Graham Gentz and Sean Simpson discuss Toons in the WWII, cosmological truths, and murder mysteries of godlike animators.
I love planetary romance.
No, not like that.
Yeah. That’s more like it.
So why then?
Planetary romance is about daring high adventure set amongst exotism both interstellar and alien. What it is not, however, is anything remotely scientific. It gives it a noble dreaminess that hard-nosed sci-fi tends to not. There’s crossover with pulp action and Heroic Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery. But the little dash of foreign planets and mythical technology and genre blending gives it a unique kind of appeal. For straight fantasy fans, you have Tolkien-eque-High-Fantasy-D&D-Warcraft-Elves-and-Dwarves influences. But that seems so well traveled. But for the pulpier stuff, I always liked John Carter more than Conan. Some impossible Mars built from dreamy wonderment was just too charming to pass up.
So what to do with it. “Swords and Planets” has been described as a static genre with consciously borrows from itself. This seems to be true with so many sorts of fiction. How do you give the audience what they want in a way they don’t expect? Noir suffers from this as well, unfortunately. What it gets by on is just how dang cool it is.
Everybody always looks so awesome in it:
But then how do you keep it fresh? “Chinatown” is just better written than anything like it. “Dark City” plunges straight into convention with a bit of genre-blending. “Insomnia,” I would argue, does the best at playing with expectations of the genre as a whole– by setting a neonoir north of the Arctic Circle, it goes against the tradition of noir always being set at night (again, see: “Dark City”) to match the bleak moral tone of the genre, but the disorientation and fatigue it provides the protagonist is both moral and physical.
Can I do something something similar with Planetary Romance?
Or pulp for that matter? Or do I just embrace the genre for what it is and assume that if it’s written by me, it’ll naturally start to mutate according to my own personal tastes.
She had been dead for far too long when they found her.
She laid a stringy mess along a concrete ditch in Bockner Park. She wasn’t hidden or stashed. The ends of her feet sprawled pointed and angular like a dancer. Her mouth agape, in the shape of a last sound. The air was wet and had weight, a touched ugliness that made the skin bump and eyes blink too quickly and irregular.
James had accounted this for the reason she had not been discovered sooner. People had just naturally stayed away. He hadn’t worked a beat since his separation, but he still had friends inside who remembered his name more than his deeds and called him when they found his wife.
He had been told she’d gotten clean she’d left him, her parents ushering her away at long last. In isolation and loneliness, the drugs had only made it worse instead of filling the space. He was a Fuck-up and he knew it. But she was hope. Even though the empty nights had bleed together and dragged on, he was glad she might’ve been the one to pull though.
He hadn’t hated her for starting him. She was the Fuck-up when they’d met, confused, angry, and desperate. She wanted so badly not to go to jail. But he didn’t let her try. And he remembered her.
They did everything together. Love, they called it. The drugs seemed natural too. And why not? They helped each other. And that was all that mattered.
“Come on, James, that’s all we can do for now. I’m sorry.”
This was a new way to see her, pale and displaced with her beauty atrophied and buried. The texture of her wasn’t right, skin gelatinous and moist, locked and frozen and hopeless. The eyes were unavoidable, their emotions confused and wild. There was an ugly depth that begged to be stretched as far as it could go.
James eventually blinked, but it hurt.
“Yeah. Sure.” James’ voice crawled out of his throat, foreign and hollow.
“I’m sorry.” The uniform was young and well kept, everything about him reeked of youth and trim sanitation.
The park glowed with the pulse of unnatural light from cop cares, street lamps and looming neon signs further above. Trees were thin scattered and bare, though the light seemed to have difficulty reaching the ground.
James chocked his coat collar and pulled himself up to his full height. He stepped absently in front of uniforms wide escort and allowed himself to be drawn past the quieter backlines of the police gauntlet. Bodies muttered faintly as he passed and James gave no indication that it bothered him or even that he noticed. James lifted the last yellow plastic ribbon and dutifully deposited himself into the parking lot. The uniform said one last thing to him, but it was muffled and distant. James simply turned and passionately pushed his way through the small crowd that had formed. His eyes floated to the tops of the faces, trying to avoid their gaze. But he swore aloud when he noticed the older couple at the back, holding each other, distraught.
