Return To Mars: Why The Red Planet Fascinates Us So Much

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…

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“We can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space” – H G Wells.

Allegedly straight lines on the equator of Mars were first termed: “canali” (canals) by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli who observed and illustrated them in 1877. Even Percival Lowell – the esteemed astronomer who discovered Pluto – weighed into the controversy, claiming that the canals could only be “the work of some sort of intelligent beings.” 

For any canal to be visible from the Earth, the notion of engineering involving extremely implausible Amazonion proportions only fuelled the Martian-believers hopes even more. Such a gargantuan feat of engineering could only be the work of a highly sophisticated race.

By the time the far-fetched canals of Mars theory could be scotched, it was far too late. An enthusiastic and optimistic Victorian society had accepted the prospect of galactic neighbours, albeit with some considerable trepidation. From this age of astronomic madness emerged one of the enduring classics of science fiction. The War of the Worlds was first published in Pearson’s magazine in the Spring of 1897.

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“I had a dream aboutman. He is not from our world. He came down from the sky and spoke to me. He said we are from the third planet… We come from Earth” – Ylla.  

“They live in a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars, by the edge of an empty sea. In the evenings, when the Fossil Sea’s warm and motionless, Mr. K sits in his room, listening to his book.” 

So says the narrator over the 1980 TV adaptation of The Martian Chronicles: my introduction to the impressive work of Ray Bradbury; also, it marked the first time that Mars made an impression on me.

It was memorable for being so downright creepy. The theme music was unforgettable. Reviewing it thirty years later, the poor special effects look more dire than ever. However, the screenplay by Richard Matheson is still quite affecting even now. Perhaps the most outstanding scene ever to take place on Mars can be seen here. It is a brief, yet magical, moment – one of my all-time faves.

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“There’s what they call the ‘Mars curse’ in the movie industry. I think the last time there was a significant commercial success that took place on Mars was Total Recall” – Andy Weir.   

Ever since, though, it has been difficult to find that many films relating to Mars that are actually worth sitting through. Oddly enough, the first two Mars-related movies that spring to mind are the eerie Invaders From Mars (1953) and the hilarious Mars Attacks! (1996) but these two classics deal with the Martians on Earth. 

One of the earliest film forays onto the red planet was the distinctly baffling Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), which featured Adam (Batman) West. It is one of those obscure 60s oddballs that – let’s face ithasn’t been mentioned anywhere else in the blogosphere all this month. Here is the trailer in case you were wondering whether such a bizarro movie exists!

Total Recall (1990) was based on a 1966 short story: “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. This Paul Verhoeven-directed sci-fi action adventure pic starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a construction worker who learns that his life is merely an implanted memory, and must travel to Mars to learn the truth. The movie became intriguing once it revealed subterranean engineering works constructed by a long-since-vanished alien civilization.

2000 was a diabolical year for movies set on Mars. Both Mission To Mars and Red Planet proved to be critical and commercial flops. For the purposes of this Post, the former was selected for a viewing mainly because Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins seemed like a less sufferable option than Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore. 

It all started so well: we get acquainted with the mission’s personnel at a back garden barbecue while Zydaco music plays over the opening credits. Poor Don Cheadle: while investigating an abnormal feature in Cydonia, his crew are wiped out and he has to fend for himself on the red planet for a whole year before the aforementioned pair can come and rescue him. Hmm, he did well cultivating plants and a formidable beard; he could teach Matt Damon a thing or two. Rather than create a gripping adventure, the film sinks into a botched and far-fetched denouement. Surprisingly, the score was composed by the one and only Ennio Morricone, but for once, his sweeping strings do not fit, or lift, these insipid images.

Then, of course, 2011 brought the most disastrous animated movie ever: Mars Needs Moms. There is absolutely no reason to sully this finely cultivated blog by analyzing this crap, but you can’t help wondering who pitched this disturbing premise: mother abduction as family entertainment. And how did it get accepted?!  

In view of this appalling track record, by the time John Carter of Mars (my particular favourite Mars movie) was brought to the big screen in 2012, the “of Mars” segment of the title was dropped, most likely to avert the dire repurcussions of the Mars curse. Nobody knew who John Carter was – it bombed anyway. 

So, next week we will know if Ridley Scott has redeemed his career and successfully banished the curse of those movies to be set on Mars. 

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A “map” of Mars created by Eugene Antoniadi in 1894.

Cheers!

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Fifty Years On Arrakis: The Source Of The Spice

The spice exists on only one planet in the entire universe, a desolate dry planet. 

The planet is Arrakis, also known as Dune.

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“Deep in the human unconsciousness is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic” – Frank Herbert. 

“These waves [of sand] can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave,” Frank Herbert – then a freelance writer concentrating on ecological matters – stated in one article pitch during 1959. He was referring to the sand dunes of Florence, Oregon, and the relentless way they shifted eastwards, “pushed by strong winds off the Pacific.” 

His interest in this topic led to research into deserts and desert cultures, eventually inspiring him to draft two short novels, serialised in Analog Science Fact & Fiction. He later reworked the material into a single volume, which has led some critics – even this year: the fiftieth anniversary of its initial publication – hailing it as the finest science fiction novel of all time.

In the far future – the actual year consists of five digits – Arrakis is the only known planet to produce the most precious substance in the universe: the spice melange. 

The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness.

It also induces an “enhanced space-time perception”; aliens known as the Guild Navigators use the orange spice gas to fold space, thus travelling to any point in the universe without moving. 

