Saturday, October 04, 2014

Sci Fi Flicks! Some looks back and forward

AutomataAre we on the verge of the new Golden Age of science fiction cinema, in which it becomes about matters more interesting than explosions?  Let's start as Ray Kurzweil and company give us a sneak peak at the forthcoming movie Autómata“Starring Antonio Banderas, here we have a believable future (2044, thirty years from now) in which desertification is threatening society, and a single company is leading the way in intelligent robotics.” says one George Mason university blogger.  Indeed, it appears to be part of the new crop of films that treat AI with some attempts at subtlety.

Also looming on the horizon, even sooner... I’ve consulted for the new SyFy show “Ascension,” helping them design the ship and life-support systems and other tech… and the society of colonists who last had contact with Earth in 1962.  There is a new trailer up on Entertainment Weekly now.  See the premiere November 24.  At least on the idea level, the concept meetings had me thrilled.

What about Avatar?  The sequel soon-to-be-released?  Didn't I write a whole essay of advice for James Cameron (as if he needs or wants it) a year ago?  Okay, I'll post that soon... as an artifact. 
Of course, like most of you, I am eagerly hopeful about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. There appears to be some indication that it will offer us all the optimistic, can-do kind of confidence-building sci fi that this civilization desperately needs, after decades of stylishly-imitative cynicism. A theme that Luc Besson kind-of, sort-of, went for in “LUCY” (an under-rated film) and that Nolan’s protege Walter Pfister murkily tried for, but failed to achieve in “Transcendance.” Marc Zicree and his team are clearly aiming for this sensibility in “Space Command.”
LucyAbout LUCY. Now, first off, I am a Luc Besson fan — though I always make sure to tune down my IQ and mental age dials, whenever I go to see one of his films. Nothing wrong with that! (The Fifth Element is one of my all-time faves.) I did that for LUCY and was rewarded by having a very good time. Though on this occasion… alas… well, this film was kind of tragic, because the IQ downshift should not have been necessary! Look, I am not always searching for something as deeply thought-provoking as Leslie Dixon's terrific screenplay for LIMITLESS...
... but just five minutes of dialogue-doctoring could have shifted LUCY's “we use just 10% of our brains" howler (that offended so many) into some much more plausible-sounding blather that we could more-easily accept. A little work with some sober science-advisers and hard SF idea guys could have soothed you nerds out there enough to make this film a real success. Likewise, some of the most "magical" scenes could so easily have been replaced with equally cool tech-manipupation stuff.
Having said that... LUCY has many moving and thoughtful moments, along with gobs of Luc Besson's trademark fun. And it does not go for the cheap idiot plot that is so common these days -- the tediously common assumption that all our human institutions, neighbors and professionals are useless fools. Indeed, most are portrayed here as fairly smart and trying very hard.
HerEspecially, in the penultimate scene, when Morgan Freeman holds the super USB drive containing… well… no spoiler. But it represents a notion that is unabashedly Faustian and friendly to unlimited human ambition. That is refreshing, compared to the cliched, Crichtonian-nostalgic rant against science that pervades most media.
I saw this also in the lovely-gentle film HER.
The crux? I found myself won over more than I expected to be. Many good aspects of the film far outweighed howlers — like the ditzy villains. It is what Luc Besson does. As in The Fifth Element, this film is like a golden retriever who jumps on your lap and licks your face and pours love all over you until you surrender.
== Why this is rare ==
It is an uphill struggle for any film maker! Note the relentless number of dystopias, especially aimed at teenagers, that go for the cliched but timeless message: “I am a star-shaped peg that YOU (society/parents/schools) are pounding into a conformist square hole! Just you WAIT until I find my real friends and my real talents and powers!”
Who can compete with that timeless theme? Indeed, I praise and support the basic, individualistic, non-comformist love of tolerance, diversity and eccentricity that pervades most Hollywood dramas and sci fi novels! It is the only way we’ll get the self-preventing prophecies we desperately need, while keeping up our momentum of self-criticism toward a better world.
But when “warnings” become “idiot plots” that never once show the possibility of a decent civilization… hackneyed copycats that ONLY portray teen angst and repetitious chosen-one pablum, then we have a problem.
Below, I will offer up my comments (at last) on the flick Gavin Hood made from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”… and my reaction may surprise you!
But first… and be warned I am about to go VERY fan-boyt geeky on you now…
== Star Trek Lives! ==
axanarFirst… a couple of added notes about "Axanar" the cool looking indie film being developed in the pre-Kirk (and pre-JJ Abrams) Ortho Trek universe.
1) Reiterating — do have a look at the “Prelude” online. This is way cool and I hope you will support the Kickstarter.
2) All praise to Paramount for having taken the simultaneously noble and excellently profitable route of allowing wide latitude for indie and amateur play in this beloved universe, one of the very few that expresses belief in a better tomorrow.
f61e3e22cad3740dcbea23faa355ad1b3) One small note... I have long been rankled by the tendency of Trek producers to admire the Klingons as macho dudes -- kind of the way Frank Miller praises Spartans... when both were/are horrific slaver-holders and vile oppressors, deeply and savagely cruel. Yes, you must wind up with the Klingons of Deep Space Nine, who have reformed a lot and have (by that point) become gruff-macho but decent allies. But clearly they had to suffer many major losses before finally cleaning up... as did the Kzin in Larry Niven's Known Space cosmos. One of those setbacks was the Chernobyl-like calamity shown in the Kirk flicks. Axanar will be the first of these setbacks for the earlier, super-nasty Klingon types. Fine..
But how about a glance at the slave races, languishing under Klingon conquest-rule? (If Klingon territory is comparable to that of the Federation, there would be a lot of such oppressed systems.) Even a nod toward them changes the equation! As even a momentary sight of the real-life Spartan Helot-slaves would destroy our sympathy for the vicious Queen Gorgo and her entire caste of monstrous bullies, in the wretched “300” series by Frank Miller and Zack Snyder.  Miller and Snyder had a good reason never to show that aspect of the Spartans.  But Star Trek should cinch up and shine a light right at the moral imperative of Federation victory, at Axanar.
I hope the AXANAR script will show some slave planets rebelling and helped to join the Federation! With others promised… “someday, we’ll free you, too.”
Into-darkness4) Finally, about the J.J. Abrams spinoff series. Okay, okay, things could be way worse. Compared to the vast majority of Hollywood sci fi betrayals, they are fun flicks and Abrams seems to actually think he is paying homage to the Roddenberry vision. He does not get the need for an underlying theme of can-do optimism, but at least he’s not doing the cliched opposite.
That is, except for killing off Planet Vulcan and raising James Kirk as a traumatized, bratty orphan. But yes, that works, too. Sort-of. At least Abrams is handling Chris Pine’s character well.
Only… buthere’s the rub… ** Has the original Kirk Universe been erased? **
It is a major bone of contention when you discuss the range of possibilities in multiverse and parallel universes! And artistically, it is one thing if the branch point (when Kirk’s father is killed) created a NEW track without destroying the original. It is another — with many philosophical ramifications — if it is an erasure and replacement. (For one thing, it means Abrams’s cosmos could likewise be erased, at any moment!)
Sure, this may be worrying the bone way too much! But it is a sign of how deeply this mythos has wormed its way into our hearts that it really does matter!
star-trek-spock1Indeed, what’s all this with the old (Nimoy) Spock having sworn never to tell anything or interfere? To what end? All the paradoxes are already in place. His words of advice are needed! Especially since, on this track, the Federation has been robbed of one of its strongest members — Vulcan itself. Old Spock should be putting a number of advice gems in a can — like Hari Seldon does for the First Foundation… and JJ Abrams could be doing this NOW, while Leonard Nimoy is still able!
One of those gems should show Nimoy's Spock saying:
The universe I came from has not been erased. It stands alongside this one, unreachable, but just inches away, sturdy, like a trellis on which the vine of your new adventure now grows. All of my friends, their triumphs and losses and accomplishments still flourish… elsewhere. But this timeline… this path… is yours.”
That statement would give solace and comfort to the millions of fans who are (frankly) just a bit cheesed off at Abtrams over the genocide of Vulcan and Kirk’s lost childhood. It also (hint-hint) lays the seed for a way-cool encounter between enterprises (and ChrisPine-Kirks) in some possible sequel.
And that’s my earnest (urgent) advice to JJ Abrams, as one storyteller about destiny to another. Please.  Remember what Trek is about.  It is the only major franchise in cinema that looks at the future and offers us... hope.
== Ender’s Game ==
Enders-game-movieAnd turning to provide a case-in-point....