His gaze met with the woman’s and pain and fury blazed towards him. Her grip tightened on her husband.
“The Fuck are you doing here, James,” she spat. It was a statement, not a question– a cold, steely threat that lunged at him over the hum and thump of everything around them.
“Mary, you don’t understand–” James began, hoarsely.
“FUCK you, this is your fault. I knew you weren’t gone for good. Did you get her hooked again?”
“No, Mary. I haven’t seen her in months.”
“I told you to stay the fuck away from our daughter, James. You piece of shit. The Fuck have you done.” She was crying and suddenly burst, her words distorting into a piercing wail sounding more animal than human.
James stood there motionless and stoned, trying to piece together her emotion like she echoing from the bottom of a canyon. He tensed his knuckles, half thinking to touch her in some semblance of comfort.
Her husband gripped her tightly against her thrashing and the emotional crush of the world outside their embrace. He held her strong and rigid, letting the waves of pain and disbelief buffet his wife.
There was a moment of meeting of the two men, of understanding and maltreated pain that was voiced by the silent emotion of their eyes.
James said nothing. He got nothing in return.
In the lacerating cries, James was given the proper allowance to retreat from pain allowed to writhe and toss, unlike his own.
Instead, James found only nihility in his ineffectiveness.
He simply drove. Blank, splotchy sections of light and shadow giving no substance to him. Sounds of the city seemed distant or unimportant. One block after another passed similar and meaningless. His body shook with no understanding of its state or presence. The more he forgot, the more he shock. And he was comforted vaguely by the idea that it didn’t matter.
At a diner, he drank black coffee. He didn’t really like coffee. But it was something to do and something to feed his hands and keep him from scratching his eyes. He scrapped the inside of his mug again and again, stirring hypnotically, even though he had added nothing to it that required dispersal in the gummy liquid. He let the spoon fall and settle, each heavy twitch seeming to stiffen the syrup even more.
Leaving the mug behind, he stepped out into the cold to smoke. He puffed handlessly, his palms shoved deeply into his pockets, hot, visible breath escaping his mouth just as voluminously as the malignant smoke.
There was a sudden screech of tires as a car screened around a corner, fish-tailing slightly as zoomed past. James looked up to the wide-open glass of the diner to see four off uniformed cops laughing and seeming to pay no mind. He withdrew the wet unfinished cigarette from his mouth and stamped the cherry out on the diner wall and left it to smolder in the dirt.
He probably would have hated driving if spent the time to think about it. Everyone of his movements was automatic, his eyes sudden and bloodshot, doing all they could just to stare. The weight rasped somewhere near the back of his eyes, somewhere deep in his head. The sounds of city outside the confines of his car were too beyond his stiffness to matter. There were razing shouts and there was clicking rubber in a contrast of pounding light that wore each sheet of steam and fog in a blanket of nighttime gloom.
The noises grew angrier and most grating, but James just stares at the sour lights that flooding over his dash. He took the moment to slowly drift his car over the dividing line in the middle of the road. The pounding seemed to stop for a moment, before the lancing headlights caught him in the eyes and he drifted back over the line to his side of the road.
No one seemed to notice.
The apartment where he stayed was a shithole. He snapped the hanging naked bulb on, the only light source in the single room. His bed was simply a mattress wrapped loosely in one sheet, and he’d found a set of loveseats, both torn and stained. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of something foul and unseen. Clamoring over the forgotten refuse, James moved stiffly to his bedside drawer, knocking over a series of clinking, empty pint liquor bottles and collapsed momentarily on the side of his mattress, which sagged. He waited there, hearing at last the faint sirens and gunning car engines. Grasping through the drawer, James searched half-desperately. Finally, he withdrew a length of yellowed rubber tubing and one needle, cloudy from repeated use. He placed them on the curled sheet next to himself. He slipped his hand to a tight under hang within the wood panel, removing a crumbled plastic baggy.
