Friday, May 02, 2014

Defying Godzilla… and other "games"!

First some sci fi news! Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson's Worlds hit bookstores on April 30th.  Terrific stories dedicated to one of the greatest of the greats.

== Just ASKING to be stomped…. ==

Okay, I'm about to risk all by bearding the fanboys in their dens. Bets whether I'll survive?

Godzilla-movie-2014To be clear, I will go to see the new Godzilla flick. I hope it is well-done and I'll turn down as many dials as I must, in order to enjoy all the roaring and stomping and useless-shooting that's a metaphor for the futility of war… or the futility of all human endeavor.

Still, let me turn to all you guys out there who are going nuts over this prospect, and ask… really? I mean….

…I mean it looks like just another plodding, invulnerable, tail-dragging act-of-nature. An unpleasant guest. A bully, void of any personality or motive, other than malevolence, trashing up the place in revenge for our effrontery for daring to develop technology, for all its plusses and minuses. A stomping expression of the modern-cowardly obsession with apocalypse and the simplistic balm of hopelessness.

Do I hate all monsters? Nonsense! Frankenstein's creation is a tear-jerker. And I howl in fury at what Hollywood has done, lately, to the lycanthrope wolf-man, who used to be the bourgeoise, middle class monster! Between the effete, lordly vampires and the innumerable, shambling, proletarian zombies, there was the story of a guy with a mortgage and a wife and kids who won't listen… and a monthly dread that came with every full moon… what a story! Ruined by recent, coke-addled producers, who turned wolf man into a pack of cheap, white-trash versions of vampires.  So sure, I like monsters.  But I'm picky.

Godzilla-1998-emmerichHeck, Godzilla can be cool! The very first version had some genuine pathos. The 1998 Roland Emmerich version (with Matthew Broderick) featured a female titan who -- while huge and lithe and deadly -- was also vulnerable, courageous and FAST! And even kinda sympathetic, in her own way. She was in and part of nature, not a stomping-cranky, invulnerable, walking-destroyer-god metaphor.

Oh, sure, the overall Godzilla 1998 flick kinda sucked as cinema. But the monster? She lived by her wits and had understandable motives. The audience felt conflicted and even came to view her as a tragic underdog.

So this new guy-in-a-rubber-suit can take hits from nukes? Where's the fun in that? Yaaaaaawn….

== Grousing about even MORE popular culture! ==

Dystopian-Teen-FictionAfter Hunger games and Divergent and Ender's Game and Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, is it possible to see a theme? Other than a fetish for the word "game"? How about this:

"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 produce independent-minded citizens, capable of using the good parts of society while fixing or deconstructing the bad. What it tends to produce is bitter, indignant people who will march to whatever drummer feeds their resentment and attack whichever "elite" they are propagandized into blaming for their own limitations -- while thus serving the purposes of whatever elite is pulling the strings on their own side.

Oh, noteworthy: this trait encompasses both left AND right.

Is there anyone in mass media, anymore, creating lessons that preach: "Buck up! Stop whimpering. And stop expecting super-powers. You are merely above-average and if you want to change people, you're gonna need help from a lot of other above-average folks.

"Go Change what's bad. And start by admitting some folks already did some of that, before you. And there are aspects of the society you live in -- including some of your institutions and neighbors -- that might be smart enough to discuss and negotiate solutions with you. They might even lend a hand, when you find yourself battling evil."

Do you know anyone saying that?

Nah. See this satirized beautifully here: It's a bunch of years after the war and everything is different. And my own rumination (The Idiot Plot) on why these tedious cliches hang around with such tenacity.

== Sometimes, there are better stories… ==

Three-spartaJust out, a graphic novel called "THREE" that takes a harsh look at the realm of Sparta, the city state that Frank Miller glorified in "300," without ever mentioning the wretchedly gruesome nature of the Spartan regime, or the blinding hypocrisy of crying "freedom!" while running one of the worst slave states in human history.

In "THREE," Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly follow a trio of helot slaves who get fed-up, rebel, and are chased across Greece by an army of three hundred brutal pursuers.

I haven't acquired the book, yet, but the sample illustrations are excellent and the rebuttal to Miller's outrageously sick "classic" is long past-due. (See my own dissection of the relentless lies and turpitude of "300" here.)

And speaking of questioning cliches… Now available online in English translation, at last, is “The Last Ringbearer,” a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (from “The Lord of the Rings”) and told from the point of view of the losers. The novel was written by Kirill Yeskov, a Russian paleontologist, and published to acclaim in his homeland in 1999. It dives into some of the questions that I explored in my infamous Salon article on Salon: "J.R.R. Tolkien vs the Modern Age" in which I merely explore (with some respect) the conflicted relationship between Tolkien and the modern world, and speculate entertainingly about what might have been. Yeskov takes this idea farther!