Okay, we finally rented Ender's Game for a viewing of four families, having all delayed until we could share it, cheap. (That’s the trick, if you need to see a flick, legally, but want only pennies to go to the makers.) And yes, it had many of the flaws I expected. And yet…
1) It is still the formula Card perfected so well. A demigod-chosen-one-Nietzchean-ubermensch-child garners reader-viewer sympathy by seeming really weak and standing up to bullies… finding his “true friends and talents and powers” and showing those bullies what-for.
2) He feels really really BAD about every brutal use of power that he was forced… forced!… to engage in. Luring the reader or audience member to say: “Ender, don’t be so hard on yourself! They made you do it!”
That’s what I like about cardian demigods. They are so soulful and angst-ridden. When they take over the world, they never enjoy it. It’s always for our own good. They never wanted power! We forced them - though our shared obstinacy and the hopeless badness of all society.
UnknownGavin Hood’s screenplay softens some of this stuff. For example, Card’s relentless tirades that all democratic institutions absolutely cannot ever be trusted and are guaranteed to be corrupt, and that rule-by-demigod is the only rational choice. Those are gone from the film and the core villainy of the Earth Military is portrayed in a fairly plausible way. Indeed, that particular failure mode can - and has — happened! The quickie incorporation of the Formic Queen from “Speaker for the Dead” was okay and left out the truly horrific rationalizations in the original novel, reducing it, instead, to a fairly sweet paean to tolerance. Fine.
As a flick, it is only so-so. Ender only earns his rapid promotions by passing unscientific “tests” that are designed to fit the schoolmaster’s tendentious expectations. There is never a rising-from-equals that would truly be dramatic, as we see in “Hunger Games” for example. Without question, Hood’s film is an improvement over the dismally anti-civilization, demigod-worshipping originals.
I kind of enjoyed it, in fact.