James snatched the tubing and needle and hurled them with sudden force crashing into the piles of refuse that surrounded him.
The dangling light swung wildly casting harsh shadows on anything it dared touch. James watched the shapes dance, stabbing their forms about the room demanding greedily from him.
Laura. She was dead. It had been his fault. His fault her final moments of were exposed and twisted in the open air. James couldn’t shake the way she has fallen, her frame crumble like the trash that surrounded him.
Trash like him.
James then searched once again into the depths of the drawer, fighting through the piles in the half darkness. At long last he removed what he was looking for.
James dropped the clip, catching it in his palm. It was loaded. He clicked it back into place. He pulled back the slide, holding it there for a moment, feeling the springs working against his grip. He let it fall back into place with a crisp clunk.
James let his hand sag, feeling the weight of the gun in his grip.
His gaze wandered.
He looked to the closed window in the corner of the room, only the faintest smoky light entering into his apartment from it.
Haphazardly, James threw the gun behind him on the bed and stepped to the window. Digging his fingers into the cracks of the glass, he slowly opened it with considerable effort. Sounds of the city flooded into the room: honking horns, the dull roar of human chatter, the occasional gunshot.
James crawled through the space and out onto the fire escape.
He peered over the each of the railing.
It was a long, dark way down.
Wind whipped at his hair.
He closed his eyes.
James tried to block out the sensations of the outside world. He closed off the noise as best he could, reveling in this momentary control. He imagined the rippling wind as the faint kiss of grace, soothing and tending to him. He felt his heartbeat slow.
He placed his foot up on the railing, letting the weight of the metal comfort him, letting it support him.
And the phone in his apartment rang.
James opened his eyes.
The phone continued to ring.
James slid him foot from the railing. The insistent whirl of the ring filtered out into the rest of the city noise. James stepped back into his apartment and lifted the receiver.
James stood in the far corner of the morgue, trying to look at anything but the body at the lay on the slab just beside him. The fluorescent lighting hit the edges of the pale paisley shapes on the floor and ceiling tiles, giving them a faded and absent quality.
Frank worked messily face-first in another autopsy.
“I don’t know why you assholes keep calling about this shit,” James croaked. He avoided looking at Frank, stubbornly keeping his hands as deeply in the pockets of his long coat as possible.
“Well,” Frank began, raising his head from the body of his work. “First off. Maybe you might be under the impression you’re some worthless shitbag. But there are some of us that know better.”
This struck something low inside James, something primal and ugly. He felt the wind ripping at the tips of his hair as he struck back.
“And how’s that, huh?” James’ venom began to boil. “You don’t know anything about me, you don’t know anything about my wife, or what we did. You don’t know fucking anything.”
“Well I know more than you at least,” Frank straightened himself and leveled his eyes with James’.
“And what the fuck is that.”
“Well for one thing,” Frank produced a stack of white-sheeted reported clipped together. “She was clean.”
James tried to hear the words, but failed.
Frank began to thumb at the reports. “Clean. Not a drop of anything in her whole system. No heroin. No coke. Not even caffeine. Notta.”
James snatched the stack from Frank’s fingers, ripping one page back after another, scanning the words madly.
“I don’t believe it,” he sputtered at last. “She was a junkie before we met. She was a junkie when he got married.” His eyes tightened on Frank. “She was a fucking junkie til the day she died.” He curled back the papers on top of each other and threw the stack at Frank, which he awkwardly and instinctively caught.
“Well it’s there, James.” Frank smoothed the crumbled pages, mostly ineffectually, the stiff folded end poking up at odd angles. “Look. We all heard the stories about you and her. We just watched it happen, hoping it would get better. Even the higher ups just did what they had to. It’s not like you were corrupt or anything. You just.” Frank struggled to find the right words. “Hit a rough patch.”
James stared blanked at him. “…a rough patch.”
James let the tension grow in the silence.
“You don’t know shit,” he seethed.
“I know she didn’t OD, James, that’s for damn sure.”
“Then how how’d she die,” James said flatly.