Forever-Watch-ramirezAnd while we're touting better stories… the SyFy channel will turn "James S.A. Corey's" Expanse space opera novels (Leviathan WakesAbbaddon's Gate) into a "Game of Thrones in space." Forgiving that bit of salesmanship bluster… I can't wait.

Want good things to read? The Forever Watch by David Ramirez is a vivid and imaginative and solidly crafted novel about crime and danger and deep, deep secrets aboard a generation ship carrying the last of humanity to a distant star. Recommended.

And yes… you… want… to… read...

== "Nonfiction Sci Fi" ==

HUman-Big-data-smolinRick Smolan sent me two wonderful volumes.  Truly amazing and beautiful coffee table books. The Human Face of Big Data and From Alice to Ocean: Alone across the outback. Spectacular photography accompanies very insightful explorations of two very different topics. Fabulous gifts for those you actually like, who have birthdays coming.

Just plain musical fun: Salut Salon "Wettstreit zu viert."

And my colleague George Dvorsky's new course -- 
Introduction to Transhumanism -- introduces the philosophy and socio-cultural movement that is transhumanism. "We will survey its core ideas, history, technological requirements, potential manifestations, and ethical implications. Topics to be discussed will include the various ways humans have tried to enhance themselves throughout history, the political and social aspects of transhumanism, the technologies required to enhance humans (including cybernetics, pharmaceuticals, genetics, and nanotechnology), and the various ways humans may choose to use these technologies to modify and augment their capacities (including radical life extension, intelligence augmentation, and mind uploading). Along the way we will discuss social and ethical problems that might be posed by human enhancement."  Visit George's column on iO9.

== Brinstuff ==

Here are details re my two separate trips to Santa Clara, this month:

May 9 -  4pm speech about transparency, sousveillance and Internet transformations - at the  2nd Cyber Surveillance Conference (The Internet Society), at Mayer Theater, Santa Clara University.  Open to the public.

May 21 -  4pm speech at the Uptime Institute:  The Near Future: Big Data and the next 40 years. I believe membership is required.

Did I mention I have a story in that Poul Anderson anthology?

TEDxSanDiego-Brin What's Next? The Horizons of Our Dreams: My talk at TEDx San Diego-2013 is now posted for viewing by all.  It was very popular, but challenging for the smart audience, as I took them on a rapid tour of human history, society, evolution… and our galactic destiny… all in  12 minutes!
And I speak at TedX UCSD on May 10.

Want to read an interview with one of your favorite science fiction authors… in Chinese? What did I say! No seriously… someone tell me what I said?

See also an impressive job of interview-by-paraphrasing -- I have seldom seen better. The responses and opinions that Catherine Book describes me having actually overlap with the ones that I hold!  Impressive.  It is a skill we all desperately need.  Only when you can paraphrase your opponent so accurately that he or she has to grudgingly admit "that's what I believe" are you then in a fair position to debate them and demolish their arguments.  The Paraphrase Challenge is the very core of human maturity.

Go thou forth. Read good tales.  Critique the crud.  Be citizens.


matthew said...

I think you are off mark in lumping "The Hunger Games" in with the "Chosen One" theme. Katniss is not portrayed as exceptional (above average yes, superhuman no) and the entire third book deals with her disillusionment with the rebels and eventual realization that what is needed is not heroes but citizens.
Also, I see very little of the dystopian trope in Game of Thrones, which seems to be primarily about how much it would suck for everyone, elites included, to live in a fantasy world.
In short, I think you are taking some potshots at fellow travelers in this post.

matthew said...

And I seem to remember this series of books about these plucky upstart 'Wolflings' who may have been 'chosen' either by random evolution or the interdiction of a greater clan to usher in a grand revolution against a paternalistic galactic empire.

There was something to do with a revolution by 'special' elites within the 'wolflings' too... Something, something, heroes were all white cards or blue cards or somesuch. A lot of that was hereditary too.

Ricardo Montachio said...

Godzilla is a metaphor for human stupidity (the destruction of wars and the creation of nuclear weapons) and the power of nature.

For all our arrogance, knowledge and technologic power (and I'm a big fan of the last two) we are nothing before an earthquake or tsunami. Or a nuclear warhead on its way.

Godzilla is the raw power of destruction unleashed by nature or by ourselves and how impotent we are when it is acting.

Sometimes it is good to remember what that power can do.

Alfred Differ said...

I think I'll take Godzilla to be a metaphor for our stupidity regarding climate change for now, but only up to a point. We CAN do something about the climate and might even do it without a conscious plan. We'll see.