Still, start growing aware of when you are being manipulated. The future will not be made by demigods, no matter how intensely Orson Scott Card and George Lucas and other romantics insist.  It will be made by millions, even billions, of somewhat above average (if flawed) people who innovate smartly, struggle bravely, negotiate with each other, build and gradually improve institutions, keep spreading their horizons of tolerance, diversity and imagination, while never losing confidence that we can make things better.  

That's the focus of our great experiment.  And those who preach we should go back to feudalism, couching their allure in epic tales of demigod chosen-ones... these folks aren't the friends of your grand-children.  They are propagandizing for the enemy.


Alex Tolley said...

For a small, art house(?) SF movie, I recommend "Under the Skin". Somewhat weird, but definitely out of the ordinary SF.

I think that the problem of Hollywood produced SF films is that they are aimed at particular audiences, e.g. juveniles or they assume the "bigger is better" CGI spectaculars. Few have good "science" premises with adult dialog. "Her" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" struck me a good SF movies that transcended the formulaic approach.

Every year we get Nebula and Hugo (and other) award winning novels, novella, short stories, etc., some extremely good, yet they rarely become movies. If only Hollywood would mine those lists. It isn't as though these are old ideas, as P K Dick is still a hot commodity in this genre. There was some excitement when there was interest in his "Rendezvous with Rama" by Morgan Freeman. That seems to have died, which is a pity, as that would have made a good movie (The BBC did a nice radio dramatization). Any of the Clarke-Baxter "Time Odyssey" books would fit the Hollywood treatment.

Tony Fisk said...

The trailer for 'Interstellar' has some interesting aspects to it. My main concern is that it's going down the 'search for Planet B' path as a solution to our real-world problems. Still, I could be wrong.

Indeed, it *might* be a deliberate red herring (I have envisioned a trailer for 'Earth' which appears to show a world spiralling down into the end-times, the only counter-hint being at the end, where a tiny planet is drifting off into the waiting jaws of a great dragon, which is abruptly body-blocked by a flash of orange...)

Tony Fisk said...

I have some advice for Cameron as well. Some ways the 'Avatar' sequels can fix (as in 'answer') issues with the original:
- why do the Na'vi have four limbs when the rest of Pandora fauna have six?
- why do the Na'vi come across as the cast from Pocahontas?

As it is, this stuff will have been locked in by now. I only hope he heeded the advice an Amazonian Indian elder gave him a few years back (her criticism seemed to make an impression on him at the time)

Paul Shen-Brown said...

“I am a star-shaped peg that YOU (society/parents/schools) are pounding into a conformist square hole! Just you WAIT until I find my real friends and my real talents and powers!”

Being surrounded (professionally) by juveniles, the irony of this statement inspires laughter and tears simultaneously. While insisting, on the one hand, that they are unique, out of the other sides of their mouths they constantly demand conformity from their peers. But then, I see this in a whole lot of adults, too.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of slavery. What are the economics of slavery that are attracting the powers that be? The political rhetoric I'm seeing the Tea Party espouse make it obvious that they would like it reinstated. One would think that they would like a middle class to buy the product of their industries.

Acacia H. said...

The economy of slavery is power. You have power over other people's lives. You can choose to kill that person on a whim. You can starve that person on a whim. You can do horrific things to that person and they can do nothing about it.

We do have modern slavery today. It's called the private prison industry.

David Brin said...

Anonymous the key word is not slavery but feudalism. The head may say (as Ford did) pay my middle class workers so they'll buy my products. But the gut and nards say "if I am a lord I will get lots of women to impregnate and so will my sons."

Many many thousands of years show which lure is stronger. I am amazed we do have many billionaires on our side!

Alex Tolley said...

Slavery is not that economic, especially in today's world. Think of a slave as an asset that must be maintained. It works only in so far that the estate needs are fairly stable. In today's world, this is no longer the case, so there would be frictional costs of buying and selling to match demand, although renting out slaves could work. But far better to have no assets and just pay low wages equivalent to slave costs, i.e. less than living wages. Free internships are particularly eqregious. McJobs comes close, especially the demand for 24/7 availability with less than half time actual work to minimize overtime and benefits, plus actual wage theft. Then there are the sweat shops using smuggled labor where the workers must pay off the smugglers with work. Even jobs like modeling are effectively slavery for immigrants as passports are held. The stadium building in Dubai is another example using imported labor.

On the larger scale, the rise in non-dischargable debt is the modern equivalent of slavery instituted by banks.

locumranch said...

In regards to scifi film, I would argue that there are 2 basic subtypes, the dystopic & the absurd, each defined by either the absence or presence of humour.

[One could also argue that the future as pictured in film is almost always (uniformly) unpleasant, but that is neither here nor there]

Humour is notably absent in the average dystopia. The future we are given is unpleasant; the plot is purposeful, sincere & earnest; and the protagonist (viewer), while confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, is asked to adapt or die.

Consisting principally in the recognition and expression of incongruities or peculiarities present in a (proposed) situation, humour is always present in the second subtype. The future we are given is equally unpleasant; the plot tends to be insincere, tongue-in-cheek or absurdist; and the protagonist (viewer) is allowed to adapt through laughter even when confronted by insurmountable obstacles.

