Nostromo: Joseph Conrad and Ridley Scott. Plus Savage Journal Entry 37.

I recently finished reading Joseph Conrad’s novel Nostromo. Why? Well, first of all I’ve like what I’ve read of Joseph Conrad. Second, there’s this little film you may have heard of, by the name of Alien, directed by one Ridley Scott. The name of the spaceship upon which the action takes place is Nostromo. Naturally I felt some curiosity as to why the ship bore that name. What is it about the Joseph Conrad book that lends itself to naming a cargo ship in a sci-fi horror flick?

“My answer?” you may ask. Well, I still don’t really know.

Nostromo takes place in a fictional South American country. Nostromo is the name of one of the characters, an Italian seaman by the name of Giovanni Batista Fidanza. He is employed as Capataz de Cargadores, or head of the longshoremen for the local English-run steamship company. I looked it up: in Italian, the word “Nostromo” means “shipmate” or “boatswain.” And, even with my year of Italian in college a distant, fading memory, I could get that “Nostromo” could be considered a contraction of “nostro uomo” — Our Man. If you read the novel you will recognize that makes internally consistent narrative sense, as Giovanni Batista is considered an ultra-competent incorruptible man, relied upon unquestioningly by all the local authority figures. He is called upon to carry an important cargo on a dark night through dangerous circumstances.

Okay, I can see some superficial grounds for the ship’s name. A working seaman, relied upon by corporate powers, carrying a cargo bearing some fraught, menacing subtext. But is there more to it? Jospeh Conrad doesn’t offer the knee-jerk, anti-corporate, anti-capitalist message of 1970s (and 80s and 90s…and you get the picture) Hollywood films. He presents a balanced picture of European and American business and religious interests in South America, offering sympathetic portraits of most people, classes, and competing interests. Nostromo does come, irrationally, to believe he’d been betrayed by the powers that be, that he’d alway been used to further the interests of the rich. There might be some something there, considering Weyland-Yutani, the commoditization of xenomorphs, and the…rather cavalier treatment of employees.

I just don’t really know. Ridley Scott, apparently, is a Conrad aficionado. I knew that the Duelists (Scott’s first film?) is based on a Conrad story. Doubtless the name of Ripley’s vessel is deliberate and meant something to Scott. (By the way, the town where much of the action of Nostromo occurs is called Sulaco. Fans of James Cameron’s follow up to Alien might recognize that name. My guess is that is merely Cameron tipping his hat to Scott, nothing deeper.)

Thoughts? Insights?

Okay, now for the self-promotion portion of today’s post. I noted the other day a large influx of ratings for my novel Under Strange Suns. It is gratifying that people seem to like it. You might also. Please pick up a copy. And — assuming you like it — leave a review.

With that distasteful business out of the way, here is the next Savage Journal entry.



Any action, dear diary, is fraught with the potential of unexpected peril.  It matters not how insignificant the act is, the law of unanticipated consequences remains immutable.  One could sit and meditate on possible outcomes, following the branching tree of likely reactions, responses, and results stretching into the murky future.  Such an exercise would obviate any action, the interminable calculation would result in effective paralysis.  But even if some mental giant ran the grist of probability through the his godlike mill and reached an unassailable conclusion, an unintended side effect would nonetheless occur.  It just can’t be escaped.

For example, before I left my temporary shelter in the outlaws’ cave I harvested the brigands’ heads.   I calculated as follows: these fellows must live somewhere near potential victims; they must have robbed, murdered, or in some way inconvenienced one or more of these potential victims; anyone bringing evidence to these potential victims that these brigands had  been rendered incapable of any further victimizing would be gratefully received and rewarded.

And so it proved. After the initial wariness wore off – a wariness inevitably resulting from a fearsomely ragged barbarian striding into town with a bulging sack of heads dangling at his hip – I was fed and housed, given a certain cautious acclaim, and even a handful of the local copper and silver currency taken as a collection from grateful villagers.

What I hadn’t foreseen was that in such a sparsely populated area at least a few of the brigands would prove to be local boys gone bad.  And a couple of them would have living relatives who begrudged my rough justice – “begrudged” being in this instance a euphemism for “tried to kill me.”

So I was forced to leave a couple more heads behind me tonight before I hightailed it out of the village.  One consequence of my entering a town that isn’t generally unanticipated, dear diary, is that I’m likely to leave it in a hurry.

Magnus Stoneslayer


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *