Monday, October 19, 2009

Surrogates -- substituting for good story

Okay, time for a commentary that many of you have been waiting for -- my thoughts about the recent Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates.

Surrogates2009MP I've been (as you might expect) getting a lot of mail about it, so let's start with some facts.  The film is based upon a comic book by Robert Venditti that appeared some years after my novel KILN PEOPLE

Also worth noting, for purposes of a timeline, is the screenplay for KILN PEOPLE that was created by the great scriptor Leslie Dixon (Overboard, Mrs.Doubtfire, Pay it Forward). It circulated some years ago at Paramount Studios and far beyond, so clearly a priority sequence was well-known, by those interested in the basic idea.

But are the stories really similar?  Let's see

A detective sends a technologically-made duplicate of himself into a world where everybody makes copies in order to deal with the world risk-free.  The detective's duplicate seeks the inventor of this technology, who has become dangerously estranged from the company that he founded and who plots its downfall.
Along the way, there occurs a rare case of actual murder.  Meanwhile, in one of the zones where only real humans are allowed, fanatics rail that all this copying-addiction undermines the human soul... an so on....

250px-Surrogates_new_coverCheck, check check...  Ah, well, they say that Hollywood only steals if they respect you.  Sigh.

All of that might be expected to stir fumes at the back of my neck.  But I went to see the movie with an open mind, willing to give it a chance, in hopes it would at least turn out to be a great, rip-snorting sci fi adventure that (for a change) has a little originality, as well as some brains and heart. Is that really too much to ask?

At first sight, one of the similarities between KILN PEOPLE and Surrogates is something that I approve-of at a philosophical level... both stories give the "new thing" to the People -- to everybody -- and follow how this changes society.

Few sci fi films do that.  Generally, the "new thing" is hoarded in secret or monopolized by the mighty, giving you a simple - if dumb - hero vs oppressive authority plot.  Okay, so let's give Surrogates two points for breaking from that cliche.  Well, that cliche.

 Of course, whenever the People do adopt something new, wholesale, that generally leads to another hackneyed theme.  But, hold that thought.

Alas, to save money, Jonathan Mostow, the director of Surrogates chose to eliminate all futuristic aspects.  Hence, we have mind projection and puppet automatons... and everything else is left exactly as today.  Hey, I understand budget concerns.  But there are lots of cool things -- directly related to copying -- that would have cost next-to-nothing to portray...

...or, at least, he might have entertainingly (as I do) show some of the range of things that people would use copies for!  How about gladiatorial matches in souped-up bodies!  Hyper-X-sports in which no one comes back "alive"! Historical battle re-enactments, with real bullets! Expeditions to other planets, where the surrogate travels cheaply, without life-support, then wakens and lets an astronaut -- or paying customers -- take that "first step for mankind." 

Kiln PeopleThe possibilities are endless, as I show in KILN PEOPLE.  But, as we'll see, this movie is not about people using self-duplication to expand the realm of the possible.

(We did catch a glimpse of some military applications.  But even that was stunningly unimaginative.  What, no soldiers manifesting as cheetahs or ogres or dragons?  Two legs are soooo slow.)

As for the vast range of ways that regular folks would use their surrogates... other than for playing at being sexy... or the opposite sex...?  Nah.  All people use this technological breakthrough  for is to look good

Seriously, that's pretty much it. Looking good.  Period.  In fact, that self-indulgent sin propels the entire personal side of the plot.  Um... snore.

(My wife suggested an alternative that might have driven everybody to keep their human bodies indoors.  What if the air had become toxic?  One also wonders what would happen to human reproduction rates in a world where all sex is via machinery....  But, as we'll see, any probing of the details would interfere in the main purpose of Surrogates -- which is to preach a very black and white, Crichtonian morality play.)

Look, there were moments in the film that seemed marginally clever.  Some cool effects.  Even a crackle or two of snappy dialogue. Go see it, sure.

 And yet, in this, just about the only adventure/scifi film in years to NOT be based upon the sequel of a comicbook sequel, we still see both director and studio choosing to go with the knee-jerk, go-to lesson of every tiresomely cliched Hollywood flick...

... always boiling down to Michael Crichton's preachy but classic message -- "there are things mankind should never do." Pushing the ultimately poisonous line that we should always fear and loathe technology. 

That is the core message nowadays, no?  Change is always, always, always, always bad.  A lesson preached by privileged, comfortable, tech-empowered elites who have benefited fantastically from change.  Women and men who would likely screech in agony if they had to live the way any of their ancestors did, during any of the 20,000 generations of previous human existence.

Think about it. Do these Hollywood studio folks -- most of them devout Democrats -- ever wonder why our civilization is turning anti-science and giving itself over to superstition?  They wring their hands over a rising age of culture war and lost-confidence, while they are churning out relentless propaganda preaching the same tedious message -- that progress is hopeless and technology only menacing. And that the default moral and wise choice should always be Just Say No To Change.

Even worse, nearly every product they put out proclaims that the People are always stupid.

Some democrats.

Alas, in fact, that final, noxious  cliche seems to be the utter heart and core of Surrogates. The tired-old lesson that you cannot trust the masses with a burnt match, let alone the Next Thing.
In this film, absolutely everybody -- except for a few abstemious fanatics -- falls for the addictive trap of copying insatiably, neglecting their real bodies and real lives, transferring their sense of self entirely into machine versions and neglecting the flesh upon which life depends.

Oh, sure, some people would do that, in much the same way that some now abuse alcohol.  And dealing with the fallout from this minority's stupidity might make an interesting plot.  But here's the key point. All  known addictions d not ensnare the majority -- folks who resist temptation use good judgment, exercise moderation, and manage to lead balanced, wholesome lives, despite being offered a New Thing.

But in the world of Surrogates, it is all or nothing. There are only teetotaling prude-fanatics or several billion rolling drunks.  Absolutely everybody who uses the New Thing stupidly abuses it, and so must be saved from temptation by an act of overwhelmingly self-righteous and simplistic prudity.

Here is where, fundamentally and morally, this film breaks with me and my own, earlier, take on the question: "what if we could all make copies of ourselves?"  In fact, both the film Surrogates and graphic novel seem bent on directly refuting and rejecting the premise of KILN PEOPLE... that human civilization sometimes picks up new tools, overcomes some mistakes and faces interesting problems, learns to deal with them, and moves on. 

Given Hollywood's slavish devotion to cliche -- and to portraying their fellow citizens as mindless sheep -- is it any wonder the producers chose Venditti's approach over mine?  (And let there be no mistake; Leslie Dixon is important and powerful enough in Hollywood that her KILN PEOPLE script was read by some of the people in the decision chain, who chose the cliched approach, instead of one that might head in bold directions.)

But soft, let's step back and finish on a charitable note.  For, to reiterate, at least Surrogates is one of the only non-sequel films that's come out in a long time, based upon something that most viewers haven't seen before.  Everyone involved deserves some credit for that, despite the malignant deeper message.

(And, of course, its box office fizzle will teach the wrong lesson; don't ever try to be original, ever again!)

As for the "steal" aspects... ah well, it's not the first time, and it won't be the last time that I'll write missives like this one. It's a town where everybody can shout the word "coincidence" before they can say "Mama."

Anyway, what can I do?  Just hope that people will spread internet buzz and say "Hey!  Go to Kiln People for the original concept, done a whole lot better, by the original author."  And, maybe, quality will endure a bit better than cliches.

Good stuff does have one advantage over bad.  It stands up better, with time.


Tim H. said...

I recall hearing someone on NPR suggesting moving the studios to the midwest, where they wouldn't be burdened with immense mortgage payments. The hope being that without as much financial anxiety, some of the CYA would subside.

Jose said...

Well, just so that someone tweets it:

Quoting David Brin: "Hey! Go to Kiln People for the original concept, done a whole lot better, by the original author." Agreed! Great book!

Stefan Jones said...

I'm glad I saved my money!

Not SF, but worth seeing:

The painfully funny and humorously painful A Serious Man. A nebbishy physics professor finds his life falling apart around him. Sort of a Midwestern '60s version of Job.

David Brin said...

See Tomorrow's World:

I hadn't heard about the "military coup" thing. OMG where are these people from? Only the Air Force has any general officers who'd participate, while the Navy wouldn't even have any noncoms that'd take part. (Funny how SEVEN DAYS IN MAY nailed that.)

There may be some Army and Marine sergeants who still by the rightist-trog line (McVeigh was a sergeant). But if they want some general to serve as a figurehead, they'll have to shoot Constitution-loyalists in the four and three and two star ranks all the way down to brigadier, before they'd find one willing to go along. So it'll have to be an Air Force general, after all.

But it still won't work. Navy pilots are simply better, the AF planes will experience parts failures as every base sees sabotage by the Constitutionalists who have actual technical and scientific savvy and training.

It's kind of like the idiocy you hear from red-necks about how tough and well-armed they are... while Blue America has most of the engineers and nearly every single scientist....

...and how did we get back on THAT topic?

Stefan Jones said...

Yes, a significant fraction of "conservatives" (as opposed to conservatives) have gone fucking nuts.

I don't think it is racism. More an overwhelming sense of entitlement, and an fantastic lack of imagination. They simply can't conceive that anyone other than a "conservative" (as opposed to a conservative) could or should run the country, or that anything other than Bush era policy would lead anywhere but ruin.

Hence, conspiracy theories attacking Obama's legal claim on the presidency, and hysterical fears about socialism and concentration camps.

None of this is fact based, or rational.

The coup notion is a pathetic wish. They want an authority they respect to rescue the country from perceived disaster.

Tony Fisk said...

...and how did we get back on THAT topic?

With a rudder?

"conservative" = selfservative

daveawayfromhome said...

Of course everyone would make themselves better looking. They do that now with clothes, and there's not much difference between that and this, not really. I suspect it wouldnt be too long before people would be creating bodies that were grotesque instead, especially if they could switch between that and a more "normal" body at will.
I'm curious if the movie gave lip service to those whose lives would be completely changed by the technology, such as paralyzed folk or those who've lost limbs or been blinded by accident or war. Or old people who would no longer be trapped inside their declining bodies. Seems to me that these people would be more than willng to trade freedom of movement (let alone youthfulness) for whatever "danger" the technology may hold. Imagine if at the end of "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly" Jean-Dominique Bauby had been back to his old active lifestyle. Not as dramatic, perhaps, but Bauby probably wouldnt have cared about that.

David Brin said...

They mentioned only briefly those whose lives would be restored this way.

Of course, to be fair, my entire premise was different in one crucial way. In Kiln People, you could be BOTH "you" and your copy, at the same time. That made it a no-brainer, the role of the original body is to spend all day getting as healthy as possible and enjoying organic existence while the copies work. Duh.

Have your cake, eat it, make more cake, then more. Brin's logic of positive sum games, gone wild!

Surrogates is about absolute zero sum logic. In fairness, its technology seems more plausible than my wild-ass speculative "soulistics"!! But wtf plausibility is at issue here?

Thing I hated most about Surrogates? The blonde FBI surrie can leap along buildings and dodge cars... so why isn't everybody doing stuff like that, all the time? Dang! Who'd use F%##@ stupid cars! What pisses me off is everybody only cares about LOOKING like gods, when they could $$#$@! BE like em.

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marko F. said...

I'm sorry to digress, but I wonder what's dr. Brin's take on Joss Whedon's TV series 'Dollhouse'?

David Brin said...

Never seen it.


Marko F. said...

It's basically about a technology that allows a human personality to be backed up on a hard-disk, and a new personality to be imprinted in the mind. Or, as the network sais: DOLLHOUSE focuses on a secret organization that employs "Actives" -- a group of operatives who have their memories and personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with new ones, allowing them to take on various missions for hire.

Though it sounds, and often is, action oriented, the show does try to answer a lot of questions about human identity and personality, what makes us tick, where is the limit between use, abuse and outright slavery, etc. The first 5 episodes are all 'assignment of the week', but later on the show really starts to shine.

You can see not-so-bad trailer here

Ilithi Dragon said...

Dr. Brin,

Apple became as evil as Microsoft around the time they started charging for a Mac computer about twice as much as you would pay for a PC of equal or better performance, and putting proprietary chips in their motherboards so that the Mac OS would ONLY run on Mac hardware, thus allowing them to charge that much money for a Mac computer (unless you're running a Hackintosh
} ; = 8 ) ).

As for Surrogates, I found it an enjoyable flick, but not particularly deep or thought-inspiring. It's good entertainment, I think, but (as Dr. Brin already elaborated) not good sci-fi.

On the right-wingnutter... Back in highschool, one of my friends had this wonderful device, it was a brilliant tool (so awesome, in fact, as to be noncorporeal), called the Logic Log. It was used much like a baseball bat or club, so the implementation was a bit crude, but upon impact with an imbecilic cranium, it would instantly impart logic and reason. Or a comatose state... Either way, it was a brilliant method for solving problems of stupidity.

Tony Fisk said...

... and went on to invent the concept of colliding branes as a model of the cosmos.

There was a time when the Amiga was considered the fastest way to run a Mac. (Now, what happened to the Amiga.. *that* was evil!)

JuhnDonn said...

The movie studios have been under siege by technology since the late '70's, when the VCR came along. Funny thing is, technology keeps expanding their revenue streams and giving them new markets (the traveling movie guys of Ghana) and yet they still keep screaming and fighting it. So yeah, they're standing on the shoulders of a technological giant and yet can only see themselves falling down. Weird!

I wonder if Hollywood's avoidance of how technology can effect the world, both positively and negatively, is why they're still making adventure serials instead of real SF movies?


Macs have always been more expensive than PC's and have always tied the OS to the hardware. Apple's a hardware company who gives you great razor blades to buy their razor. I don't really see how good and evil enter in to this; is just a business plan.

And sure, I'd like cheaper Macs; who wouldn't? Now that I think about it, the last new Mac I bought was a Power Computing clone, back in '95. Have been buying used and refurb Macs since then. But so far, no one's held a gun to my dog's head to force me to buy one so I have no one else to blame.

JuhnDonn said...

Ah, a better link to Ghana Movie Posters.

Poor Cujo...

David Brin said...

Apple used to TEST their software with hundreds of average users, to find out where normal people -- not designers from Planet Asperger -- might find some process or method un-intuitive.

Clearly, they did not do this with the entire iLife suite. iPhoto is torment and iDVD was created by sadists who seem to have been determined to find every way possible to THWART an intelligent user from doing anything even remotely useful.

Not only that, but the newest version, iLife 09 has deliberately dropped servicing traditional video formats that earlier versions easily handled.

Now why would supposedly decent people do that to loyal customers (since 1982) who expect an UPGRADE and instead find themselves with a downshifted, suddenly unusable product that cannot even read files made by the SAME product, a year before?

That's... that's... Microsoft!

WTF has happened to Steve Jobs?

lc said...

Tim H.:

If the studios move to Nebraska, the aspiring actors will move to Nebraska, and the support industries -- restaurants, limousine rentals, etc. -- will follow. And real estate prices will rise!

California will still be popular for its climate and landscape, both for filming and living.

On the other hand, spreading the film industry to recession-slammed areas might cause an upturn in the economy of those areas. And the film is one industry that can be exported to the rest of the world.

Zoodles said...

Three things Mr. Brin..First I agree with your assessment of Surrogates.

However..IMHO A progressive should never, ever use the term 'redneck' in a derogatory fashion. Progressives are supposed to be representing and defending the rednecks not insulting them. The democrats lost the white working class for this reason. People aren't going to look up to you, if you are looking down on them. The nasty collection of folks currently running the republican party did not conquer the support of the Joe Plumbers, they found that support lying on the ground and simply picked it up.

Never ever underestimate the intelligence of the so-called 'rednecks'. It's true the majority of engineers are democrats, but in my experience the majority of technicians and tradesmen tend to towards the right. If you have ever seen how mechanically literate, clever and innovative some of these so-called hicks can be you would not be quite so condescending of their abilities. They may not know what red shift is, but they can build homemade refrigerators.

David Brin said...

I apologize for the use of that word. you will note that in my many earlier missives about Culture War, I have used it seldom.

In fact, I often speak of sympathy for the way millions of sincere conservative Americans have been lured into opposing their own best interests, in much the same way that Southern white males were duped into fighting for the privileges of plantation/slave owners, in 1861.

I have sympathized with what I think is an underlying psychological cause of all this hostility toward "blue" America... the fact that men and women in salt-of-the-earth small towns all across the country have spent several generations watching the smartest kids from their high school classes, including siblings, simply up and go away - heading off to adventures in intellectual or business or urban life. That has got to sting.

On the other hand, sympathy only goes so far, when we've had decades of "Screw New York! ...Screw New York! ... Hurray for the heroes of New York! ... Screw New York! ... Screw New York!"

Cityfolk pay most of the taxes while Red America gets more of the benefits while pouring ungrateful hatred in return. Cities are the terrorism targets, yet urbanites are called decadent cowards. The presidency is invested in king-like powers and fealty... until it's not THEIR president anymore, at which point suddenly he's non-legitimate...

...exactly as happened when Lincoln won the election of 1860. And then, without his having done a thing to merit it, and without even trying to negotiate with him, supposed uber patriots like Jefferson Davis were only too happy to forswear their sacred oaths.

And I don't have reason to fear? Look, Foxworthy and his crowd USE the term "rednecks" proudly. And I know it's EXACTLY like black folks using the N-word, in self-deprecating humor, and other people should not use it. And yes, that self-deprecating humor is REALLY charming! When Larry the Cable guy lists reasons why a redneck can't screw in a light bulb, the audience roars. And it seems charming, yes...

.. until you realize, there is a tinge of actual, real, bona-fide pride there.

Rob Perkins said...

David, You're struggling because the DVD format was itself concocted by sadists, a torture no programmer anywhere has been able to filter.

The iLife 08 programs work beautifully for me. The only thing I miss is rubber-banding sound levels in iMovie.

They're probably dropping earlier video formats in response to enabler lawsuit threats from their mass media "partners".

Unknown said...

I've been a fan of your work for a long time now and when I first saw the presentation for this movie in Portugal I said "They must have picked up Kiln People", so I went to IMDB and no David Brin mention anywhere...
I mean, even my wife who didnt read the book, associated the movie with it just from my description of the book a few years ago.
I do hope they do you some justice.
Best Regards.

David Brin said...

Rob, I am sure once you know your way around, iDVD works fine. But I use it once a year and by then I have forgotten the bizarre, non-intuitive, hidden-secret tricks to accomplishing anything at all, that each year I have to stumble into, all over again, by sheer accident, after TWO hours of flailing and clicking and searching and fumbling around.

EVERYBODY see Russ Daggatt's latest at:

Rob Perkins said...

David, I thought I was commiserating; I hate iDVD. I dread using it at all, let alone once per year.

The irony is the fact that I heard S. Jobs himself announce that iMovie's latest iteration was supposed to make it dead simple to make a simple movie.

Tony Fisk said...

Maybe it wasn't just a liver transplant he had.

Maybe he's been made a clone of the *other* Steve (version B)

yingirot - when the yin aspect withers and and people rant about the plague of yang rednecks.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Dr. Brin -- don't know if you heard, but the Air Force Academy has reportedly turned the corner:

Here's the first part.

"The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., is home to the only Buddhist chapel on a U.S. military base. After a controversy over religious intolerance during the summer of 2005, the chapel was built in the basement of the academy's iconic Cadet Chapel.

In 2005, conservative evangelical Christians were accused of trying to force their religion on others. According to current and recently graduated cadets, the religious climate has improved substantially since then.

The controversy prompted the Air Force to issue guidelines for religious expression. The military also has made efforts to accommodate all faiths. These include the construction of the 300-square-foot Buddhist chapel at the Air Force Academy paid for by the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism."

Now, this doesn't magically make all the Christianist Air Force officers magically disappear. It does mean fewer are being added to the ranks.

On the red/blue divide: strange how the best factory jobs in America are now popping up in the reddest of red places -- like my own hometown, which now boasts a steel mill, three aerospace factories, and a truck engine plant, where just ten years ago there was naught but forest and field.

The main reason? We had colleges nearby to train the workers. Full of 'rednecks', to be sure -- good old salt-o'-the-earth A&M and community schools -- but knowledge nonetheless.

Now how long can anti-intellectual attitudes be kept up when the evidence of the rewards thereof is in your own backyard? What happens when becoming one of THOSE types -- you know, the ones that don't get their worldview from vulpine sources -- doesn't mean going off several thousand miles, but to your own state's hubs of industry?

Ask North Carolina -- which, by the slimmest of margins, went Blue in the last election. NC was also the first of the Southern states to grasp the New South paradigm of education, innovation, and industrialization by the horns. That's not a coincidence.

Anonymous said...

I generally try to hold topic on a thread, but as David himself has scrambled things....

Back to Afghanistan.

There is a technological solution worth considering.

Bioengineer a pathogen for the opium poppy.

Its not like we would have to spray the entire country, just the relativly few fertile valleys.

The possibilities are many:

"We know you are harboring 15 Chechen militants in Goat-turda village....deliver them, in one fashion or another, to this spot in 24 hours or we spray your fields such that you can't grow poppy for five years".

"We have built five bridges and 25 schools in Ratpitistan province. For each that is destroyed there will be 5% of your province sprayed"

I believe it was standard policy during the Civil War for Union raiders to burn cotton, as it supported the rebellion.

We certainly have synthetic alternatives such as fentanyl, or could license a certain, loyal, region for pharmaceutical production.

Of course, this may well be illegal in several ways, and could encourage retaliation on American soil. Jihadis driving across Iowa...

It has fictional possibilities. My gift to you, David, go with it.


And must we still rehash this silly culture war stuff? What is it really, frustration that at the half way mark of the Obama administration the streets are not paved with gold? ('cause Obama campaign '12 starts in about a year)

David Brin said...

Debate-o-graph's depiction if the Pashtunistan argument is concise and useful

soc said...

I've already mentioned in the previous thread why I'm not convinced that this plan would go any where. I just have two things to add:

1. I just learned that pashtunistan will not be acceptable to Pakistan. Before all this religious fanaticism business, nationalism was the order of the day. As you may know, when the British made the Afghan-Pakistan border (known as the Duran Line), they cut the Pashtun lands in half. Consequently the Pashtun people have very little respect for this border and have often clamoured for a state of their own.

Part of the reason why Pakistan has supported the taliban in the past, was to counter the nationalistic movements among the Pashtun, which were largely secular. So supporting the religious taliban was a way to keep the lid on the Pashtun nationalists, whose aspirations were a threat to Pakistan's territorial integrity.

Give the Pashtuns a semi-state in Afghanistan and the nationalistic feelings of the Pashtuns in Pakistan will be aroused causing further destablization.

2. Some may find this article about the reasons for staying in Afghanistan interesting.

soc said...

Unrelated topic: I came across this youtube video of Neil degrasse Tyson speaking on science under republicans and democrats

spoiler: he speaks well of republicans

Anonymous said...
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TwinBeam said...

Tacitus2 - Genetic bio-warfare?
Sounds like a very bad idea, even assuming it isn't a violation of international treaties.

Just end the un-Constitutional federal drug prohibition in the US, but continue to interdict drug imports for a year or two. Sell at auction all drugs that are captured, to keep prices low.

That would shrivel the cash flow to the criminals/terrorists that have been organizing the trade, while keeping their costs of import high. Same benefits for Mexico, Columbia, etc.

Tim H. said...

Ending the war on drugs would free up a lot of enforcement money, which in a sane world would fund treatment clinics for the addictable. More likely, those savings would be spent on almost anything else, and some in the law enforcement community would find novel uses for the legal precedents inspired by the war on drugs. Not to mention criminals showing ingenuity finding other revenue streams. Still, it's worth doing, people should be allowed to find their own way to heaven, hell or oblivion.

Tacitus2 said...

I believe I acknowleged the impalatability of this concept. But this is a place to think creatively, we are not, praise Allah, policy makers!
Hows about a bio agent that persuades the poppy to make not opium base but an opium antagonist? We could let the narco trafficers take their understandable displeasure out on the Taliban!

LarryHart said...

Concerning Macs vs PC's...

This surely marks me as a techno-illiterate, but how exactly did the term "PC" come to refer specifically to the Microsoft product. It drives me quietly nuts when I hear people talk about "Macs vs PCs", because I seem to recall a time way back when the earth was cooling that "P.C." simply meant "personal computer"--personal as opposed to those big things that take up whole rooms in laboratories--and that the image I had in my head when I thought of a "personal computer" WAS an Apple.

Am I misremembering that such a time existed. Mind you, I can also recall a time when I spent the last two weeks of the school year telling everyone about this great new movie--Star Wars--and they had no idea what I was referring to.

Stefan Jones said...

The idea of gene-bombing poppies occurred to me too. Don't kill them off, "neuter" them opiate-wise.

I think the biggest loser would be the farmers, though; the Taliban and Al Qeada would find other funding sources. In fact, I read an article just the other day that suggested that drugs profits were only part of a large income base. Smuggling, kidnapping, and other sources make up the majority of their funding.


The first IBM computer, which established the hardware paradigm and ran Microsoft DOS and used Microsoft BASIC, was called the IBM PC.

It's as simple as that.

I've owned, upgraded, repaired, and assembled every major PC since then, and there is precious little remaining of the original architecture, but there is a clear line of descent.

Doug S. said...

What I liked about Surrogates was that it was a Hollywood science-fiction movie that wasn't stupid. They actually managed to make a science fiction movie that didn't have gaping plot holes! It wasn't a particularly great movie, but it actually managed to tell a reasonable science fiction story without screwing it up, and for Hollywood, that's an impressive achievement.

Thing I hated most about Surrogates? The blonde FBI surrie can leap along buildings and dodge cars... so why isn't everybody doing stuff like that, all the time? Dang! Who'd use F%##@ stupid cars! What pisses me off is everybody only cares about LOOKING like gods, when they could $$#$@! BE like em.

Most people didn't have a surrogate like that. It was a special police model, and probably cost a lot more than most people's surrogates.

LarryHart said...

Stefan said:


The first IBM computer, which established the hardware paradigm and ran Microsoft DOS and used Microsoft BASIC, was called the IBM PC.

It's as simple as that.

I've owned, upgraded, repaired, and assembled every major PC since then, and there is precious little remaining of the original architecture, but there is a clear line of descent.

I'm not doubting your expertise, but I dimly remember a time in the long-distant past when it was possible to refer to an "Apple P.C.". Was there never such a time? Did the term "P.C." (for personal computer) always exclude Apple products?

Stefan Jones said...

Personal computer was a generic term for a while, but IBM's use of the term put a total lock on it.

Rob Perkins said...

PC was in generic use for a very short time.

The Commodore 64 was billed as a personal computer, as was the TI-whateveritwas and the TRS-80 line, but in time-honored Steve Jobs style, Apple computers were always billed by their brand names, and never a generic name, never even an article word (never "the Macintosh", always just "Macintosh". He tried it again with "iPhone")

Tony Fisk said...

dewy eyed nostalgia trip
...and pre-Amiga, there was dear old Uncle Clive's Speccy.

Anyway, we've covered this topic several times. To other business (speaking of policy making): is anyone doing anything for the 350 climate action day this Saturday?

Tony Fisk said... if interested.

hacqui: computer geek manga poetry

Tim H. said...

Fitting, that IBM would turn a generic term into a trademark, so much else on their original PC was generic. Little more than a souped up CPM box, and barely 16-bit.

Tony Fisk said...

Then they tried to close the stable door in the late eighties by coming up with a closed architecture (SAA)

... and wondered where the horse had bolted to.

Meanwhile, I seem to recall this has caused angst for certain wordperfect users:
On Windows 7:
Microsoft has acknowledged that the Windows pop-ups that interrupt users are "rude". With Windows 7 users can customise how and when they view such pop-ups.

(But do you then get pestered with emails saying 'you have pop-ups'?)

Tim H. said...

Think it was Micro Channel Architecture, not enough better than EISA. The keyboard and mouse ports caught on well enough. Do wonder what might have happened with atari if they had not been given the "gift" of professional management, the 800 was the first desktop I heard of employing coprocessors, and some of those engineers worked on the amiga. Afraid I remember early PCs & compatibles as a plague that left computing much less diverse and interesting.

Marino said...

for Dr. Brin:

I'm not American, but I would add something to the conservatives turning into nutters: look at my country, Italy, where the current right-wing government uses the same lines and rethoric of the US Right, may it be convergent evolution (involution?) or hired spin doctors from the other side of the pond...
(few days ago a bill applying the hate crime statute to acts against gay people was defeated with the Santorum's "incest, paedophilia & bestiality" argument, quoted verbatim.)
Now, said government won elections with a large margin, has still a wide consensus, so maybe this drift towards the most extreme reactionary nuttery isn't related to derangement from defeat at the polls, but may hint at something worse: what if the Right in the whole Western world is turning Beck/Coulter/Malkin/Limbaugh-esque, leaving the progressives with no other supporting the Enlightenment values and acting as loyal opposition?

btw, re: US coup...fer Chrissakes, NO! if I were a Chinese or Russian planner, shortly after such an event, I'd launch a plausibly deniable decapitation strike in hope to keep the country in the grip of civil disorder, and not with evil intent, but just to avoid the risks of such unknown quantity.
It's common knowledge that coup leaders need external enemies as scapegoats and "short victorious wars (yes, I read Honorverse novels...)" to build consent, so better preempt...

Ilithi Dragon said...

Marino, I don't think you have to worry too much about a successful coup attempt. Maybe a successful assassination, but that would just make Obama a martyr ("Strike me down, and I shall become more powerful than you can ever imagine."
} ; = 8 P ). Anyone attempting a coup would have to wipe out most of the upper administration to find someone in the line of succession for the presidency who would be sympathetic to their cause, or at least manipulable, and that kind of coordinated multi-prong strike would be next to impossible. Anyone trying to steal the presidency through force would be immediately put down by the military and a hundred million outraged, and armed civilians. No, a successful coup attempt is very, very unlikely.

What is more likely, I think, is an insurrection attempt, starting with increasing Oklahoma City bomber-types (I am refusing to use the man's name, since it only immortalizes him), and then pockets of attempted insurrection by armed right-wingnut civilians, possibly centered around the 'tea parties.' The minor insurrection attempts, probably culminating in a small band of a few very well-armed civilians taking several hostages or going on a killing spree, would be handled by local law enforcement, SWAT teams, and the FBI. The major insurrection attempts, by large and possibly well-organized mobs of armed civilians, would be quickly and thoroughly put down by the military. I would estimate that any such insurrection attempt would last no more than 10 hours, save a few hostage situations possibly lasting a day or more. It would be a major news event, with FOX News reporting on the 'righteous revolt against the oppressive and illegal communist regime to restore the Constitution' and all the other news agencies reporting on the small bands of armed rioters and hostage-takers, advising people to avoid those areas, lest they be shot for being black, hispanic, chinese, gay, communist, or 'too liberal.' Most Americans would watch it on their TVs or on the radio (or follow it on internet blogs/news reports), while law enforcement and the national guard handled the situation, though some civilians near the rioting would probably take up arms against the so-called 'insurrection.'

The experience would shake this country to its core, ripping open a lot of old wounds, and smashing everyone's faces into the increasingly large elephants that have been wandering around the room for years. But ultimately, the leadership would never be in question, even with successful assassinations, and the attempt by the right-wingnuts would devastate their political and moral standing. The Republican party would cease to exist as any kind of political power, with any congressmen and other government officials acting or speaking in support of the insurrection attempt would have damned themselves for treason, with hard, fervent investigations revealing even more connections and ties, and landing even more of the collapsing GOP members in jail. Many of those uninvolved would probably abandon the GOP, since it would now be forever politically tainted, and the few who escaped investigation and tried to stick it out with the Republican name wouldn't make it through the next election.

Ilithi Dragon said...


It would be a harrowing experience, very traumatic, and deeply disturbing, but ultimately, it would only strengthen President Obama's cause, even if he is killed, and it would devastate his opposition. The vast, vast, vast majority of U.S. citizens would NOT support an armed insurrection and coup attempt, and anyone who tried would stir the wrath of that overwhelming majority, and while the experience would be harrowing and shake America to its core, it would also probably awaken a fervent, and real patriotism that we haven't seen since the days of WWII. Awakened, albeit painfully, to the outrages around them, and the dangers of the sweet temptation of political self-righteousness and militantly partisan politics, offered by political ideologues and puppet-masters, Americans would rise to this threat and fend it off, and be stirred to rise to new challenges, and to face old challenges that had been ignored and put off.

No, we have nothing to fear from any right-wingnut insurrection attempts, though the experience would be harrowing and painful. Not only because it would fail utterly from the sheer stupidity of it, as Dr. Brin has elaborated on already, but because it would be, in internet parlance, an Epic Fail, devastating, if not outright destroying the very cause and ideology that is attempting the insurrection, and I would wager that a lot of backlash and collateral damage would splash onto the puppet masters driving it, if it doesn't eventually lead straight back to them, bringing the whole thing crashing down like a house of cards that blew out its own foundation to get materials to build higher.

Tacitus2 said...


The scenario you outline strikes me as highly unlikely, but not impossible. (maybe in the .05% range).
But your analysis of the outcome is probably valid. John Brown thought there would be a popular uprising to support him. The Symbionese Liberation Army thought that too. Maybe the Oklahoma City guy thought it.
They were all rudely disappointed.


rewinn said...

@Tacitus - I appreciate your creative thinking; however, let us put our selves in the shoes of the poppy farming village. Imagine if the Canadians delivered the ultimatum:

"We know you are harboring 15 Teabagger militants in Spring-Field village....deliver them, in one fashion or another, to this spot in 24 hours or we spray your fields such that you can't grow tobacco for five years".

Whether the spray neuters the opiates or just kills the plants doesn't matter. What would YOU response, as a red-blooded American farmers:

A) "ok, let's hand over cousin Clem the Teabagger"

B) "I don't know WTF they're talking about, but let's hand over Boo Radley; I've always had a hankering after his farm anyway."

C) BOOM! "Sic semper Tyrannis!"

I mean, c'mon. Would you REALLY hand over cousin Clem?


We really need to make a distinction between the 100 or so AQ in Afghanistan, and the 25,000 or more illiterate farmers currently fighting for the Taliban. The latter are nasty but (A) not a threat to our nation (B) violent to their own people, but probably not much more than the warlords currently running the place with our blessing. Actually, OUR nation may be better off with AQ in Afghanistan than we would be driving them into Pakistan since it's gonna be a looooong time before Afghanistan gets nukes. See David Kilcullen


A wiser policy might be to talk to Afghanistan's neighbors. India (the world's most populous democracy) and China (the world's most populous not-democracy) have much greater interests than we do in stablizing Afghanistan, and their manpower is such that any force increases we could send would barely be a rounding error for them.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Yeah, I doubt any actual organized attempt at insurrection will occur, though it's still possible. Most likely, if any attempt does occur, it will be in the form of a handful of mob riots, possibly stemming from an overzealous tea party, or a few hostage situations, or an Oklahoma City bombing scenario.

Also, the OH City bomber did think he was going to spark a mass uprising.

rewinn said...

xkcd comments on how (fairly or unfairly) WE appear to THEM:

Jacob said...

Regarding Surrogates... (Spoilers, please don't read if you haven't seen it.)

I was upset that they didn't even explore the implementations of what little tech they added. All 'surrogates' were controlled remotely from home. Why didn't they have cheap law enforcement copies on every corner? Just remote into the closest blank to the action to deal with a crime. Imagine a chase scene where they managed to kill a dozen copies of the hero before he managed to overcome their pre-planed defenses in a clever way.

One thing I'm unclear about was the ending. I'm pretty sure they wiped out humanity with their little "No Science is Better" move by the part of the hero. I had thought they were going to disconnect everyone so they couldn't be killed while in their surrogate. Apparently they just uploaded a patch which would prevent a user from being directly harmed. (Which is stupid because the virus was never studied or development done to counter it.)

I also was upset by the inventor killing Blondie's partner viciously, but keeping the Tech alive because he "cared about humanity." They must have done it so Blondie could get instructions to fix things rather than smash equipment I guess.

I could go on, but those were the biggies.

Stefan Jones said...

Even Glenn "I'm a Rodeo Clown, not a journalist" Beck has warned on air that "it would only take one Timothy McVeigh to ruin everything." (That's more or less an exact quote.)

In other words, he's telling his audience that they the real Americans, that they should be afraid, and that they know who the "weasels" are who are out to steal the country, but not to do anything about it, except maybe go to 9/12 events and tea bagger rallies.

I'm not sure if this is wishful thinking or covering his ass.

Anonymous said...

Valid points all. Of course, in this setting Boolah Radley is probably guilty too. Yes, if it were to be done it would have to be covert, and that does not seem right. Still, if you were POTUS and had this presented to you as a black op, would you be tempted? I suspect that the Devil, when he makes a rare personal appearance in this secular age, leaves the cape and pitchfork at home, preferring a powersuit and briefing book.

Indian troops? Not if there is a lick of truth to the whole Pak. IFI supporting the Talib to use in Kashmir line. Chinese? Better, but they are heathen non believers, worse even than Christian Crusaders. And I can't see why they would want to stir up their own Uigher problem.

No, what you need are troops from a reasonably stable, Islamic but secular looking nation. Egypt and Indonesia come to mind, but I suspect the cold climate would be an issue. Maybe, we can dream after all, in a decade or so the Iraqi army can help out? They certainly know about insurgents, many of them have personal experience! But they have come quite a ways....


JuhnDonn said...

Ilithi Dragon said... Awakened, albeit painfully, to the outrages around them, and the dangers of the sweet temptation of political self-righteousness and militantly partisan politics, offered by political ideologues and puppet-masters, Americans would rise to this threat and fend it off, and be stirred to rise to new challenges, and to face old challenges that had been ignored and put off.

Heh. Sounds like hobbits.

matthew said...

Naw, as far as coups in the US go, it's just so much easier to just fake the election results and get your goons in power "legally."

See Wired

David Brin said...

Orwell had it wrong and Huxley had it right. Any lasting tyranny will strive hard to make us feel we still have sovereign rights.

Re Beck warning of McV terror... it is the first I have seen any of the raving loons actually admitting there might be undesired consequences of pushing too hard. (The topic of a previous posting. BTW, I got some hate mail from that one, accusing me of trumping up a civil war "in order to justify pre-emptively striking to suppress Red America. Yeah. And Abraham Lincoln started the Civil War.)

Re Surrogates, I reiterate. The contemptible thing was the blatant assumption that people -- ALL people -- are fools and will addictively abuse any new thing. New things must be rejected... in essence because they are new. Above all, NEVER show the majority making careful, wise and well-balanced use of a new thing.

Anonymous said...

Dollhouse starts with a strong premise, the notion of a new technology that allows us to wipe peoples' memories and then download into their brains the memories and personalities of any other person.

A science fiction author would have a field day with this premise. Alas, Joss Whedon did very little with it. For example, the primary use of the technology in Whedon's TV series Dollhouse involves...downloading the memories of former girlfriends and dead wives into Dolls and using them as high-class hookers.

Now, seriously, folks. I mean, come ON. If you were writing a TV series like that, could you come up with a little better use for such a radical new technology?

For example, download the knowledge and memories of the world's best scientists into multiple other people so they could collaborate with themselves and become many times more productive?

Download the knowledge and memories of adults into children to radically speed up education, revolutionizing society?

Download the knowledge and memories of great artists and composers and writers into many other people to multiply their creativity and productivity?

Download the knowledge and memories of great spiritual leaders like the Dailai Lama into many other world leaders to produce progress and peace in the world?

I mean, that's just scratching the surface. Yet Joss Whedon can only imagine using this amazing new technology to produce expensive hookers.


Then, too, there's the suggestion in the TV series Dollhouse that this technology also allows mind control. In one scene, a trigger phrase turns a woman who is the main characters' girlfriend into a ruthless ultra-skilled assassin, then another trigger phrase causes her to return to her former persona, forgetting compeltely about the murder she just committed.

Obviously this has dark implications, but just imagine using this kind of mind-control technology for something positive. Applying it to criminals to reform them instantly. Turning people with alcohol or drug abuse problems into model citizens. And so on.

Whedon's Dollhouse was such a disappointment that it genuinely startled me. Joss Whedon did excellent work as a fantasy writer in the Buffy and Angel series and in his excellent script for the first Toy Story movie from Pixar, but in all honesty, I don't think Whedon can write science fiction.

Ilithi Dragon said...

The problem with science fiction today, and really any fictional medium that isn't directed at kids or designed with comedic intent, is that there is this popular... mentality is the best word I can think of right now, that views anything other than a pessimistic view or approach or portrayal of... Well, everything from technology, to government and social services, to society, to alien entities, to human nature, a story that presents those with anything other than pessimism, tends to be deemed as 'unrealistic.' It's a rather cynical and fatalistic mindset that seems to be dominating media, especially anything coming from Hollywood, which scorns any kind of optimism, save 'the hero wins' happy endings, a few feel-good or inspirational stories, and stuff directed at kids.

It's rather disappointing and depressing, really, especially for those of us who are natural optimists, and expect others to do the right thing, since the popular message seems to be the fatalistic "We can never get better, we're only worse than we were before, everyone's a sheep, corruption is rampant, inevitable, and cannot be fought, everyone has a price, we're going to destroy ourselves soon, etc."

But, then, Dr. Brin has ranted about that often enough that I don't need to reiterate his points (though I must thank you, Dr. Brin, for those rants, as they are partly responsible for the restoration of my own inherent optimism in recent years).

Well, I was going somewhere with all of this, but now it's completely escaped me... Egh... TGIF.

Tony Fisk said...

It can be an interesting exercise in 'culture-jamming'(?) to present a story with an initially pessimistic setting and outlook, and then turn it round into something uplifting.

I have noted that we have had one or two trolls coming here claiming to have drawn great inspiration from 'the Postman' only to get very irate when they realise it was the wrong inspiration!

I can imagine people getting similarly apocaphilic vibes from 'Earth' (esp. when Daisy's cutters get put into play!)

Now I go seek oblivion
(of a temporarily somnolent nature)

Tacitus2 said...

Interesting. I suppose by attendence here we are a pre selected cohort, but to see folks across the political spectrum all agree that Hollywood turns out sour, hacknied crap.....

I think the last work of filmatic genius I saw was Lord of the Rings, which with its admitted faults was a great achievement. And I think balanced optimism and "reality" in a tastefull fashion. A recent poster sniffed a bit at hobbits, but I think they would make excellent citizens!


TwinBeam said...

Why are the Dems covering up for Bush's crimes?,0,7109068.story

Wasn't Obama supposed to be all over "transparency"? Sure he wanted to "move on" - but there's a big difference between ignoring and enabling!

Doug S. said...

Dollhouse is unapologetic about its Misapplied Phlebotinum. The characters are well aware that the technology has applications far beyond what they actually use it for, but they tend to fall back on the old standby The World Is Not Ready.

And in the bonus episode on the Dollhouse Season 1 DVD, it turns out they were right. Someone (apparently from China, but it's vague) figured out how to imprint someone using an ordinary telephone speaker, and turned half the United States into rampaging lunatics programmed to kill the other half. Instant Apocalypse, just add water!

soc said...

Well here's some reason to be optimistic: rich Germans demand higher taxes.

matthew said...

For a very decent SciFi movie (near future) that starts out very pessimistic and ends on an optimistic note, check out "Children of Men," if you have not already. A good movie, edging toward greatness at times.
BTW, Michael Caine's old neo-hippie character listening to "Boom" music is utterly disarming.

David Brin said...

Someday I must post my standard raving about The Idiot Plot... about the real reason why producers, scriptors and directors almost all and almost always portray the Public as sheep and institutions as useless and technology as evil. It is NOT that they believe any of those things! In fact, they blink in dismay when you accuse them of such thoughts. As good democrats, they claim officially to believe in democracy, decent government and science.

No, it is simply that, cocaine having wrecked half their brain cells, they simply cannot figure out how to deliver a rip-snorting action plot without setting up the hero against the most simpleminded scenario possible. You MUST put the hero into pulse-pounding jeopardy and the easiest way to do that is to assume that he is surrounded by clueless cops, corrupt institutions, and a pathetically stupid citizenry.

In other words, by depriving him of all possible sources of help, it is simple to create the jeopardy and send him running, jumping, rolling, shooting, leaping amid explosions...

...all of which would be made more difficult, if honest cops came when called, if backup arrived in time, if democracy functioned, or if the man and woman on the street showed even a fraction of the gumption that New Yorkers displayed, on 9/11.

Naturally, there are exceptions. Spielberg always evades the Idiot Plot. The film RANSOM showed Mel Gibson's character deliberately refusing the advice of very skilled cops, on a wise hunch that this time they were wrong. In every Spider Man film, there is a moment of homage to the brave citizens of his city. It can be done! The result is often a more interesting and heart-warming and uplifting film.

Which proves that it really does boil down to something unforgivable. Not hatred of civilization (though they are doing great harm to it). Not cocaine destruction of nerve cells. Not a malignant plot. No... they do it out of simple, flat-out laziness.

And that's wrong. It's unforgivable.


(Is there a place where I've already given this rant, at length? I know there's a few 4-paragraph versions.....)

Ilithi Dragon said...

I'm not really sure... I don't recall reading any article of yours that specifically focused on the frustrating pessimism of Hollywood et al, anyway, though I can't yet claim to have read all of your writings.

Stefan Jones said...

I would not recommend Children of Men to anyone who doesn't have a strong commitment to watch it all the way through. The optimistic note is a brief peep at the end of a most unrelenting parade of monstrosity and inhumanity.

Well, actually . . . there is a scene, maybe about fifteen minutes before the finale, that had me misting up. One of those multi-minute-long shots of the hero running into a refugee-camp building to retrieve . . . The Prize . . . and when the soldiers storming the place see . . . The Prize . . . they instantly call a ceasefire, and some of them fall to their knees and begin praying out of sheer wonder and relief.

When you see that, you realize that the vile people who populate that futureless world are not beyond hope.

Rob Perkins said...

You think "E.T." evaded the "idiot plot?"

Maybe hollywood writers are just playing out their role as fantasists. "IN A WORLD where all the people are sheep and all the authorities incompetent, OUR HERO pulls success from disaster AGAINST ALL ODDS for YOUR ENTERTAINMENT!"

Or it could simply be that since their desire is to recapture childlike wonder with those kinds of stories, they imbue the Hero with a childlike perspective, which is one way to claim that "E.T." didn't follow the "idiot plot."

There's even a Christian meme for that.

David Brin said...

I totally agree with Stefan about that scene from that movie... which nevertheless did go with the idiot plot, overall.

Great scene, though!

Rob, Actually, ET is only an idiot plot if you refuse to open your eyes. Tell, me, who is the "villain" in that film?

99% of folks answer the government, or the govt guy with 'the keys."

Um... what, exactly, does he or any other govt person do that's wrong? Run through a dark forest with flashlights and clipboards and cameras, trying to make contact? Try desperately to save the life of a visitor from the stars who is dying from food poisoning from eating Reese's Pieces?

Spielberg does a total gotcha. The kids -- especially Eliot -- are self-righteous little twits who betray their country, their civilization and species by not letting the adults and duly assigned tribal chiefs to simple do their honest jobs!

ET himself isnt;t to blame. A frightened, nerdy scientist.

Who is the villain? Well tell me. Who abandons a crewmate on a primitive world, when threatened by... flashlights?

Who has to be summoned ("ET phone home!") instead of simply coming back the next night to look for that crewmate?

Who is refusing to contact us, when that might save us... or at least do the polite thing?

The Captain of that ship is the bona fide asshole. The guy with the keys, in contrast, is Eliot with all the same sense of wonder -- but grown up, with knowledge and responsibilities and a sense of duty beyond "I'm keeping him" selfishness.

If the Keys Guy had ET, he'd use goldstone to "phone home." He'd do careful tests to eliminate poison and give ET the right food. And -- when the Captain returned -- he'd escort ET to the ramp, burdened by gifts... and make a simple demand.

"Your secretive and illegal skulking around has cost us a lot of pain and fear and expense. That'll be one copy of the Encyclopedia Galactica please, in compensation, you interstellar sumbitch!"

I have to think Spielberg expected more of us to "get" this twist. Even if most took it as a simpleminded -- if ultimately wholesome -- morality tale about hospitality and tolerance, the added layer OUGHT to have been seen by more people.

We're the ones who let Spielberg down, not the other way around.

David Brin said...

PS... want to see ET done differently, by more mature, high school level heroes?

Try my Hal Clement Award winning YA novel -- SKY HORIZON!

Rob Perkins said...

David, it would take paragraphs to articulate properly, but I don't agree with you about Spielberg: the fact that he encodes these different levels of storytelling into a movie relentlessly marketed to children, and shrouded in complete secrecy from the moment it was greenlit, suggests that it's the filmmaker with contempt for his audience, rather than the story. And I just don't have a picture of a contemptuous Spielberg, from that part of his filmmaking career.

For example, what was the guy with the keys doing with a gun, when every storytelling element painted him as an ominous threat?

(Yes, I know ILM took out the gun for the re-release. But the radio that replaced it

Why not a few scenes showing us more clearly that key-guy was an Enlightenment savior figure, rather than painting him the villain with *every cinematic note possible*, gun or no gun, including the invasion and possession of the child characters' safe places, while also evoking the fear that he was taking the alien for the usual hollywood government-researches-the-strange-in-secret trope.

No sir. That movie was SOA kids-triumph-over-adults tripe, same as most movies, from start to finish. Spielberg is far too preachy and direct a filmmaker to encode so deeply; he wants people to get his messages right away.

Rob Perkins said...

David, do you have Sky Horizon on an Amazon Kindle publishing deal, by the way?

(my incomplete sentence should have read that the radio was still a stand-in symbol for authority, played precisely as ominously. The guns were behind the device that can call for them.)

matthew said...

Stefan, David, et al.
I wasn't saying that Children of Men didn't use the 'idiot' government trope; it is an extreme dystopia, so a crap government seems to be part of the setting.

I was just commenting that I thought it was a good bit of scifi, with ...The Pause.... as a statement back at the dystopia.

But here is a question. How many dystopian stories can you think of that feature an intelligent, well-run, non-tyranical government (or other authority figures)?

David Brin said...

Matthew, GATTACA was a wonderful sci fi film for grownups, set in a future wolrd in which civilization is clearly trying to do the right thing, passing laws against genetic discrimination... but most people ignore those laws shortsightedly. The hero is actually a self-centered, ego-driven bastard! If he succeeds, then he'll have set a huge moral lesson against DNA-determinism and he'll do a lot of good. But if he dies on the mission, his egotism will have endangered everybody else on the crew.

A hugely interesting movie.

Rob, the Guy with keys NEVER had a gun. Ever. There were some FBI type guys, late in the film, who were trying to arrest Eliot, who had guns. But Keys never had one, nor did the guys running thru the forest at the beginning.

"Why not a few scenes showing us more clearly that key-guy was an Enlightenment savior figure, rather than painting him the villain with *every cinematic note possible*, gun or no gun, including the invasion and possession of the child characters' safe places, while also evoking the fear that he was taking the alien for the usual hollywood government-researches-the-strange-in-secret trope."

I agree that EVERYBODY thinks Keys is the villain, even though he is revealed at the end as a super-nice fellow and even... hinted... a possible love interest for Mom. No, the fear of him is generated with camera and music tricks that Spielberg meant for at least SOME of us to look past! At least that's my reading, since there's no FACTUAL justification for any of the dread.

Only one scene shows a factual govt sin... their overbearing and patronizing treatment of mom, in not answering her frantic questions as they put a bubble over her house. But Eliot's fear of "dissection" is pure SOA-overdose paranoia and the govt biologists have NO such intent in mind, as they fight to save ET.

"No sir. That movie was SOA kids-triumph-over-adults tripe, same as most movies, from start to finish. Spielberg is far too preachy and direct a filmmaker to encode so deeply; he wants people to get his messages right away."

Sure, that's the main text... and I may be giving him WAY too much credit. Still, the simple FACT is that Keys does nothing wrong -- except the sin of patronizing, overbearing officiousness -- which is the SAME crime the govt commits in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, RAIDERS, and several other Spielberg films. A fair cop, too, since "we know best" is often the insult inflicted by even a well-meaning government.

Reiterating: this is the ONLY crime that SS routinely shows the American Republic committing against its citizens. He is far too smart grateful -- in an industry filled with ingrates -- to portray the nastiness that most of Hollywood invests into our institutions, out of stupidity and laziness.

Likewise, his portrayal of the HERO archetype is nuanced and wholly different than his pal Lucas. SS shows us flawed men, not super-demigods but only a bit above average, who wrestle with themselves and then choose to rise up and do their jobs, as citizens.

Ilithi Dragon said...

matthew said...

But here is a question. How many dystopian stories can you think of that feature an intelligent, well-run, non-tyranical government (or other authority figures)?

Fox News?

Rob Perkins said...

OH good grief, I've gone and gotten my memory turned around. Forgive me, it's been 23 years or so since I saw it last... without liking it very much.

Yes, yes, "Keys" was fine, in the end, and perhaps the music and camera angles imparted the attitude of a child, or a short alien alone in a strange world, which is the default condition of a child to begin with...

They still ran from him and stole his van.

I think Indy is at least a demigod. There's no way someone survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in even a lead-lined fridge... has to be something supernatural about that particular feat...

And anyway, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is probably a better example of what you claim, but I think you're still giving him too much credit, I think.

matthew said...

@ Ilithi - No, Fox only portrays the government as capable when a Republican is in power. Their message is not "The government is powerful and benevolent," but "Our team will keep you safe."

This is why all the hand-wringing over Obama refusing to treat Fox as impartial media is ridiculous. Lord, even NPR has called Obama refusing to treat with Fox "Nixonian," and are hinting at enemies' lists. Another case of IOFWRDI ("It's Only Fair When Republicans Do It."); a plague of which has struck our damn "liberal" media.

soc said...

Panel: NASA should skip moon

Tim H. said...

I would rather say that movie making is a difficult way to tell any but simple stories, unless remarkable people are doing it. Great science fiction stories tend to suffer when they're stuffed into a 120 minute box. Short stories might fare better, but they lack recognition, the late Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild" might fit quite well in a movie format.

Kathy said...

Mr. Brin, Your book, Kiln People, would make an excellent HBO series. Books as speculative & complex as yours are, probably don't make for good 90-minute movies.

I hope your Agent will talk to HBO, or any TV station interested in a series that would explore all the different uses for the artificial people.

I've often thought TV was the perfect medium for transferring books to screen.
Of course intelligence & talent and budget, and interference from On High (as in The Postman) will affect the product.

Stefan Jones said...

As awful as the scenario depicted was, and how hateful most of the characters behaved, I like and respect "Children of Men" a lot and do not think it had an idiot plot!

I think the filmmaker tried to realistically depict a world without hope for a future. Simply put, society has gone mad with grief. In such a situation you'd expect people to act like idiots. In any case, there are sane people work on a solution around; the action of the book revolves around getting The Prize to them.