It is this distinction -- the recognition that human nature (and/or conduct) is fundamentally absurd -- which separates good science fiction from bad.

Luc Besson's films are a good example of this. As are Simon Pegg's. They are funny (kindly) men whose works tend to illustrate some fundamental absurdity in human nature or conduct.

Films that take themselves too seriously, like 'Avatar' & 'Ender's Game' to name a few, are always a bit of a buzzkill, as are self-important men.

David likes to say that 'light is the antidote for corruption', and I disagree in part insomuch as I believe that 'making light (aka 'humour') is a far better human condition cure-all:

Evil men (women, too) cannot tolerate laughter. It is their kryptonite.

The 'wage slavery' topic is also a bit of a buzzkill... the best antidote on film being 'Office Space'.

LarryHart said...


The economy of slavery is power. You have power over other people's lives. You can choose to kill that person on a whim. You can starve that person on a whim. You can do horrific things to that person and they can do nothing about it.

What you say is all true, but I believe irrelevant to Anon's question, which is why the 0.1% would find slavery an attactive econimic system.

I think it's all about cheap labor. All those things you mention appeal to a certain type of sadistic individual, but economically, what that all translates to is that the workers have to "compete" with each other for the very means of survival, and thus the "price" of labor is mimimized. Instead of workers agitating for decent working conditions, fair hours, and a living wage, you have them begging for the merest of scraps and promising anything in return for the opportunity. All of their own "free will" of course, so it's a fair bargain.

We do have modern slavery today. It's called the private prison industry.

We also have modern feudalism, which is called employer-based health care.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - so the Mad Max series (at least 2 & 3) would be absurd rather than dystopic by your definition. That doesn't seem right to me.

Alex Tolley said...

We do have modern slavery today. It's called the private prison industry.

Yes. I believe there was also a lot of it in China.

I have also noted that movies depicting chain gangs are often depicted in Southern state locations (e.g. Cool Hand Luke). Is this a reflection of reality? If it is, is there some connection to slaver mentality going on?

Tacitus said...

I would rather talk about movies.

I had heard that Scify was also doing a series based on John Scalzi's work. I have always wondered why his stuff had not been TV/movie material seems "accessible". Meaning I guess the plot lines were straightforward without being dumb, and that they could have some demographic appeal in the eyes of whoever green lights such things.

The ads for Old Man's War in various AARP publications would be something!


David Brin said...

LarryHart slavery has disadvantages. Once the slave realizes he has no leverage to leave or negotiate wages, he becomes a sullen enemy of the master, seeking ways to evade work. Supervisors become lash-wielders. Efficiency plummets. Roman oligarchs repressed inventions that would have increased efficiency and required fewer slaves. In the middle ages, those inventions - like the wheelbarrow and horse collar - made slavery less efficient than tenant-farmer peasantry, in which the farmers had motives to maximize production… but also to hide portions of it from the land-owning lord.

Locum was cogent today, making interesting points. But note that always, even on cogent days, everything to him is a dichotomy. Silly, but I won’t argue.

Yes Tacitus... yay Scalzi.

Alex Tolley said...

John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is Coming to SyFy

Robert K. Blechman said...

On slavery: Don't forget that institutionalized slavery also disadvantaged the non-slave holder. Only a few could be plantation owners. The rest became "white trash" who could not economically compete with slave holders. It is when slavery is based on race that pseudo-slavery institutions arise to deal with anyone else not in the 1%.
In our age, where "slavery" as a tactic has been discredited, pseudo-slavery institutions like our prisons, our wage structures and our attitudes toward debt come into use.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I remember visiting Greg Bear's blog many years ago. He discussed the SciFi Channel's interest in making a series from his book "Darwin's Children." However, he said they wanted to turn it into some cheesy Invasion of the Body Snatchers knock-off, so he pulled the plug. Given how much more expensive it is ti make TV and film, I can understand why investors would be unwilling to risk money on something more innovative than your average superhero movie. Book publishers are a little more willing to try better stuff. But it tells you that the business community has a very low opinion of their audiences, doesn't it? And since film & TV are the biggest meme-slingers in the market, it becomes self-fulfilling.

Douglas Moran said...

Unlike Alex Tolley, I most definitely cannot recommend "Under the Skin". I thought it was horrific, frankly; boring, plotless, no character development to speak of and relentlessly, defiantly, in-your-face "uncommercial". Almost every frame felt to me like the director was saying "If you don't 'get' this film, you're obviously an uneducated peon who doesn't appreciate Art".

I've seen plenty of art-house films; I don't need every film to have explosions and space-ships (or wizards and elves); but I do like my films to having something remotely resembling a plot and character development. So I'm sorry, but I disagree most strongly.

How can you tell which side you'll fall down on? Give yourself the "Tarkovsky" test; if you love Tarkovsky films (e.g. "Solaris", "Andrei Rublev", etc.), you may very well like this one. If you hate Tarkovsky, you'll probably not like "Under the Skin".

David Brin said...