I don't see Katniss as a chosen one. Readers might be so used to that kind of plot that they are doing it, but I don't think it's there in the stories.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

"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!"

Maybe I'm nit-picking, but I don't see "The Hunger Games" as fitting that meme. For one thing, the ruling regime in the story isn't just conformist, it is exploitative and repressive. More "1984", USSR, or even Nazi-esque than "Brave New World".

The books (and films) are big with the teenage set, and my daughter read the book before I did, but I've seen both films with her, and the 50+ year old me is in there cheering along with the teenagers for Donald Sutherland to get his comeuppance.

I loved it when Paul Krugman once referred to some of the economists who defend Supply Side with the assertion "These guys probably cheer for President Snow against Katniss too."

Jumper said...

Is Godzilla the Bomb or is he the revenge for it?

Paul451 said...

Neither. Godzilla is the consequence.

[Of course, it fits into the "oh no, me am play god" trope.]

Tom Crowl said...

Apparently nobody's understood the basic rule of cinema:

All Godzilla movies MUST be in black & white and either star Raymond Burr or a computer simulation of Raymond Burr!

(which is why I watch that old version about every time it comes on)

I'm still waiting for that faithful remake...

Tony Fisk said...

Of course, it helps to understand the underpinnings of Godzilla.
One evening, Mr. Yamamoto went to a fancy dress party, and woke up the next morning in the park on top of an anthill where his friends had left him.
The ants running riot under his costume and the epic sake hangover he was nursing left him in a furious temper as he was forced to stomp his way home through town, to the consternation of its inhabitants.
This incident was to be immortalised, in Western society, as 'Die Fleidermaus'.

I don't think Harry Potter quite fits David's 'Chosen One' description. Yes, it turns out he's a wizard... who spends most of his time with other wizards and is, in fact, of fairly average talent. Yes, he could wreak his revenge those who've kept him down, but he doesn't since he soon realises the Darnley's are the *least* of his worries. Yes, he's a 'chosen one' but he doesn't really understand what he's been chosen for.

Actually, now I think of it, the description is better fit for Thomas Marvelo Riddle.

LarryHart said...

@Tom Crowl

The more recent "basic rule of cinema" is that all movies have to be self-parodies with characters who mug for the "camera" at inappropriate times.

If the film is a period piece, the dialogue will be full of modern day anacrhonisms.

If it's a remake or a sequel (as most movies are these days), it will be sure to mock the conventions of its own series' conceits.

David Brin said...

I agree that JK Rowling tried hard to give her "chosen one" a very human and empathic side. The same goes for Luke Skywalker, who is a decent fellow (if really really dim). In both cases, you could have a drink with them, appeal to their better nature and the new wizarding or Jedi they rebuild will have a common touch, gentle with mere muggles.

So? They still fit the pattern. Romanticism runs in a big, deep steak under our hearts and it is NOT pro-enlightenment.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

re: Luke Skywalker, if you just look at the original 1977 movie by itself, Luke is not a demigod. In fact, one of the things I most liked about the story of "Star Wars" (the effects were what made me a fan) was the fact that the heroes were everymen, and contrary to the "chosen one" type of story, Luke, Han, and Ben Kenobi seemed to just be people who were in the right place at the right time to make a difference.

This may be a tangent, but I loved the fact that during the major climactic battles, the participants were completely anonymous to each other. Luke didn't know he was shooting at "Darth Vader"--he was just taking on enemy fighter craft.

Ok, Luke did learn to "use the Force", but in that first movie, there was no hint that it took a special bloodline to do so. Ben's training of Luke was similar to any master's training of a young pupil in martial arts. The old Jedi Knights were presumed to have used the Force, or at least to have had it "with them". Only in the retcons did everyone who was a Force adept turn out to be blood relatives.

So what you accuse Luke of is maybe true for the Star Wars saga, but not so for the original movie.

David Brin said...

Well, there were some mild "fated one" aspects even in the first film. But I do agree with all you say. Indeed, at one point Ben Kenobi offers to teach Jedi stuff to Han.

But then, I go into lots of this in Star Wars on Trial.

Carl M. said...

Did you read the Harry Potter books?? If so, you get a C for reading comprehension. Potter is the Chosen One, but he is continually thrust into the role against his will. When he gets the Wand of A Priori Victory, he uses it to repair his own and then disposes of it so no one can use it.

All along he relies on friends and allies (and sometimes his enemies) for his triumphs. This especially holds at the end. His only super power (compared to the other wizards) is resistance to You Know Who's spells. And he's real good at flying on a broom.

Harry Potter is the story of one who is born with astonishing wealth and power, but has a lousy family life; and what he wants is just a decent family life.

