But don’t just take my word for it: check it out below.

(And after you do, continue reading my thoughts, right below the video!)

Now, this film isn’t perfect. It’s too short to get as deep as I’d love for it to,  and the budget is lower than a studio production would be. But what really shines here is that Ivan Kander really understands Doom’s personality, really gets what makes the character iconic, and even came up with a clever way to frame Doom’s story in a way that could fit three periods of his life within such a short runtime.

I’d love to see what Ivan Kander could come up with for a full length studio production, but even in the absence of that, Von Doom contains a lot of lessons that 20th Century Fox should pay attention to, if they ever want to utilize one of their biggest properties in a way that will not only befit the character’s legacy, but also get fans into theaters. To me, these are the biggest takeaways from Von Doom, and how it could influence future films:

1. The Origin Really, Really Matters

Doctor Doom Victor Von Doom fan film Marvel Fantastic Four Ivan Kander origin story

Both Fantastic Four franchises to date have completely ignored Victor Von Doom’s comic book back story, and both have also totally destroyed the character as a result.  That’s because Doom’s origins aren’t some throwaway reference, and tying them to the Fantastic Four’s origins is a mistake. Victor Von Doom’s childhood tragedies are as important to his character development as Magneto’s Holocaust origins are to him, and if you tamper with the story, you lose the character.

Doom’s back story is epic in scope. You can’t just pay lip service to Latveria and expect fans to be happy, because the character is Latveria. Victor Von Doom began as a poor boy in a poverty-stricken country, fled to the United States, became a brilliant scientist, and then came home as a revolutionary, ready to overthrow the authoritarian government that had enslaved and brutalized his people. Now, this doesn’t change the fact that Von Doom is also an authoritarian himself — the people of Latveria might be safe beneath his rule, but they certainly aren’t free — however, the complexity here is what makes the character interesting.

You Need Science AND Magic to Make a Proper Doctor Doom

Victor Von Doom Doctor Doom fan film origin story latveria Ivan Kander Marvel Fantastic Four

Doctor Doom, the armored figure that Victor Von Doom is destined to become, might seem at first like a purely science fiction character. He’s a brilliant scientist, he attacks his opponents with armies of robots, he uses life model decoys. But what Von Doom really gets right, from the very beginning, is that Doctor Doom’s interest and skills in the mystical arts are also a huge component of the character.

Some of Doctor Doom’s best stories involve him relying purely on magic, and he’s listed as one of the most powerful sorcerers in the Marvel Universe. Sure, the whole magic thing doesn’t fit into the wacky sci-fi high jinks that define the Fantastic Four, but there’s a solution for that…

Make Doom the Protagonist of His Own Film

Victor Von Doom Doctor Doom fan film origin story latveria Ivan Kander Marvel Fantastic Four experiment

Seriously, if there’s anything that the Von Doom short film proves, it’s this: Doctor Doom works better as a protagonist, instead of being squeezed into a Fantastic Four movie. That doesn’t mean he’s a hero, but he thinks he’s a hero, and a character as complex as Doom deserves center stage.

The bad writing that Doctor Doom has suffered from in the Fantastic Four movies is at least partially because both films have unsuccessfully tried to tie Doom into the Four’s origin story, and it’s a bad fit. While Doom is linked to Reed Richards, and despises him, much of his actual character arc is largely independent of those four blue-costumed heroes. Doom has gotten into blows with most of Marvel’s heroes, but those battles aren’t really his focus. In the grander scheme of the Marvel Universe, he’s a well known dictator who has diplomatic immunity when he visits other countries, and thus can’t be arrested. He’s not just a foil for the heroes.

No, Doctor Doom deserves his own movie. A Doctor Doom film could tell the story of Victor Von Doom’s rise, fall, and subsequent rise. It could tell the story of his exile from Latveria, his mastery of science and magic, and then his return as a man in a metal mask. Again, Doom can be the protagonist without being a hero. A film that focused on Doom, and only on Doom, could have an epic narrative similar to Batman Begins.

If the film needs a villain, then Ivan Kander’s Von Doom proposes a terrific solution, through the use of time travel: use Victor as both the hero and the villain. Pit the younger Victor against the older Doctor Doom. There are lots of ways to make this work, and the Fantastic Four aren’t necessary for it. They can have their own new reboot — preferably one which has them battle against, say, the Mole Man —  and Doom can meet up with them in a sequel, if need be. But not yet.

 Get the Personality Right

Doctor Doom Marvel Victor Von Doom Fantastic Four Stan Lee

And finally, here’s another big one. Doom’s personality has to be right. He’s not a psychopath, not a cocky businessman who tells dumb jokes, none of that. The character as depicted in Von Doom is Doom as he should be.

Again, Doom doesn’t see himself as a villain. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the hero of the story, and he’s in a constant struggle to do the right thing, to take the path that he believes will make the world a better place. Doom has flaws, but insanity isn’t one of them. He’s arrogant, vain, and haughty. But he’s also a character that viewers should, at least on some level, want to root for — a character whom we should be saddened by when he starts making decisions that we know to be immoral, even if he is too stubborn to see it.

A solo Doctor Doom movie is a blockbuster success waiting to happen, and if the studios ever decide to pursue it, then Von Doom should be their primary inspiration.