Tony Fisk said...

Just got back from making a nuisance of myself on the streets of Melbourne for the 350 climate action day. Nice day for it, too. (However, I do wish 'concerned citizens' could inject some originality into their chants. I tried adding a bit of modulation and got some very strange looks)

Speaking of strangeness, all the flashing lights and stuff in ET were meant to portray the Earth from the ETs perspective: an alien and rather scary place.

'Keys' continued to represent that menace and project onto 'gumint', until you actually get to see the man behind the keys.. and realise he's no enemy.*

The twist is so effective that it's clear that Spielberg was doing all this quite deliberately, and if the citizens of the US can't handle a few enigmas wrapped in mystery, then the lights went out some time ago! (I always thought the ET was a juvenile itself or, at least, a very junior crew member. As to the captain. Hmm! What would Kirk do?)

*(btw, at the end, the MO in Gattaca tipped off the hero that he had been on to him from the start, but hadn't unmasked him because of the inspiration it gave the MO's crippled son. Nevertheless, he had been monitoring his progress and seemed satisfied that he had 'made the grade'.. that 90% heart risk everyone had made so much of hadn't expressed itself: triumph of observation over expectation!! Oh well, maybe we do read to much into movies)

sclumpla: what ET has for breakfast

Catfish N. Cod said...

Rob, Actually, ET is only an idiot plot if you refuse to open your eyes. Tell, me, who is the "villain" in that film?

99% of folks answer the government, or the govt guy with 'the keys."

Actually, I *never* thought that. Once I got over my childhood fear of ET and was able to watch the whole movie, one image more than any other stood out at me:

Elliot confronting Keys, overtly being loyal to ET, but subtextually accusing him of all the things his SOA training has taught him to. And Keys kneels down and tells him:

"Elliot, he came to me too. I've been wishing for this since I was 10 years old, I don't want him to die. What can we do that we're not already doing?"

And I knew. I *knew* that Keys had been Elliot, once; that had ET come later, Elliot would have become Keys.

As for the Captain -- well, I find it hard to judge em without more data. Flip it around and look at it from, say, Picard's perspective:

1) An away team is collecting biosamples on a prewarp planet.
2) The natives are about to discover the away team, so they beam out.
3) One redshirt is left behind.
4) Picard, being Picard, still wants to obey the Prime Directive. So instead of just sending another away team he sits in far orbit and scans like heck, trying to collect enough data to insert the rescue team without totally wrecking the planet from a Federation perspective.
5) The enterprising (sic) redshirt learns enough about the native culture to 'phone home', and recruits natives to get him to the pickup point.
6) An amicable but minimum-data first contact is made; the redshirt beams back up; and Picard hightails it outta there before Starfleet HQ yanks his tush for contaminating a prewarp culture.

Sounds like a typical TNG episode to me. Now where's the villain here? Some officious admiral at the home office, trying to enforce a general principle without recognizing that exceptions sometimes MUST be made? Maybe.... and maybe not.

For an example of the flip side: JMS' failed Crusade sequel to Babylon 5, episode "Visitors from Down the Street", which is simply the X-Files from the aliens' perspective. In that case, the government is doing all the nasty things that a SOA T-cell suspects (and falsely accusing the 'alien' humans of being part of the conspiracy, exactly as the CSA-analog desires)... and the Captain is so ticked off by the entire scenario that he deliberately drops HUNDREDS of copies of the Encyclopedia Galactica all over the planet!

Now THAT is Enlightenment behavior for ya.

Brother Doug said...

Hey Brin now the new repbulic is attacking transparency:

Brother Doug

JuhnDonn said...

No sniffing at Hobbits. After all, they were the regular guy who rose up and entered hell in WWI. And then again, in WWII. Not too shabby.

As for a Idiot Plot rants, I started reading somewhere around 2003/04 and I think I recall just one rant way back when. Probably not later than 2005.

Tim H. said...

Or maybe the plot difficulties stem from Hollyweird not realizing that "No one ever went broke underestimating the American public" is only mostly true. We hate being talked down to, even when it's justified. There have been good SF movies made, without compromising the plot to sell a few more tickets, 2001 being an example of how to do it, spectacular imagery that was worth the price of the ticket, even if you had little or no idea what Kubrick and Clarke were up to. Hmm, wonder what PIXAR would do with the uplift universe, or known space...

LarryHart said...

Not sure how many regulars on this site have a kid in the right age range to know about the tv cartoon "Phineas and Ferb", but I just for the first time saw the episode in which the evil Dr. Doofenschmertz creates an army of clones of himself in order to avoid waiting in line at the mall and such. I have to believe that the writers intended at least a passing nod to Kiln People there.

sociotard said...

The New Republic article was very interesting. The author wasn't so much opposed to the idea of transparency, as leary of transparency being a panacea. I think Dr. Brin would concede that point.

The annecdote about JAMA was especially informative.

David Brin said...

Stefan, sorry I overstated the case re Children of Men. I enjoyed the film and yes, everybody had good reason to have been driven mad. I just found the notion of only Britain still standing a bit simplistic and the tyranny a bit heavy-handed.

Most transparency excesses are settled by turning the light on those trying to do the bullying. Including "reformers" who don't get it.

sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, if it's not too much trouble, could you give an example how this could be applied to the annecdotes in the article?

The JAMA case, for example. They required contributing doctors to disclose where they got funding. They even investigated doctors accused of nondisclosure.

However, just the accusation was a bad blemmish on a doctors record (like sexual harrasment charges might be). They made a new rule: no talking about accusations until the results came in.

One accuser didn't like that and published his accusation in a newspaper. People criticized JAMA for their 'lack of transparency'. Eventually they recinded the rule and the unwarranted blemishes were back.

So, what then? From the authors description it sounds like the rule was a fair and reasonable thing. How could the situation be resolved by turning the light on the bullies? Doing a completely open nondisclosure investigation on anyone who complained? That sounds like mafia style intimidation to me.

I'm interested to read your suggestions.

Marino said...

Re: Idiot Plot:

for an example of how you can escape the "evil government vs. plucky lone hero" stereotype, look at the "Millennium" novels by Stig Larssen, expecially the last two ones: the main character is a victim of a cabal inside the intelligence from her early teens, but some devoted investigative journalists, the police and the intelligence branch in charge to protect the constitution cooperate to save her and expose the "something rotten in the state of Sweden" in court and on the press, and the novels and the movies still have a lot of action and are thrilling and fast paced

Acacia H. said...

I thought you might find this amusing, Dr. Brin: the ultimate in Transparency. ^^

(Freefall is one of the longest-running science fiction webcomics out there. The wolf there is actually a "Bowman's wolf" which was genetically engineered and is considered an artificial intelligence since she was "designed" and another character is an alien intelligence named Sam who outside the environmental suit resembles a bipedal squid or somesuch. It's a fun comic, and can be found here).

Rob H.

rewinn said...

Tacitus: India's getting involved in Afghanistan already; it's just not repeating the mistakes of the Russians and we Americans before them. China doesn't seem to feel threatened at all despite being "heathens" as you put it; perhaps we should get a clue.

But this thread has moved out of Afghanistan so perhaps we should as well.

rewinn said...

TwinBeam said...
Why are the Dems covering up for Bush's crimes?,0,7109068.story

This and comparable matters (such as the continued prosecution of Don Siegelmann) should anger any patriot. Some may say the current administration is trying a delicate balance; our armed forces and Justice Department have been so corrupted by its predecessors that letting out all the pus would be impossible.

Personally, I don't buy it, and certainly even if true we should not settle for it.

Alternatively, we are simply trapped inside The Idiot Plot and need to wait for the Hero ... because the Writers haven't made us smart enough to rescue ourselves.

Unknown said...

Sometimes I think Hollywood is afraid of deeper meanings.

The KILN PEOPLE soulistics and the questions about what makes us... well US is a subject that is rife with problems. While remote controlling a younger Bruce Willis is simple and has no complexities at all.

It can be done. There are thoughtful movies with deep meaning. I usually have to rent them, or watch them late at night on cable (not THOSE movies).

I love to watch all the little details in the background of movies. Where all the little things hide behind the action explosions and characters blurting the main theme out loud at the end of the movie (when it hasn't been reduced to the 1 word title).

(Not Surrogates specific commentary)

I always have a little hope that the main character eats Froot Loops as a symbolic nod to who he is, rather than reverse product placement.

The 300 Basketball trophies HAVE to end up with a basketball throw someplace

But the Froot Loops and the fact he owns a plaid brown fold out couch serves to give me a little more hope for the character and the film when he later jumps into his BMW with a rocket launcher and slays the baddie with the twirly mustache (cracking wise all the way).

I see all that little stuff as the cast and crew's defiant attempt to make something deeper than a spec sheet and a formula.

In a lot of ways this is how the low-budget, right to DVD movies fail for me. They are more about the formulas than the big boys.

Writing is the same way. A lot of people start writing "like" authors that they read, only finding their own voices later.

The current trend of remakes and sequels (and thefts) is an indication that people in the movie business haven't found their own voices (or haven't been allowed to) and the copies are falling a bit flat with the consumers.

People are misidentifying parts of the greatness of an existing film (or story) as a formula, rather than a whole.

It is all an art, not a science.

Tony Fisk said...

Off topic: a final muse on the 350 day, and a few not very serious 'Earth' predictions... although muses have a way of leading on...