Maybe that should be a D.

Paul451 said...

"but he is continually thrust into the role against his will."

And that makes him even more special...

"When he gets the Wand of A Priori Victory, he uses it to repair his own and then disposes of it so no one can use it."

...the most special of all.

[Turing - "Instaro spects": The spell Harry used to fix his glasses.]

David Brin said...

Truly. Read Yudkowsky's "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" on FanFiction. It is far, far better and more interesting.

Though Ms Rowling is a fine person and has done good in the world.

Paul451 said...

Rob Zubrin claims the 2012 geo-engineering experiment in British Columbia has worked as intended. (A native Canadian tribe asked a wanna-be commercial geo-engineer to seed the feeding grounds of their Salmon fishery. He dumped 120 tonnes of iron-sulphate dust which created an plankton bloom.)

The number of ocean Salmon caught in the past year quadrupled. The number of river salmon tripled. Zubrin claims this is significantly more than previous natural variations.

(Turing: "Family gealter": Like the family black-sheep, but so much worse.)

Dave M. said...

I guess as a long-time fan of Godzilla movies I'd like to defend my preference of the monster as an indestructible force rather than a vulnerable (and therefore more sympathetic?) character. Only a few of the 28 Japanese movies have been dour cautionary tales of the consequences of overreaching human arrogance. The vast majority of them are filled with examples of ingenuity that allow the human characters to fight back against overpowering adversaries - monsters and aliens. For all the cliched scenes of panicked Japanese citizens running away in fear while hapless defense forces are stomped into the ground, there are also fanciful inventions - laser guns, maser cannons, spaceships, weather-control devices, anti-nuclear energy bacteria, and black-hole bombs. The newest movie might present a more grim tone and emphasize the need for caution and humility when tampering with the forces of nature, but maybe sequels will once again present the kind of can-do fighting spirit that leads to the creation of futuristic wonders such as Jet Jaguar!

LarryHart said...

As long as today is "Star Wars Day"...

Dr Brin:

Well, there were some mild "fated one" aspects even in the first film...

I read "Star Wars on trial" when it was first published, and I think I was mostly on your side. Certainly, I think the Star Wars saga is more fantasy than sci-fi, and yes, more Romanticist than Enlightenment.

But as a stand-alone movie without the later baggage, "Star Wars" itslf owed more to pirate flicks and westerns than it did to Cambellian heroes' journey epics. In fact, way back in '77 when I first saw "Star Wars", I had only recently seen the pirate film "Swashbuckler" with Robert Shaw and Beau Bridges, and I remember remarking on how similar the storylines were.

In that original movie, I did not get any whiff of the demigod from Luke. He was me at the time--a sixteen year old boy anxious to leave the nest, but not knowing how to go about it and scared to actually take the plunge. Throw in a chance to rescue a pretty girl, and the reality of the girl not being all that interested, and the satisfaction of at least earning her attention and respect by being a good guy--to me, that was the essence of Luke.

Luke was a decent fighter pilot (like his father) and learned to trust the Force (but didn't do anything with it in that movie which couldn't be explained away as luck or coincidence) and ended up winning the day as any plucky band of pirates or cowboys might do in their respective genres. Winning the day against the evil Romanticists, by the way.

So sorry to keep beating a dead Force (heh), but I don't see the original "Star Wars" as falling into that Romanticist, Tolkeinesque, Campbellian mold that some of the others you mention might. ("The Hunger Games either, but that's another rant).

David Brin said...

LarryHart I seldom disagree with anything you say and this is not exception. Still, it's a matter of slight defensiveness on your part. I agree that any demigod stuff in the first star wars film was so muted and low level and harmless as to be barely noteworthy. I have never dissed that film (except by comparison to EMPIRE). And I have always avowed that Like is a cool dude.

Pau451 very interesting about the iron experiment at British Columbia! Of course, while I like Bob Zubrin and want him to succeed in his Mars endeavors, you should know he is an absolute raving right-wing fanatic of the very first water. Nothing he says that even glancingly touches on politics should be taken without an ocean of salt.

Dave M… you make a good pt… though often in the Toho kiddie flicks it boiled down to calling upon the good monster to ultimately trounce the bad one.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

If I'm defensive about Star Wars, it's because the experience of that movie at age 16 was a life-changer for me, and at the time, I considered myself a definitive Star Wars fan (for a few weeks when it was still possible to rave about Star Wars to people who had no idea what it was!). And by deliberate design of George Lucas himself, the memory of that experience is being undermined. It gets harder and harder to recall in my own head what the film was like, let alone to explain it to anyone who knows Star Wars through the prequel trilogy.