“I’m not sure yet.” Frank peered into the reports. “Organ failure? Most of the tests aren’t back yet.”
“You’re fucking worthless then, aren’t you,” James growled. “Did you even see her? The way she was found?”
“I hardly leave the morgue to go home, let alone go into the field.” Frank smacked his lips. :Just the dead for me.” He prodded the last page of the report. “Though from the looks of it, it was the fastest concluded crime scene ever. Usually they’re more deliberate when it comes to dead bodies, even if they don’t suspect foul play.” Frank looked up to see James physically there, but absent. He careened his head around to try and watch his gaze. “…James…?” He waved. “James.”
He’d gone pale and rigid and his hands became slightly to twitch.
“No one wanted to be there,” echoed the foreign hollow voice of James. “They couldn’t get out of there fast enough.” He locked eyes with Frank. “It was like it was the air, but something more primitive. More primal.” His mouth dried, and he licked his chapped lips. Then turned sharply and moved to the exit doors.
“Where are you going?” Frank called after him as he went.
“I’m going back.”
Traffic cleared as he drove closer to the park. The car sputtered more as went, the combustion straining to fail as it approached. James could feel the dripping creep pelt his body. He knew what it was like to hate himself. Hope was already drained. This was something different, something external.
But Bockner Park waited.
The park had never sat comfortably on the end of Pine Arch Row. The stained brick and splitting slats of its public bathrooms and maintenance sheds suggested something that stared back, asymmetrical faces of bleached wood and jagged windows. Tuffs of growth were rare and discolored by no phenomenon that could be explained. Everything creaked without wind and refracted the light that slid into the open grounds. The atmosphere was thick and the air retained years of scent and filth that had mired it. Something resembling a grated boundary line had likely once stood, but it was far gone as whomever the Bockners themselves had been.
James hadn’t taken it fully in before, the baleful crispness folded into everything. It was empty of life and sound. The crowds had long lost their curiosity and the police too remained no longer than they had to. James left the confines of his car and, stepping onto the crunching grounds, he let the heaviness permeate him. Each step he took deeper into grounds drew more weight and slowed progress. His body ached. His breath was short. He grew sluggish and had to consciously lift his foot by force of will, his reflexes fettered away.
As he drew to the spot where he had seen his wife, he saw she was not the only one. Like twigs trapped in a drain, he saw them. The body of a young woman, the body of gaunt boy. There were dozens more. Each flung on the ground with the same gnarled disarray.
James lowered himself into the concrete trap with the rest.
“I don’t know what you are,” he said aloud. “Or if you even care about words or talk or anything. But I know you’re here.”
James, one by one, began to gather the bodies and carry them out and back into the night. When all were gone, taken away, beyond the edges of the park, James returned.
Alone at the bottom of the pit, he carefully laid himself down to be forgotten.
The Passing of Mary of Egypt
EXT. SMOKEY CITYSCAPE – NIGHT
Cold moonlight illuminates black skyscrapers. Scattered
Gothic crucifixes top scattered roofs. WE PULL DOWN pass the
windows, some lit, others dark. At the street level, suited
men, hands shoved deep in pants pockets, toss cigarettes
into the street. Steam rises from dingy gutters.
Mary? Heh… Yeah. I knew Mary.
The theme from “Chinatown” swells.
It was about 344 or 421 BCE. Hard
to remember that far back. A
Tuesday I think. Yeah…
One of the cigarettes sits still smoking in the gutter. The
whine of a police siren wanes in the air.
Hard to believe, but I was on the
force once. Back in Palestine. I
was a kid then. Played it by the
books. Kept my nose clean. And you
know, it paid off. I was at the top
of my game. Better than most. The
best. Everything was going just
HARD CUT TO:
INT. POLICE CHIEF’S OFFICE – DAY
A young, fresh ZOSIMUS sits as the POLICE CHIEF towers over
his desk, bringing his FIST down on it with a bang.
–perfect! You think you’re so
damned amazing. What, the rules
don’t apply to you? Is that it?
Chief, it’s not like that–
Everyday it’s something else with
you, Zosimus! Day in, day out.