Hmmm! Is this the harbinger of Sea State? No! It's the 350 navy heading for the UN headquarters! (ie quite the opposite, when you think about it!)

densenab: the d-oh! point where you *finally* get something that should have been blindingly obvious!

Does this depiction of '350' qualify as a 'geological-scale sculpture'? Would actually *achieving* 350 ppm qualify? (We're 10% over as it is!)

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Ilithi Dragon said...

Anyone happen to see Astroboy? I saw it the other day, and it's a great movie. It's geared more towards kids, but it's still great for the older crowd, too, and it's good science fiction, too. It's not all "Astroyboy saves the day!", either; he does, but he gets a LOT of help from regular people, and one of the most heroic deeds in the entire movie is actually done by not just an 'average joe', but an old, geeky scientist. It's a light-hearted adventure, but it's still a very enjoyable science fiction movie.

JuhnDonn said...

Thomas said... The current trend of remakes and sequels (and thefts) is an indication that people in the movie business haven't found their own voices (or haven't been allowed to) and the copies are falling a bit flat with the consumers.

I think a lot of it is due to the requirement that every movie a big studio produces has to be a hit to break even, per Hollywoodland accounting rules. Used to be, you had movies coming out every week (Casablanca was one) and profits accrued over all your production. There was enough wiggle room per movie to allow directors and writers to have fun with them.

One of my favorite movies is John Huston's The Dead. It's based on a James Joyce short story (same name) and I really can't see any major studio making this movie today. Is one of those layered films where everything speaks.

David Brin said...

Charlie Rose as scripted by samuel becket

Anonymous said...

And now, more rays of sunshine from Afghanisvietnamstan:

"Afghanistan's few roads are now increasingly monitored - and mined - by insurgents, meaning that many of the 180 U.S. outposts spread across the country can now only be reached by helicopters. "We don't have freedom of movement on the ground," a senior Army logistics officer says. "We're resupplying between 30% and 40% of our forward operating bases by air because we just can't get to them on the ground."

600 billion dollars a year spent on what is allegedly the world's "greatest military" and we can't even resupply our own troops except by helicopters. At this point, I'm beginning to suspect that America has achieved full-scale impotence, militarily speaking. Looks like the Tijuana police force could defeat the U.S. army handily.

America has become a pitiful helpless giant, and we've bankrupted ourselves to do it. Time to shut down our military, junk all the Ming of Mongo death rays and Atragon flying submarine watchamacallits (Osprey VTOL helicopters, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, whatever they call these bogus gimcrack hunks of junk) that don't work anyway, and discharge all our military personnel and let them go back to selling meth on the streets and jacking peoples' cars.

Anonymous said...

Someone recommended the movie Children of Men but I can't recommend it at all. Read the original book. It's infinitely better than the movie.

Okay, looks, here's the thing: in the book, everyone was old. The youngest characters in the narrative were middle aged. This had tremendous resonance. Because young people are so rare, in the book you can see that the human race is dying. It's tremendously poignant. There's a key scene in the book where several of the protagonists come across a ruined chapel with deer in it and one of the main characters mutters, "Why can't they leave it alone, it will all belong to them soon enough." In the movie this scene was changed to a ruined deserted classroom in an abandoned school. Probably because the producers got nervous about offending anyone by suggesting a mass abandonment of religion.

In the book, the situation looms so much more powerful than in the movie because we get a visceral sense that there are no young people in the world. The movie fills the screen with young people, typical twenty-somethings, because marketing types old the studio suits that's what sells at the movies. Maybe it does. But it's completely wrong for the movie because the book was all about how the human race is dying and most people are over 40. The protagonists in the book are almost all middle aged or older. That had enormous power in the book and changing that ruined the movie. The film frankly looked just like our world today, tons of young people, almost nothing was visibly different except for the absence of very young children. But the book was completely different and immeasurably better than the movie.

Avoid the stupid badly made film of Children of Men and read the original book.

Unknown said...

Gilmoure said...
I think a lot of it is due to the requirement that every movie a big studio produces has to be a hit to break even, per Hollywoodland accounting rules. Used to be, you had movies coming out every week (Casablanca was one) and profits accrued over all your production. There was enough wiggle room per movie to allow directors and writers to have fun with them.

Absolutely. At some point computers allowed companies to start doing their accounting in horrible (and much more profit oriented ways).

Instead of accounting based on the whole company, or quarters etc. Now many places run numbers daily, or even hourly.

(I currently work in the food industry, where sales/ workforce numbers are done daily and individually. Friday busy days don't pay for slow Mondays anymore... every day must pay for itself ... please note that there is plenty of money fro the big boys the old way, but there is MORE money to be squeezed otu by doing daily accounting).

Movies are the same way. Everything must be a hit. The massive hits no longer pay fro the flops (well they do, but it is more grudging than ever)...

Spending the PROFIT of a hit on a movie that did poorly makes the rich kids cranky. In the older system, that money didn't become a profit until much later in the timeframe of the company's accounting year (or quarter).

We live in an instant accounting availability greed system.

Every word, image, and semi-colon must create the maximum profit all the time. It is just the escalation and sharpening (to a razor's edge) of previous behavior.

Not a conspiracy... but it is the type of thing that tends to happen when you give moneys sharper rocks (they start carving up other monkeys and taking their stuff).

rewinn said...

"...At some point computers allowed companies to start doing their accounting in horrible (and much more profit oriented ways)...."

Computers, yes, but more important is the mutations in corporate structures that make actually producing product incidental to profitmaking.

There's always been a little of that but now-a-days ... well, look at our American civilian aerospace industry. Boeing used to be about making really good planes, now I don't think there's a single engineer on the board. The 787 is built of parts from around the world not because it makes engineering sense but because that allows playing one supplier off another to keep prices low.

Whether the thing actually flies doesn't matter. It rolled out on 7-8-7 and might get into the air. Someday. Without the investors who sold their stock on 7-9-7.

LarryHart said...

Computers, yes, but more important is the mutations in corporate structures that make actually producing product incidental to profitmaking.

There's always been a little of that but now-a-days ...

This is so relevant to Dr Brin's comments on satiation. Businesses have always had to be profitable because they can't survive otherwise. But back in the old days (Gosh, I feel like my dad when I say that), there could come a point at which the particular business made ENOUGH profit to be comfortable concentration on its actual mission without WORRYING about profit any more.

The way things are today, all a business CAN do is worry about profit. By the rules of the game as perceived by everyone who blindly defends capitalism or "the free market", a company can never reach any sort of satiation point. All it can ever do is want more.

All businesses want to maximize their profits of course, but having "maximize profit" as one's MISSION STATEMENT makes as little sense trying to maximize your personal happiness by resolving to do "whatever makes me happiest." It sounds good on paper, but reality doesn't work that way. It's a total confusion (if not reversal) of the concepts of objectives, stragegy, and tactics.

David Brin said...

on to next posting

TCB said...

Biggest problem with "Surrogates": no number in the title.

For some reason, Bruce Willis movies with a number in the title are usually the good ones: 5th Element, Sixth Sense, 12 Monkeys.

If Leslie Dixon had snuck a number into that title (I dunno, like K1ln P303pl3) maybe somehow magically it would have gotten greenlighted by Paramount and shot with Willis and some clever director.

I know I'm proposing a stupid theory, but at least it's based on stupid facts!

Gordon said...

Wasn't there a Keith Laumer story around this same theme? I think it was called Body Builders or something like that. Anyway it definitely featured the gladiatorial contest angle.

Shakhar said...

I read Kiln People a short while ago and loved the depth of the book, the wonderfully worked out implications and the strong positive way in which personality shines through the physical medium of the kilned simulacrum, coping with the disabilities and temporal fragility of a body that is falling apart.
I started buying the book for people as a feel-good gift, but since surrogates has come out, people are telling me, yah, yah, we saw the movie.
So I finally saw the movie, and it was so terrible that I just had to Google Brin and Surrogates to see if you had anything to do with it. I think you've held back with your critique of it, because if there is one unforgivable sin, it is the squandering of a brilliant idea. NONE of the implications of the idea of surrogacy were worked out.
And now this "been-there-done-that" attitude of people who've seen the movie is just doubly grating, for they ain't seen nothing yet...
Unless, they read Kiln People, that is...
Anyway. Cheers for a great book. There is simply NO comparision with the movie.
All the best,

Tokyo Tom Baker said...

The technology in "Surrogates" closely resembles the technology that Osaka University Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro is working on in real life. I interviewed Ishiguro for The Daily Yomiuri newspaper when the film came out in Japan this year. If you'd like to know what life with a real surrogate is like right here in 2010, read on at

Movie Paintings said...

I must admit I did enjoy the film but... much preferred your book!

Movie Paintings

emes said...

Hey Dr. Brin,
I enjoy your work immensely. I always appreciate and enjoy the cute little Jewish references that only members of the club would likely pick up on. I am proud to be among the many who have seen Surrogates and said, "Hey, this is totally a knock-off of Kiln People". To be quite honest, I thought calling the golems and being invented by a Dr. Maharal may have played some part in the powers that be choosing to go with the Surrogates script, as people may have gotten the impression that you were having a little too much fun with it rather than writing serious hard sci fi. What do I know? Anyway, it was a fun book and I hope you will eventually get credit for being the inspiration for the movie.
Looking forward to more great work! -MS