Not your fault.

LarryHart said...

Not to get all derailed on Star Wras. On your original post, I certainly confess to a degree of bewilderment over Godzilla as something for modern-day fanboys to drool over. I mean, it was fine for what it was in the 50s. But a big-budget modern day remake? Really, something to get all excited about the way fans to for "Star Wars" or "Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter"? I don't see any "there" there.

Then again, I felt the same way about the recent revival of "BattleStar Galactica".

LarryHart said...

Completely off topic...something that came to mind while just now reading "Ragtime".

Was the real-life anarchist Emma Goldman the inspiration for Orwell's Emmanuel Goldstein in "1984"?

Dave M. said...

Mr. Hart, I believe that Mr. Brin was addressing Godzilla fanboys like me, who enjoy the entirety of the Toho kaiju movie genre. None of them were life-changing experiences when I was a child, as Star Wars was to you, but most Godzilla movies still bring back fond memories of childlike awe at the very idea of an indestructible dinosaur.

The first movie, Gojira, in 1954, was a first-rate drama that effectively represented the Japanese experience of helplessness in the face of an atomic-powered, undefeatable enemy. Everything that came afterwards, though, I sincerely doubt was any attempt at a metaphor for the futility of human endeavor!

Yes, humanity was often faced with monsters of its own creation which couldn't be defeated without the help of a super-dinosaur, but the human characters in many of the silliest movies were often scientists, inventors, astronauts and adventurers who at least participated significantly in the inevitable victories against the forces of evil.

The 1998 Godzilla disappointed me by presenting the monster in an American way, much like the giant spiders, mantises, and even 50-feet tall women of the 1950s, a mere nuisance to the supremely powerful military that has never failed us. It's not that I celebrate military ineffectiveness. It's just that I prefer any movie named "Godzilla" to represent the Japanese version with a long, long history of wonderful creativity.

So, maybe I'm excited that the newest American version will be more true to the badassery of the original. But, honestly, I'll also be disappointed if it turns out to be "a stomping expression of the modern-cowardly obsession with apocalypse and the simplistic balm of hopelessness." I don't enjoy those kinds of movies either, and didn't get that vibe from most of the Toho offerings.

David Brin said...

Was the real-life anarchist Emma Goldman the inspiration for Orwell's Emmanuel Goldstein in "1984"?

The name coincidence suspects she played a role, having written analyses critical of the Party, after she escaped russia (see the movie "Reds.") But of course the other inspiration was Trotsky, whose purge and murder is a key even in ANIMAL HOUSE…. I mean oops ANIMAL FARM.

The second Battlestar ticked me off, wasting fantastic writers on a silly-ass concept. But in fact we watched the whole thing. Could… not… resist.

By themselves, either the original Star Wars or EMPIRE make you forget the macro mess they are part-of. By themselves they are wonderful.

Even RETURN OF THE JEDI… I just mentally replace about ten minutes of truly horrendous dialogue in half a dozen places with my own lines. That flick is a tragedy. Replace just ten minutes and it'd be a pretty awesome movie.

Tony Fisk said...

If sunday was Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you) then beware the start of the coming work week (Revenge of the Fifth)

Elsewhere, possibly fired up by the current discussions about Plicketty's work, Joe Straczinski has posted a fine rant about the new aristocracy. I wonder if he would reconsider redoing World War Z as a flick where a dwindling band of vampires fight a desparate battle for survival against a rampaging tide of the vengeful living?

David Brin said...

Tony I love that concept!

ANd yes I saw Michael's well circulated screed. Very arty. Exaggeration can serve.

David Brin said...

Tony I love that concept!

ANd yes I saw Michael's well circulated screed. Very arty. Exaggeration can serve.

DavidTC said...

I'm with the other people, asking if you actually *read* Harry Potter? Or have you just seen the movies?

Harry is pretty much not exceptional at anything. (Well, except flying, which is *never* useful towards defeating Voldemort, except in the very first book it lets him get a key.) The only superpower he has is that Voldemort keeps running into weird magical obstacles while trying to kill him, and he's got a mental connection to Voldemort. He's not actually *good* at anything that would be even slightly useful to in his task.

He's also not in a universe where 'authority is useless'. We sometimes, in early books, get a slight 'adults are useless', but that's only because adults would not actually allow a kid to do what those kids are doing, so it's something that the entire premise of the 'kids saving things' genre requires. (And there's a lot of criticism of Harry's stupidity of not telling someone about Myrtle at the end of the second book, so it's les s'adults are useless' than 'Harry is stupid'.)

Now, we get an 'authority is actively evil' plot in book five, and that is resolved to satisfaction at the end of the book, by *the people* installing actually *useful* authority. Not a coup, a legitimate transfer of power once the people realize the government had been lying to them.