Every goddamn day, and frankly I’m
at my end here.
It’s not true, Chief! I’m out there
on the beat every night! I’m out
there til dawn. I know every inch
of this city. I do the procedures,
I know the rights, I–
What are you, a goddamn monk? Gimme
a break. You know what your problem
is, kid? You think you got nothing
left to learn. Well lemme tell you
somethin. You ain’t seen nothin.
You work this beat year after year
like I have, and Lord willing–
this city’ll surprise you. By God
she will. That’s why, kid, I’m
–Indefinitely! And I don’t wanna
hear any argument outta you. We’re
Zosimus slowly stands, trying to keep his composure. He
turns, placing his fedora back on his head. He turns the
door handle, but before he leaves, he faces the Chief.
Isn’t there anything I can do,
Chief? Anything at all?
It’d take a miracle, kid.
EXT/INT. ZOSIMUS’S PI OFFICE – NIGHT
The police sirens in the distance wail wildly. WE PULL
THROUGH a third story window of a dark brick building and
past the fire escape–
And that’s how I ended up in
Jordan. Ugly pit that it is. There
was a lot of ritual there I had to
work out. This place had a psalm or
two to tell, I can tell you that
much. Little did I know I’d already
passed the river Jordan years and
–to wind down a stark, prim hallway. At the end is a door
with a glass window, bearing thick, arching white letters:
“Abbot Zosimus” and below it: “Private Eye”.
The door swings open and we see a different Zosimus seated
at his desk. He wears a faded grey suit and a crumpled tie.
He grimaces as a cigarette hangs from the corner of his
mouth, his gaze distant, and his face scratched with
Zosimus tosses his fedora onto his desk and pulls out a
bottle of scotch and pours himself a glass. He slammed it
back in one go. He pours himself another.
Yes, things weren’t as enlightened
as I woulda wished, all in all.
Times were stuff. Sin was at an
all-time high. I was a dead-end
mug, in a dead-end joint, with no
leads and nowhere to go but down.
But that’s. When she walked in.
The office door swings open. Zosimus looks up from his desk.
His eyes go wide. The cigarettes drops from his mouth.
He sees a naked, atrophying old woman with wrinkling
leathery brown skin hunched in the doorway: MARY.
She appears to have trouble standing up completely straight
and her impossibly long greasy hair dangles nastily about
her thin, starving frame.
Mary leans on the door frame, one hand against it, one
sensually at her hip. She peels her lips back over her teeth
in a awkward attempt to make a coy, seductive smile.
Sexy saxophone music plays.
She was pure sex. A bombshell in
the flesh. Legs, face, smile. The
works. Though there was danger in
eyes… And her thighs…
Mary, broken-backed, sanders over Zosimus’s desk.
Why, you handmaid of God…
Abbot Zosimus. Have pity on me. For
God’s sake… I beg you.
Mary sits on his desk, legs crossed, facing away from him.
Zosimus, not breaking his gaze from her, opens a silver
cigarette case and offers it to her. Mary carefully takes
one. He lights it.
Well. What’s a saint like you doing
in a life like this?
Mary drags deeply and flutters her eyelashes, then coughs
aggressively. She starts to shiver and Zosimus takes off his
coat and drapes it over her shoulders. Mary pulls it tightly
O Zosimus. Thank you.
How… how do you know my name? I
don’t believe we’ve met, or that
I’d heard tell of you before.
Perhaps… it’s maybe just
possible… you’ve had some sorta.
Enlightenment of divine foreknowledge
of me? …eh? …baby?
He leads in romantically and dramatically.
It was on the door.
He stops abruptly.
Why o Mr. Zosimus–
Please. Call me Zossty.
Alright. Zossty. You might ask. Was
there so great a need for you to
see me, a sinful woman, or what do
you wish to have from me or to
Dollface, with talk like that you
make me wanna prostrate. And I
could prostrate all night long.
You’re a good man, Zossty.
You really know how to make a girl
float on air.
I could stare slack-jawed at cha fly
all day, toots. But why don’t ya
level with me down on Earth.