"On slavery: Don't forget that institutionalized slavery also disadvantaged the non-slave holder. Only a few could be plantation owners. The rest became "white trash" who could not economically compete with slave holders. It is when slavery is based on race that pseudo-slavery institutions arise to deal with anyone else not in the 1%. "

Yes Mr. Blechman, which illustrates the puzzlement why a million po' white southerners marched to fight and die for their class oppressors... or march lockstep today for Murdoch, Koch and the Saudi royal house.

Jumper said...

I just saw an old movie Miracle Mile I'll recommend for a sort of very immediate dystopia satisfaction. I'd go in cold if I were you. Music by Tangerine Dream.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Once the slave realizes he has no leverage to leave or negotiate wages, he becomes a sullen enemy of the master, seeking ways to evade work"

Sullen is not the worst that can happen: it can evolve into pure, unadulterated, self destructive hatred, into "Since I'm fucked anyway, I may just seek the vindictive satisfaction of cooking the lord's own children and force-feeding him their flesh" (something which actually happened during the french jacqueries in the 14th century).

In fact, dystopias tend to be rather optimistic: you'll never see any of them ending with Katniss-clone-117 cackling madly on top of a pile of corpses shouting at the world that she doesn't give a shit about her actions' consequences, that she won simply by virtue of inflicting to her oppressors more harm and pain than they could even hope to inflict her.


"which illustrates the puzzlement why a million po' white southerners marched to fight and die for their class oppressors...

Then again, many eventually decided that risking their lives in a rich man's war wasn't worth it and went back home; and when the conscription officers (often rich men's sons who received these charges as a way to be kept away from the much more dangerous front lines) went to forcefully drag these escapees back to the battlefield, their wives and mothers waged a ferocious guerrilla war against the Confederacy.

Michael Davey said...

Wasn't there a Star Trek film or episode where they found a ship from an alternate dimension or timeline?

Star Trek: Enterprise.
In a Mirror Darkly part 1
In a Mirror Darkly Part 2
Season 4, episode 19, 20.

So yes, the possibility of the old Star Trek being around is still there and has canon support.

It never mattered to me, it's just a set of movies and tv shows, they still exist in book, film, video, even VHS.

David Brin said...

Jumper, Miracle Mile was very good.

Jumper said...
Servile war

Alex Tolley said...

@ Douglas Moran Give yourself the "Tarkovsky" test
Clever. I do like the Tarkovsky Solaris (much better than the Soderbergh version). I also liked Stalker, which was more enigmatic.

I wonder if this approach could be used to better the Netflix algorithm, given the poor recommendations it still makes? (I just love their "because you liked X", the connection being so idiotic, like an actor, or a genre. OTOH, shouldn't this relationship appear in the rating data?

Alex Tolley said...

Further on the theme of the polarizing effects of of different SF/Fantasy. I've found that Dr Who is very much in that set, especially US audience perception of it, since the reboot. I suspect Red Dwarf is similarly love/hate.

One movie that I did like (that DB had recommended) was last year's . It was similar in style to Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets (2004), although the latter was more documentary style than "found/released footage".

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Jumper, thanks for bringing up Miracle Mile & the musicians who did the soundtrack. They have long been a favorite of mine, and I have been dying to ask Dr.Brin if he is familiar. I started listening to electronic music since getting the soundtrack to Carl Sagan's "Cosmos." Electronic music like this always seemed so sci-fi, I have always wondered if actual sci-fi writers listened to it for inspiration.

As far as why so many people are willing to fight other people's battles, working against their own interests, it seems to me that they simply have been so inundated with propaganda that they miss the point. Why else would the GOP spend so much money trying to find out who a Democratic president was having an affair with, as if a person's marital infidelities disqualified them from making good policy decisions? Bait and Switch, or as Marx called it, mystification. No, we aren't all sheep, but as Orwell showed at the end of Animal Farm, get enough of them bleating the same simple slogan and it's very hard for reasoned debate to make headway.

Douglas Moran said...

I think Tarkovsky's a good acid test. I've tried to watch his films numerous times and they drive me insane; I can't stand them. But I'm able to recognize their quality, so I try to make it clear this is my opinion, rather than a value judgement on the film itself as "Ahrt".

Jumper said...

Paul, music makes a movie more than some realize. I usually double-checked any movie Vangelis composed for. I got the Blade Runner soundtrack. (also Vangelis)Not a big fan of the dialogue bits they always include (though harmless) but lots of good tracks. Tangerine Dream's Firestarter is good; the movie not a work of genius but sufficient; the soundtrack better in standout quality.

Acacia H. said...

That's not so difficult to comprehend. It's the philosophy of the Other. Southerners (and Fox News diehard viewers) lump people into "us" and "them" with "them" being detestable, hateful, barely-human monsters that want to destroy everything decent. Whites in the South supported slavery because that was what their states were into. They didn't like slavery but they hated the thought of those snot-nosed Northerners lording it over them and forcing them to give up slaves.

This is despite the fact it would benefit those Southern poor farmers.

Fear of the Other is a tremendous influence. With it, people go to war for the stupidest of reasons. People will burn other people alive or torture them or worse, because they are not part of that person's group.