And, perhaps most damning of the comparison, the actual climax of the entire series is not Harry winning a fight. In fact, interesting point, Harry arguably *never* wins a fight with Death Eaters. He doesn't even *participate* in the last battle...the last two battles, actually.

Harry 'wins' in the last fight, not by greater skill (Harry's dueling skills are *horrible* compared to Voldemort.) but by a plan of Dumbledore's backfiring in an odd way. Granted, Harry figured it out ahead of time, so props to him, but even with no skill at all on Harry's part, Voldemort would have died.

The only way it fits the narrative you've set up is because Harry is the 'Chosen One'...except he's *not*. As Dumbledore points out, that's basically all bullcrap. There's no indication that prophesies actually work, and in the end, it *doesn't*. (Voldemort dies at his own hands, not Harry's.)

Robert said...

First, Dr. Brin, I thought you might be interested in this Facebook Article on the New Aristocracy. It's rather cynical, but I see it more as a "wake up, you idiots" message than a "there is no point in fighting."

Next: It looks from the most recent trailers that there are two monsters. Godzilla is but one, and he's reanimated (or allowed to wake or something to that effect) to fight this flying beastie (Rodan? I'm not familiar with the Godzilla lineage of critters). Personally, I rather prefer Pacific Rim for two reasons. First, Pacific Rim was a FUN movie that was at its heart a kaiju homage.

But second, it's the story of humanity triumphing over these monsters using technology. We build giant robots to fight these things... in a matter of a couple of years. And we prevail despite the fact these things are being designed to compensate for our new weapons and technologies.

Ultimately the new Godzilla is a monster vs. monster movie and that is ultimately a limitation as it is humanity itself that needs to prevail, not letting some monster-god bail us out.

As for Battlestar Galactica mk. 2 - it would have been more interesting if the Colonies had originated from Earth and that the "Earth" they had found was in fact our own after humanity had left. But then, in my own head canon the end of the series was the Fleet finding the colonies in "Firefly" and "Serenity" and establishing their new home there. That way, humanity DID originate from Earth and you could do away with some of the mysticism of the end of the series.

Rob H.

Ricardo Montachio said...


Pacific Rim was one of the most humanist movies I've ever seen.

Even if it was about giant monsters.

I believe it was a movie that matches Mr. Brin message of cherishing mankind's progress extremely well.

Alex Tolley said...

Athena Andreadis has reposted her critique of Star Wars here.

Some very good points, with a different slant than David's.

As with all things artistic, opinions can differ widely - she hates Return of teh Jedi, while David almost likes it.

David Brin said...

DavidTC I enjoyed your spirited defense of the normalness of Harry Potter! You make good points. And yet I doubt most readers would call him as free of special talent as you claim. He is after all the quintessential Gryffindor, plunging to do The Right Thing and winning by inspiring talented friends to bring just the right teamwork skills to bear, at just the right time. Such leadership is exceptional.

Indeed, my biggest gripe with the canon came at the very end, distilling all that was despicable and cowardly about Magical Britain… the adults' inability to organize ordinary witches and warlocks to do what societies should and must do… use mass consensual action to overcome empowered bullies.

At the end, when Voldie and his bad wizards finally conquer Hogwarts, there should have been a moment when he sneers at the Headmistress and the kids:

"Is that all you have?"

And Hermione defiantly answers: "we have one more weapon."

"Oh? What is that."


"Our parents."

And Voldie turns to see a new army attacking his rear!

Oh you could then have a stalemate and the kids are hostage and all sorts of tricks so that it STILL comes down to Voldie vs Harry. But to NOT have the parents of Magical Britain rising up in wrath casts shame upon the whole society.

David Brin said...

Oh I despise Return of the Jedi… because those ten minute s of loathsome dialogue ARE in it, making it an utter betrayal of EMPIRE and of all our hopes for an inspiring mythos.

It's just that have have no beef agains Ewoks. The film was pretty. And so what if the "let's dive a little ship into a big ship and blow it up from the inside" trick is in half of the flicks!

The prequels, of course, were relentless advertisements for outright evil, featuring the most horrific villain ever… Yoda.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

"Was the real-life anarchist Emma Goldman the inspiration for Orwell's Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984?"

The name coincidence suspects she played a role, having written analyses critical of the Party, after she escaped russia (see the movie "Reds.") But of course the other inspiration was Trotsky, whose purge and murder is a key even in ANIMAL HOUSE…. I mean oops ANIMAL FARM.