Well. I know, sir. Zossty. I am a
sinful woman. I’ve been running a
long time. And I’m tired of runnin.
I’ll tell you everything.
Mary weeps. Zosimus produces a handkerchief and hands it to
Thank you, Zossty. You are very
kind. But you see. It happened so
long ago. All the way off in Egypt,
where my family is from. In the
twelfth year of my age it shames me
now to recount how in the beginning
I first defiled my maidenhood and
how unceasingly and licentious I
lay enslaved to the vices of
desires for sin.
Twelve? Holy molly. Hey, I believe
in gettin up early in the morning,
but jeez. Impatient much?
Have pity on me. For all of
seventeen years I roamed openly
through the crowd of the
population, lying in the fire of
Seventeen years? And it took you
*this* long to find me?
But I didn’t want to stay. I had
big dreams! I wanted to see the
world, Zossty! I just knew it would
be so big and wide and full of
wonderful people! But I had no
fare-money to go. So I used what I
could. I did what I… had to…
Sounds like quite a trip for
everyone involved. Now forgive me,
sugar tits. I ain’t tryin to be
rude. But if you had no
“fare-money”. And were sleepin
around like you were, why not just
choke it up to the world’s oldest
profession and charge for what you
were doin. Just imagine the dough.
I desired that they might rush to
me the more numerously without
payment, my purpose being to
satisfy the more easily the
disgraceful desires of my sexual
Oh. I uh. Well. …damn.
I marvel how the sea endured and
put up with those wicked lusts of
mine. I who led so many souls into
the trap of perdition.
I wouldn’t so hard on yourself. It
really doesn’t sound all that bad
to be honest.
And when I finally reached my
destination in Jerusalem, the
church doors! They refused to move
for me. And I was shut from their
Also. Doesn’t really sound all that
I have been living a meager life
since. I roam the streets. Alone.
Leading me to cross the river
The river Jordan…
I panhandle by the freeway. There I
received three pennies, with which
I bought myself three loaves. From
that time until this day, I have
kept apart, always fleeing from
people, since they may be the ones
trying to eat my brain if I let
them get too close. Just waiting
and hoping for my God, who delivers
from the danger of this world all
those who turn to him.
How many years have you been living
on the streets, then?
It has been forty-seven years,
according to my reckonings.
Really. Uh. Huh. And what could you
find for yourself to eat, or with
what things did you feed yourself
Uh. The *loaves.* I had like. Three
of them. Remember?
Oh right. Yeah.
So for seventeen years, I–
No, seventeen years. I’ve told you
But I thought you said–
–It’s all the same, Zossty? Don’t
you get that. Things are different
here. …past the Jordan river.
The Jordan river…
Yes, Zossty. And as precious as our
time has been together. I must go.
Mary turns and makes for the door.
Wait! …I didn’t catch your name.
Mary looks over her shoulder with one eye.
I never gave it.
Mary exits, leaving Zosimus staring outwardly, as wide-eyed
and gaping-mouthed as when she walked in.
The Chinatown theme starts to swell.
We PULL AWAY through the window to the cityscape.
I never did see her alive again.
But there were rumors. I tracked
down everything I could about her.
Every scrape of information I could
find in any back alley or dive bar or
jive babble. Some said she was just
crazy. Others said she was divine.
Still others said a lioness came
and dug her a grave by padding
around in the sand for a while. But
it doesn’t really matter. Sarge was
right. The world’s just too big for
a little man like me. Forever
something beyond you. But I’ll
always remember her passing.
Mary… Yeah, I remember Mary.
EXT. CHINATOWN STREET – NIGHT
Zosimus stands looking whimsically and sad off into the
distance. A RANDOM NOIR DUDE walks over to him, placing a
hand on his shoulder, and walking Zosimus away.
RANDOM NOIR DUDE
Forget it, Zosimus. It’s
They stop walking.
…who the hell are you?
Random Noir Dude shrugs. They walk off down street together,
passing a sign that reads “Jordan River ->” and disappear into the distance.