Nor is it race. You can create an Other situation in a classroom by giving two halves of the class different color jerseys and telling each side that they are competing against the other side - children who disliked each other before, children raised to consider those of other races as inferior will put aside those differences... because they have to beat the Other, even though that Other is the other half of a class. (I don't have the citation concerning this, but I did read about it. I think in an education class in fact.)

With Fox News viewers, the viewers know Fox is lying half the time. They realize that this news is shit being spoon-fed to them. But on the other side is the Other, a bunch of pansy liberals who will take all the money away from the rich and give it to these undeserving types who will waste it on drugs and alcohol. And they'll turn on each other in a second if their neighbor or even family members are categorized as Other.

Seriously. Look at how many families will throw out a son or daughter and refuse to have anything to do with their child... because they came out as gay. All at once their own flesh and blood, who they raised from an infant, is part of the Other and to be detested and driven out.

In some ways I truly hope we never find intelligent life (or ANY life) out in the universe. Because the moment we do, you will see people declare that life to be Other and will work their hardest to exterminate that life as an abomination. That life could even have such benefits as an enzyme from it can cure all diseases and cancer and grant immortality... and they will detest it and wish it destroyed because it is Other.

It appears to be genetic; animals form herds and packs and often treat outsiders as to be driven out. Not always... but a foreigner is competition that threatens the livelihood of the pack or herd, and thus must be driven out. Humanity is fighting against hundreds of millions of years of evolution here.

Rob H.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Jumper, yes, music makes a huge difference to a movie. I wonder if Star Wars would have made it as big without the big sound of John Williams' orchestra.

I managed to find an Italian release of the Bladerunner soundtrack that had just the music, after being annoyed by those dialogue bits. Unfortunately, he hasn't made anything new for many, many years. He did quite a lot of very good music that was not soundtrack as well. I have more than 60 albums by Tangerine Dream, too, most of which were not soundtracks. I grew up listening to classical, which was fine for awhile because I lose concentration while reading if it gets too quiet, but lyrics distract from reading.

if you like these, you might also try Jean-Michel Jarre (who was poised to do the first concert in space, except that his fellow musician happened to be an astronaut on the first shuttle to explode). Mike Oldfield and Isao Tomita are also fun, if you like things 'spacey'.

LarryHart said...

Mike Davey:

Wasn't there a Star Trek film or episode where they found a ship from an alternate dimension or timeline?

Several of them, in fact. The "mirror" universe you remember from Enterprise had been revisited in DS9 as well (I don't recall one from "Voyager", but that doesn't mean it didn't happen).

It first appeared in an original-series Trek episode called "Mirror, Mirror", which was one of the biggest fan favorites.

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

Why else would the GOP spend so much money trying to find out who a Democratic president was having an affair with, as if a person's marital infidelities disqualified them from making good policy decisions?

The GOP hated Clinton from day-1. There were "Impeach Clinton!" bumper stickers in 1993, in a very simialr dynamic to the hatred of President Obama this go-round.

The fact that he purjured himself in testimony about Monica Lewinski was the excuse to impeach him, not the reason behind it. Most of the country disagreed, it turned out, as the Democrats unexpectedly gained congressional seats in 1998. But for those who wanted Clinton impeached and removed from office, it wasn't because of the extramarital sex. That was just ammunition.

Ironically, a Clinton impeachment would have given us President Gore, who would probably have won re-election in 2000.

Tangential irony: I can't imagine that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama would have been elected president were it not for the complete disillusionment (by 2008) with the incompentence of the Bush administration. Thus, when the Supreme Court gave us President Bush, they probably also indirectly gave us President Obama (and maybe also saved us from President Lieberman as well). Which just goes to show that one never knows the ultimate consequences of one's machinations. Or as Alan Moore had it in "Watchmen", "It never ends."

raito said...

On the subject of dystopias, in several media lately I've heard references to Pandora's box. And every time, they seem to forget what was last out of that box. And so it goes with literary dystopias.

David Brin said...

1968. The Pandora year. Each week was traumatizing. But the very last news item... was the Apollo 8 image of the Earth as an oasis in the great desert.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Robert, you may be remembering the famous "A Class Divided" in which a teacher pit children against each other based on the color of their eyes. You can find it on PBS

Larry, of course the GOP hated Clinton from Day 1. I remember the bumper stickers, too. They hate anyone who isn't one of them, and they make it more clear with each passing election that they only wish to serve those parts of the country that vote for them. I grew up in a place where most people fell entirely under the spell of their propaganda, and consistently fought against their own interests to maintain their personal and social identities as valued members of their communities. I still run into people who whisper under their breathe that Obama's a Muslim, as if going to a different church than they do makes a person unqualified to be a leader. Pure propaganda, and the sheep-emulating bobble-headed conformity that makes it work. Whatever crisis nearly wiped out the species back in prehistory must have left an indelible mark on our instincts.

If I had the Koch Brothers' billions, I wouldn't waste it on veblenesque self-aggrandizement. I would start making movies based on the works of more thoughtful writers, to counteract some of that propaganda. We aren't all sheep, but we all need some good mental stimulus to nourish our minds. I found that in good writing, but so many people today just don't read.

Paul451 said...

Paul Shen-Brown,
Re: Clinton.
"as if a person's marital infidelities disqualified them from making good policy decisions?"

