Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Science Fiction Media and Films -- Some hidden gems

interstellar-movieWhile we're all holding our breath for the release of films Interstellar and Transcendence… let's skim a fewer lesser-known nuggets. But first a few announcements:

1) The Smithsonian Magazine in collaboration with the UC San Diego Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Nerd Nite, Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia, and the Smithsonian Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation PRESENTS

THE FUTURE IS HERE: Science meets Science Fiction
Imagination, Inspiration and Invention
MAY 16-18, 2014 Washington DC

Presenters include: Patrick Stewart, David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Brian Greene, Adam Steltzner, George Takei, Stewart Brand, Sara Seager, and The Mythbusters! For more information…. TICKETS ARE GOING FAST!


Culminating the first day, I'll have an onstage wrap-up discussion with the mighty string theorist and science popularizer/author Brian Greene.

2) Issues in Science and Technology --  a respected quarterly journal that explores the intersections of science, technology, society, and policy -- announces a science fiction contest! Winners will receive $1500. Throughout 2015, starting with the Winter volume, IST will publish one SF story per issue, on topics of broad societal interest. Published stories may be accompanied by a brief commentary or response written by a member of the National Academies. Co-sponsored by Arizona State University.

== Greene/(Green) Days ==

greene-hidden-realitySpeaking of the brilliant Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos as well as The Elegant Universe… watch this trailer for a magnificent dramatization of his children's book "Icarus at the edge of Time," narrated by John Lithgow with music by Philip Glass.

Further… when does a story about science become science fiction? On this episode of ScienceFriday, Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and theoretical physicist Brian Greene discuss how to spin a yarn about string theory or the Big Bang, without hyping or distorting the science. And novelist Ian McEwan, whose books touch on neurosurgery and quantum field theory, talks about what science offers to fiction.

Speaking of the verdant color, lately, at the LA Times Festival of Books, I was able to wrangle for Cheryl a seat to watch an interview with John Green. the effervescent impresario of Crash Course online tutorials, as well as a legendary series of entertaining pro-sense-and-science v-log rants, co-founder of Nerdfighters, and New York Times best-selling author of novels including The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska.

== Media and Movies! ==

UnknownKeep an eye open for John Harden's latest short film "NEW" which will soon be hitting the festival circuit, thanks to the generosity of online supporters like you. Moreover, get ready for a story that is poignant, stirring, but not stuck in the hackneyed rut of apocalyptic dystopias. "Cautionary tales have their place, of course, and I love those movies," says Harden, "but I think dystopian views of the future are just a trendy stock solution. It's not a good trend, because an unvaried diet of dystopias doesn't warn us, it just points us toward despair." Harden believes we need the utopias, too.

One review reads: "I think that's one reason that NEW got [an] endorsement from sci-fi author and futurist David Brin, back when we were launching our first online fundraiser," says Harden. "He and I are simpatico on that point—which is why my movie shows a lush green future of rolling hills and puffy white clouds." Plus some sadness… and some hope. Spread some yourselves.

And yipe... this trailer for Scarlet Johansson's coming film LUCY is amazing. How interesting that the human enhancement theme is on a roll. This one makes it a dive into psychic stuff, but I am willing to be entertained. Still, I enjoyed the intelligent film LIMITLESS (2011) as one of the few SF films "for grownups" ever made.

BBC-real-history-sfBBC America has just announced the 10 PM April 19th debut of a four-part mini-series titled The Real History of Science Fiction, which will feature films from Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Jurassic Park to Doctor Who, each program is packed with contributors behind these creations. There are even (gasp) a couple of authors.

Some details about Andy and Lana Wachowski's super secretive new Netflix series Sense8 have finally surfaced. And this new series, created in collaboration with Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski, sounds kind of incredible. It apparently concerns some topics that have been raised here before (and in certain novels): the cultural expansion of empathy horizons, from family to tribe to clan to nation to globe; as well as how technology is used to both unite us and divide us. Interesting themes, a promise of a show in conception already more sophisticated that most of the SF we get in media usually.

Black-MirrorAnyone know about BLACK MIRROR? It seems the top sci fi anthology show around and …well… my ulterior motive is to get them a copy of OTHERNESS. Lots of people think I have a dozen tales perfect for that kind of Twilight Zone treatment. Hint. Hint. (Some of my best haven't been collected yet!)

Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe is threatening to draw me in. Argh, like I needed more time sinks.

Terry Gilliam may be out of his mind -- and this trailer for his new quasi-sci-fi film, Zero Theorem, seems to indicate it's so -- but no one can deny he is the bravest film maker alive.

== Weird but a good effort ==

lem-futurological-congressIn his 1960s novel The Futurological Congress, the great science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem foresaw a worldwide chemical dictatorship run by the leading pharmaceutical companies, whose complete control of our emotions range from love to jealousy to fear. Director Ari Folman's new film adaptation of Lem's novel -- The Congress -- introduces the current cinematic technologies of 3-D and motion capture, which are then extrapolated to a future when actors -- in this case Robin Wright -- sell their personnas to become permanent studio franchises, completely created by AI.

The film, which won a number of festival awards, has no theatrical release scheduled in the U.S., alas.  My wife and I got to see it as guests of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival… for the price that I had to join a panel afterwards, with local luminaries (KPBS's Beth Accamondo) and animation experts, to discuss the movie. (I was the token sci fi author.)

congress-movie-folmanWe had mixed reactions.  I felt the middle third dragged and the animation was too repetitious -- too many lush, avatar-like flowering plants.  On the other hand, Robin Wright was terrific, playing an alternate version of herself.  And the poignant ending was very well-handled. I thought that Folman dealt with the "what is reality?" issues at least as well as any of the directors who have rendered Philip K. Dick tales.  All told, I recommend renting the DVD when you get a chance.