I should have specified...I was wondering if Emma Goldberg's gave inspiration to Orwell naming Big Brother's nemesis "Emmanuel Goldstein". I realize that Trotsky is a more likely inspiration for the character, but I suspect that Orwell wanted a distintively Jewish name for the recipient of the "two minutes hate".

The second Battlestar ticked me off, wasting fantastic writers on a silly-ass concept. But in fact we watched the whole thing. Could… not… resist.

My wife was the same way. We had a young child at the time and barely watched any tv that wasn't kiddie shows. My one personal vice that I had to see every episode of was "The West Wing". Hers was "Battlestar Galactica".

She and several people on line tried to hook me in. "It's not like the 70s show. It's edgy and sexy and political!" And I kept going "But it's Battlestar freaking Galactica". To my ear, it was as if they were telling me about an "edgy, sexy, political" remake of the Teletubbies or Sesame Street. Those would not have been selling points.

By themselves, either the original Star Wars or EMPIRE make you forget the macro mess they are part-of. By themselves they are wonderful.

Even RETURN OF THE JEDI… I just mentally replace about ten minutes of truly horrendous dialogue in half a dozen places with my own lines. That flick is a tragedy. Replace just ten minutes and it'd be a pretty awesome movie.

The muppets turned me off, but otherwise, I like the first 40 minutes or so of RotJ--the rescue of Han Solo and defeat of Jabba the Hutt. It's when it becomes about Luke's redemption of Darth Vader that it jumps the shark for me. Maybe more accurately, it was when Lucas decided that the saga was about Luke's Campbellian "hero's journey", and that the square pegs of the films had to be hammered into that particular round hole.

For the last decade or so, Marvel Comics has had a line of books they call "Ultimate" titles: "Ultimate Spider-Man", "Ultimate Fantastic Four", etc. They are re-imaginings of the original heroes for more modern times. Ultimate Spider-Man, for example, starts over with Peter Parker as a high school kid getting his powers, but it doesn't re-tell the 1960s stories. It's like an alternate universe of Spider-Man. The stories go in different directions from the originals.

That gives me a vocabulary for saying that, for instance, the tv show "Enterprise" didn't really work as a true history of the universe of the original Star Trek, but it was ok if I thought of it as "Ultimate Star Trek"--a separate set of stories which kinda/sorta paid homage to the originals, but wasn't bound by them. Only thus could I reconcile that the crew of a starship in the 22nd century encounterd the Ferrengi, when NextGen had clearly established that the Federation was only beginning to encounter the Ferrengi in the 24th.

In that sense, I tend to think of the prequel trilogy as "Ultimate Star Wars". And RotJ, at least the part after the Han Solo rescue, is really part of Ultimate Star Wars rather than part of the original set. In other words, the prequel trilogy are prequels to RotJ, but the first two films are part of a different legend that only seems to be about the same characters.

Robert said...

@Ricardo Montachio: I know. There were flaws in the movie, definitely. I cringed at a giant winged monster flying a giant robot to the edge of the atmosphere, dropping said robot (after being killed), and the robot surviving intact. The scientist in me screamed at the inaccuracies and idiotic elements. Hell, I was surprised that we didn't have several space colonies at that point as the rich people started abandoning the Earth to their walls and dwindling robot supply.

But ultimately the movie was about the ability of humanity to persevere and prevail against overwhelming odds. And I honestly doubt we'll see a similar story with the new Godzilla. It's just "giant monster vs. giant monster with humanity helpless to stop them" which diminishes humanity in the telling. It's about titans fighting rather than humanity's overthrow of the titans.

Godzilla is about gods punishing humans. Pacific Rim is about humans taking the fight to these "gods" through innovation and perseverance and prevailing.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Pity we have to pull such mental tricks on ourselves. In Enterprise I had hoped there'd be a whole arc about DISCOVERING the Klingons. That they were so close the primitive Enterprise could reach Chronos in a week? Malarkey. In fact I wanted an arc in which they were truly horrific villains and it is seen that they became "reasonable" by Picard's time, only because they had had their asses kicked and slave races liberated a number of times. Like the Kzin.

Sorry, " the rescue of Han Solo and defeat of Jabba the Hutt." is one of the parts I hated… not the action and scenes, but the premise, that this would have been Luke's MAIN PLAN! A kludge of luck and coincidence is your …MAIN plan?

If it all had happened as a backup… with the main plan being to threaten Jabba with attack by thirty X wings…. And the empire comes and chases the rebels away and Luke is stuck doing all his acrobatics as a backup plan…

see what I mean?

David Brin said...


Paul451 said...

Re: Harry Potter and the Parental Army

[Going only by the movie version] The impression I got was that she was going for a Nazi Germany type analogy. Society sometimes does fail to rise up. As you kept repeating in the last thread, Democracy/Enlightenment is not the natural state of humanity.