That said, the Lewinsky affair (in both senses) doesn't exactly serve as a glowing testimony to Clinton's decision making skills.

Googled "veblenesque", the top return was the Wikipedia article on Conspicuous Consumption, exactly what I needed to get the reference. Interestingly, this is in spite of the word itself not appearing once in the article (Veblen's name obviously does, but not "-esque" or any adjective form.)

These computer thingies aren't so bad.


"The ads for Old Man's War in various AARP publications would be something!"

Not really. While the book is about old people reborn, the bulk of the film will be post-rejuvenation. Hence the cast will be young, pretty and ridiculously buff. (They'll drop the skin colour too.) That means the pre-rejuvenation will probably be the same cast with prosthetic or CG faux-ageing.

It would be a young person's film. The audience of Hunger Games, aged two years.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Vangelis also did the score for Alexander. We stole the music for an opening to a game we were running, sadly, not science fiction.
We discovered another musician whose music we are likewise co-opting for a RPG campaign: Thomas Bergersen. It's not wholly electronic, but it does lend a certain atmosphere. I'm also fond of Philip Glass.


LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

They hate anyone who isn't one of them, and they make it more clear with each passing election that they only wish to serve those parts of the country that vote for them.

During the Reagan presidency, it became generally known that, as governor of California, he had drastically cut state funding for the universities. His reasoning was along the lines of "Why should I give financial support to those (liberal) students who are going to protest against my policies?"

At the time I heard that, I thought it was a funny way of looking at the role of a governor, and of government in general, but passed it off as one of those quaint/funny Reagan things. 30 years later, I realize this is an expression of the fundamental evil of the right wing, exemplified by such things as Chris Christie shutting down traffic in Ft Lee in order to punish its mayor for not endorsing him.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Paul 451,
"That said, the Lewinsky affair (in both senses) doesn't exactly serve as a glowing testimony to Clinton's decision making skills.?"
Agreed, but people can make very smart decisions in one area and titanically stupid decisions in others. Intelligence is not a single thing - our minds compartmentalize. Clinton made good economic decisions that at the very least did not interfere too much with an economy that was functioning at the time, but his romantic decisions weren't so good. But this is an old pattern, Think of Charles Parnell in Ireland a century ago.

As to the neologism there, I hope that isn't too unforgivable. Veblen wrote his book in 1899, and his twin notions of conspicuous consumption and competitive emulation are so relevant a century later that he deserves to at least get an adjective. If we can do this for fictional characters - like quixotic from Don Quixote - we should be able to do this for a real person.

Larry, it all fits a pattern, doesn't it? I never signed up with the Democrats, but that pattern will have me voting against the republicans every time.

occam's comic said...

For a fun, low budget Science fiction movie with a lot of heart(and ideas for a fun Halloween costume) I can recommend "The History of Future Folk".

It is on net flicks.
The story is about an alien who comes to Earth to release a deadly plague (so his people can have a new home)but stops when he discovers something amazing that humans have invented..... music.

A.F. Rey said...

In defense of Orson Card, I suspect his focusing on demigod-like characters comes partly from his Mormon religion.

As I understand it (and anyone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), Mormons believe that we are the literal "children of God." That once we "grow up," we will become beings like God, with Godlike powers, and become the savoirs (like Christ) of other worlds to come.

So when you realize that each and every one of us is likely to become a demigod, the moral and ethical dilemmas of being one becomes important to every person, not just our feudal lords. Dealing with being a demigod is not a problem for just the strongest few, but eventually for everyone. A populist elitism, if you will.

Of course, anyone who bases his fiction on Christianity would also have demigods saving the immoral, corrupt hoi-poloi, since that is the Christianity's underlying myth.

DP said...

Dr. Brin,

Given your obvious (and justified) distaste for Frank Miller's Spasrtans I am surprised that you havenever expressedd similar dislike for SM Stirling's Draka.

DP said...

Mike Davey,

The other great prallel universe story line was in the otherwise awful ST: Enterprise, which showed the origins of the Mirror universe Terran Empire. Great episodes.

As the saying goes, it's good to be bad.

SteveO said...

@A.F. Rey

Based on what O.S. Card has said, there certainly are Mormon aspects in his Ender books, but Ender himself came from the frustration that he, and many other highly gifted children, have with adults.

My wife and I disagree strongly with Card's beliefs (social and religious) but man, it sure feels like he nailed what it felt like being gifted, at least at one point in time. That is why we go back to Ender's Game time and time again.

Our daughter (smarter than us) also liked the book and lost interest in the direction the later ones took. It was good "validation" fiction, but unhealthy if you think it is a prescription for anything.

daddyoyo said...

In re: "which illustrates the puzzlement why a million po' white southerners marched to fight and die for their class oppressors... or march lockstep today for Murdoch, Koch and the Saudi royal house." Pardon me if I've referenced this quote before but here is LBJ on the subject: "I'll tell you what's at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you." In other words, if given the chance, many of these people would support a policy that takes $90 from their pockets and $100 from each black person's pocket and transfers that money to the oligarchs. They would then think that they were $10 ahead of the game

Anonymous said...