Doug S. said...

Apparently Transcendence has been getting terrible reviews - great visuals, but by the end the plot has devolved into gibberish.

Tony Fisk said...

It will be interesting to see whether 'Is' lives up to expectations.

Catching up on a few years worth of Girl Genius. Lift gas jokes aside, I think a live action movie would cost a lot in rubber suits and large gleaming dentures.

LarryHart said...

Not sure if this counts on-topic or not, but as the parent of a 12-year-old, I was looking forward to "Divergent", but found the movie disappointing. The plot was essentially unchanged from the book, but it somehow worked better as a book, but not so much as a movie. My sense was that watching the movie ammounted to watching someone read the book out loud--that it didn't substantially add anyting as film to the experience.

David Brin said...

"I am a misunderstood undiscovered demigod/chosen-one who is being hemmed-in by authority figures who demand that I crush my uniqueness into their square-peg system, and BOY are they gonna be sorry when I find my true (rebel) friends and discover my hidden/latent talents!"

Does that about sum up the core message of just about every teen exploitation film?

The irony is so rich that almost no one ever actually groks or discusses it. That preaching romantic versions of Suspicion of Authority does not make free thinkers. It does not make independent-minded citizens. It makes bitter, angry people who will march to whatever drummer feeds their resentment.

locumranch said...

The greatest threat to the future of the humanity may be, according to the trailers for both 'Transcendence' and 'Lucy', the continued presence of Morgan Freeman.

Although brilliant, Lem is a tough sell because his satire strikes too close to home, especially if you are familiar with psycho-pharmacology.

Terry Gilliam is 'crazy', a parodist extraordinaire, the fearless director of the underrated 'Brazil' and I look forward to his new production most of all.

Click on the link below to see the trailer for 'Me', a wonderful SNL parody of the film 'Her' (2013), starring Jonah Hill:

And, finally, don't be so hard on the adolescent trope of the "I am a misunderstood undiscovered demigod/chosen-one who is being hemmed-in by authority". It's not about 'suspicion of authority'.

We ALL feel that way until society deems us sufficiently 'mature' to apply our 'special purpose' to the appropriate 'peg' or 'hole'.

It's all about sex.


David Brin said...

Jiminy. locum, keep eating/drinking whatever you've been taking, lately.

Robert said...

By the way, Dr. Brin, given your scientific focus toward the stars... I'd like your input on a picture that is making the rounds on the collision between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. There's a version up on Wikipedia as well.

The problem is, in four billion years, where will the Sol system be in its revolution around the galactic core? The image may thus be inaccurate.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rob H. That's super cool animation of what will happen in 4 billion years, when the Andromeda Galaxy collides with ours. Plus some highly evocative artists, conceptions of what the sky might look like, from the surface of Earth about that time. Of course, it takes our solar system over 200 million years to orbit the center of the Milky Way, so these scenes would be give or take a hundred million or so!

PS As an undergrad I sat in the back at Caltech when the very first computer graphic of galaxies colliding was presented. Immensely crude by today's standards! And we were all enthralled.

LarryHart said...


And, finally, don't be so hard on the adolescent trope of the "I am a misunderstood undiscovered demigod/chosen-one who is being hemmed-in by authority". It's not about 'suspicion of authority'.

We ALL feel that way until society deems us sufficiently 'mature' to apply our 'special purpose' to the appropriate 'peg' or 'hole'.

It's all about sex.


But snark aside, it's a metaphor for teenagers feeling like they don't belong until finding that they do, and in fact do very well. In the heyday of the 1980s, the "X-Men" comics got huge by making "mutant" into said metaphor. But the story is as old as "The Ugly Duckling."

Tony Fisk said...

Even as old as Moses.

David Brin said...

& rudolf the radioactive-nose Caribou, who is only liked because of his mustang powers

Paul451 said...

"The problem is, in four billion years, where will the Sol system be in its revolution around the galactic core? The image may thus be inaccurate."

In four billion years, the Earth won't be habitable. Within a billion years, the sun will be bright enough to trigger a run-away greenhouse effect. By 4 billion years, the oceans (and atmosphere) will have likely boiled away. Mercury, via Venus. So the position of Earth within its galactic year probably doesn't matter much.

But I would expect more star formation during the early stages of the collision, when Andromeda's outer gas nebula reach the Milky Way's.


(Also about 200-250myrs per rotation. So the sequence is 17 "GalYears" long. In theory the images could be taken from amongst the 17+ times our solar system is in the same position relative to Andromeda's approach.)

LarryHart said...

Serious question--as one who is not familiar with the science of galaxy collisions...

Would a collision of two galaxies be destructive in its impact? Or do the stars just pass by each other and they keep going on their merry way, probably in greatly-altered orbits, but otherwise intact?

If our galaxy were colliding with another right now, how would we earthbound human beings be affected?

David Brin said...

LarryHart the main effect is gravitational. Very few actual stellar collisions but lots of near passes at high velocities and stars sent hurtling in all directions. Many of them tossed out of both galaxies and many solar systems disrupted. Many others with they comet clouds perturbed enough to rain lots of comets onto planets.

The second largest effect would be gas cloud collisions creating starbursts of new stars, many of them very large and resulting in supernovas.

So sure, few collisions, but a rough time for the unlucky.

David Brin said...