Perhaps that's the only defence of the idiot plot, it may reinforce the idea of society as worthless, but it also encourages you to stand up, no matter the odds. Because if you don't, who else will.

Rob H,
Re: Battlestar Galactica mysticism.

The best proposal I read, before the actual hideous cop-out ending, was the idea that the "humans" were actually robots from the previous cycle. That the robots are trapped in a loop of:- recreating "Cylons", the slave uprising, separation, evolution of Cylons into humanoid to study their origins, then a second war, and finally a merging (through interbreeding) of humans/Cylons on a new world, where the cycle starts again. (It's the reason you can't tell "skin-jobs" from "humans", they're all robots.)

I've suggested that this could have been expanded further to suggest it's all due to the very first "merging", which involved the surviving true humans becoming transcendent (in the post-Singularity sense) and uploading themselves as a sort of virus into the collective consciousness of the very first Cylons as the last humans' final act of war: A suicide "bomb". But a schism in the virus prevented the Cylons from completely destroying themselves, instead the neurosis between humanity as destroyer and humanity as creator causes the Cylons to be trapped in the cycle of endless reliving the first war. So now the uploaded humanity is the "One True God" in the Cylon mythology. (And also the 12 gods of the pantheon, perhaps there were 12 individuals in the first upload/merging?) And the subconscious desire to end the cycle and save their children (the Cylons) manifests as the two "angels", growing in influence as the anger and madness in the original upload slowly fades with each cycle.

The series would thus end with the two angels watching the shattered human/Cylon survivors come together to create another new settlement, in an atmosphere of dejection after they'd discovered that the mythical "Earth" was a wasteland from the first cycle (and only now, finally, barely habitable again, and with their last ships broken and failing, they have no choice but to remain.) One of the angels observes wearily, "We've failed them again", the other smiles sadly, "Yes, my darling, but this is the first time they've come home!" Hold hands, crane-cam, "All along the watchtower", fade to credits.

Bam, done!

David Brin said...

Paul, one problem with that scenario… no citizen of magical Britain is ever unarmed. Sure your average dope is no match for Voldie, one-on-one. But you always have some firepower and if you form a big, angry mob you can accomplish something. And any parents who do NOT form an angry mob when villains are attacking their kids do not deserve kids.

Onward to next post

DavidTC said...

At the end, when Voldie and his bad wizards finally conquer Hogwarts, there should have been a moment when he sneers at the Headmistress and the kids:

So, what you're saying is that *you have not actually read the books*:

As the room came into view, Harry slipped down a few stairs in shock. It was packed, far more crowded than when he had last been in there. Kingsley and Lupin were looking up at him, as were Oliver Wood, Katie Bell, Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet, Bill and Fleur, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
“Harry, what’s happening?” said Lupin, meeting him at the foot of the stairs.
“Voldemort’s on his way, they’re barricading the school — Snape’s run for it — What are you doing here? How did you know?”
“We sent messages to the rest of Dumbledore’s Army,” Fred explained. “You couldn’t expect everyone to miss the fun, Harry, and the D.A. let the Order of the Phoenix know, and it all kind of snowballed.”


And now there were more, even more people storming up the front steps, and Harry saw Charlie Weasley overtaking Horace Slughorn, who was still wearing his emerald pajamas. They seemed to have returned at the head of what looked like the families and friends of every Hogwarts student who had remained to fight, along with the shopkeepers and homeowners of Hogsmeade.

Pretty much every adult who knew there was an actual battle happening at Hogwarts showed up.

Paul, one problem with that scenario… no citizen of magical Britain is ever unarmed. Sure your average dope is no match for Voldie, one-on-one. But you always have some firepower and if you form a big, angry mob you can accomplish something.

People *did* form angry mobs, and *did* accomplish things. There was an active resistance movement that we only caught in tiny pieces, because our POV was running around hiding in the woods. Not only fighting back, but actively protecting Muggles, who are the real people in danger. (Wizards can, after all, usually just apparate out.)

And the average person is no match for a single Death Eater, much less Voldemort. Or even five or six average people together are no match for a Death Eater. Pretending that everyone has a 'gun' is completely's more like everyone has a *kitchen knife*. Deadly in the right hands, but that doesn't mean a group of amateurs can defeat a single skilled person. Wizards aren't trained to kill other wizards with magic, or attack them at all.

Paul Briggs said...

I'm a little tired of the "Chosen One" trope myself. I wrote a science-fiction YA novel myself in which the villain thinks he's the Chosen One and the hero knows damn well he isn't and learns over the course of the story how badly he needs help from others if he wants to save the world.