Caught the movie Divergent last weekend. I found a lot of the silly stuff in the movie makes sense if you look at each faction as a cult. These cults managed to form some sort of cooperative.

An interesting detail I found odd, was that the villain actually took the steps to break the society and upset the status quo, not youths. Despite being supposedly Divergent, they didn't take any actions against the society, and pretty much fought in an attempt to preserve it.

David Brin said...

AF Rey: "So when you realize that each and every one of us is likely to become a demigod"...

Yes well that's the problem. Card does not (nor do the Mormons) say that. It is only the rare truly enlightened soul who then gets to dominate and torment his own planet of beings, e.g. imposing detestable doctrines like Original Sin.

What Card absolutely disdains is the notion that this is for everyone. Or that the civilization we all built together is worth more than a bucket of piss. Or that the average person has the insight of a tardigrade. Never, ever, ever does he posit the possibility of a "we" that could accomplish anything worthwhile.

Sure, he is expert at this. His demigods are soulfully tormented and guilt-ridden and reluctant! He teases and lures the reader into moaning:

"Don't be so hard on yourself Ender! It wasn't your fault! And anyway it was for the best! And we NEEEED you to take over and dominate us because we and our institutions all suck!

"Please come and save us from ourselves!"

It is one of the most disgusting treasons to a civilization that has been very, very good to Scott. But I will admit, he's really skilled at this and nothing that I say or post will change that.

Michael Davey said...

That was the first lesson I learned from reading about Nazi Germany. Giving a group another group (or person) to hate builds very strong bonds.

I've watched for this ever since, from small groups to large, people often want to find someone to make the outcast. Schools, friends, work. The only place it didn't happen as much was team sports, and of course in team sports there is the other team to beat.

I noticed it most at school and at work. For some reason a person would get separated from the herd. They would do something minor, trip at the very worst time, get in the way of some alpha dog, take away the basketball from the star player and score. From then on they would be marked. Every event of abuse after that increased the pool of people who were either against him/her, or distanced them self from him/her to keep from getting the stain of otherness on them self.

I've always found this to be a really disturbing part of human behaviour. I can see it being useful when someone breaks a taboo, murder, rape, pedophile, but I've never understood why the drive is so strong so young.

LarryHart said...


Caught the movie Divergent last weekend. I found a lot of the silly stuff in the movie makes sense if you look at each faction as a cult.

I realize this isn't your point, but my 12-year-old (who absolutely loved the books) was heartbreakingly disappointed in the movie. She didn't like the way the characters were portrayed, especially the ones whose roles were minimized or combined into one character.

Myself, I didn't think it did a very good job of translating book to film. Except for the one "money shot" of a glass cage breaking, most of the scenes didn't seem to take advantage of the visual or motion aspects of the movie form. It felt more like I was watching a film of someone reading the book to me.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dear Mike Davey,

I have always been just as disturbed by this behavior, but I think there is a real answer to why it seems so strong among the young. All our feelings are mediated by chemicals in our heads called neurotransmitters. There are 60 different ones, each do different things. One, called oxytocin, essentially makes people addicted to getting attention from others - a critical part of being social animals. However, the potency of the chemical wears off as you get older / experience it more frequently. It works the same way drug tolerance builds up in the brain. This is why young people scream when they get shots, while older people often barely feel the needle going in (though a different chemical, called Substance P), and why younger people tend to be much more wildly emotional. This means that there is a certain inevitability here. But the more you know how these things work, the more you can exercise conscious control over yourself.
I hope this helps.

daddyoyo said...

To Mike Davey and Paul Shen-Brown. Thanks for the responses and I wholeheartedly agree. I've just been reading Stephen Pinker's The Blank Slate and, though I don't agree with every detail, I do think that we would be wise to acknowledge these innate predispositions so that we might better develop a social strategy to transcend or channel them elsewhere. The oligarchs, however, know exactly what they are doing and now have unlimited scope to purvey their propaganda.

rewinn said...

ST:TNG episode "Parallels" establishes that there are at least 285,000 alternate universes with an "Enterprise" in them. Whether there are any without one is not known, but it would be perfectly canon to have at least one in which Zoe Saldana gets to be captain.


"Parallels" and "Star Trek: The Reboot" or whatever they are calling it, suffer (in my mind) from an obvious flaw: the failure of the science-oriented Federation to swap files whenever possible. It may be that technological advances in one universe won't translate in another, but more likely that there are several thousand small advances that would be worth file-sharing.

At the end of ST:The Reboot, "Captain" Kirk watches a ship from the future sink slowly into a black hole, because its angry captain refuses help. Well enough, but his next order should have been "Scotty, beam over anything that looks like a data storage unit. Also their stock of Romulan ale."

Anonymous said...

Alex Tolley: It was a shame that Freeman couldn't get "Rama" off the ground. The latest SF "passion project" I've heard of is that Bradley Cooper is trying to get "Hyperion" made. But the last I heard of anything about that was about two years ago.

Anonymous said...

If your intent was to keep money from going to OSC for some stupid reason then you wasted your time. he was paid up front for the movie. Besides, the book series has made more than enough to keep him happy. I for one buy everything he writes. Sometimes both ebook and audible.
If I did not buy books or services from people I disagreed with then I would be pretty bored.