It is highly addictive, capable – after ingestion – of turning the eyes of any user a deep blue. Spice mining comes with the major hazard of attracting colossal sandworms about several hundred metres in length. This most prized commodity is integral in maintaining the transport, supply and communication networks of Shaddam IV’s Empire. 

Paul Atreides: son of Duke Leto of the House of (the somewhat-Homeric) Atreides turns out to be their messianic leader: Muad’Dib, as foretold in ancient prophecies. Endeavouring to irrigate the deserts and regenerate the planet’s life-system, he sets out with his band of Fremen warriors – an indigenous nomadic race – to halt all spice production on Arrakis. 

Essentially, Herbert was promoting environmental awareness long before it ensnared mainstream sensitivities.

DUNE VI by HR Giger
DUNE VI by HR Giger
Character designs for Jodorowsky's Dune, created by French artist: Moebius.
Character designs for Jodorowsky’s Dune, created by French artist: Moebius.

“The way in which ecological relationships are made to stand for supernatural ones makes Dune one of the archetypal examples of fashionable ecological mysticism, and this may help to explain its great popularity” – Brian Stableford. 

There are strong hints of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars fantasies and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga, as well as touches of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman space operas in Frank Herbert’s Dune. Having studied Jung, Herbert met, in 1960, Alan Watts, a prominent advocate of Zen philosophy. “Long conversations” ensued. The basic sci-fi premise, distant in both time and space, gradually appropriated deeper, temporal, psychological and spiritual dimensions.

At some point this Winter, one challenge on my list is to watch Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013): a critically acclaimed documentary about the greatest SF cinema masterpiece never made. It would have made for a formidable production: both HR Giger and Moebius provided concept art; Orson Welles and Salvador Dali were persuaded to take prominent roles; and Pink Floyd would provide the soundtrack. 

Instead, we have David Lynch’s opus, (in)famous primarily for dividing critics and fans. Having completed a version several hours in length, the producer Dino De Laurentis wanted it cut down to just two. Lynch baulked at the idea and protested to have his name removed from the final print. Some regard this huge box office disaster as the Worst Film of 1984. 

No matter what the detractors of Lynch’s film might say about it, its visual effects – particularly its assortment of matte paintings – creature and costume design, some ornate sets, plus Lynch’s own distinctive surreal touches, make it, for me, a quite engaging spectacle.

It is ironic to think that not only did Jodorowsky’s Dune fail to get off the ground, but the original Dune novel almost never materialised at all neither! Firstly, 400 pages in Hardback, and then a whopping great flopping paperback tome of 900 pages, this is when publishing houses preferred brevity above all.  Nevertheless, it won the Hugo Award in 1966, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. 

Not surprisingly, Herbert had to deal with twenty rejections before his hefty manuscript was eventually accepted in 1965 by Chilton, a Philadelphia-based trade and hobby magazines publisher – home of the unsurpassable Dry Goods Economist(!)

A HD still from the 1984 film, featuring one of Albert Whitlock's finest matte paintings.
A HD still from the 1984 film, featuring one of Albert Whitlock’s finest matte paintings.

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“Paul Atreides is a young white man who fulfils a persistent colonial fantasy, that of becoming a God-king to a tribal people. Herbert’s portrayal of the ‘Fremen’ owes much to TE Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger’s enthusiastic portrayals of the Bedouin of Arabia’s Empty Quarter” – Hari Kunzru. 

In my horde of dust-gathering SF novels, there is Children of Dune, the third volume in the series, which just happened to be (back then) a rather laborious slog. It had failed to inspire me to read the original, but now – in this half-century anniversary year, and now blessed with a more sensible stock of patience and maturity – it would be appropriate to finally catch up with it, and assess for myself whether the “greatest SF novel ever” tag is warranted.

Herbert’s incorporation of Bedouin traits into the Fremen culture – even the use of such terms as razzia, bourka robes and jihad – holds more potency now in 2015 than it ever did in 1965. 

On a personal level, there is something irresistible about desert planets in sci-fi. Perhaps Tatooine in Star Wars – blatantly inspired by Arrakis – got there first. Look at Uncle Owen’s moisture farm: ripped straight from Herbert’s ecological leanings. The desolate terrains vividly – and colourfully – designed by such iconic artists as Eddie Jones and Peter Andrew Jones remain particular favourites. Yet no matter how individualistic those visions were, there is something about these desert scenes that will always link back psychologically to Frank Herbert’s Dune. 

In the original novel, the First Planetologist of Dune, named Kynes (incidentally the main protagonist of the very first draft) pondered this:

“Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase… The question is not how many can possibly survive within [the planetary ecosystem], but what kind of existence is possible for those who survive?”  

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“You’re Quite A Prize!”: How To Create Memorable SF Characters

A Character Is As A Character Does. 

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“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” – Kurt Vonnegut.  

Working on some crucial drafts of my own science fiction these past few months, pages of cool and witty dialogue came naturally to me, but certain character traits need to be developed further.

Revising various aspects of “Characterization” has unearthed some useful points which will be shared here. Besides, we have already complained about the lack of good character development in several recent movies during this past year, so it appears that some screenwriters would benefit from these tips too.

Before moving on, it would help if we had a working idea of how to define “character.” To be more than just a person in a movie or a book, a character must have “mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” It signifies: “strength and originality in a person’s nature,” while to be “full of character” denotes the “quality of being individual in an interesting or unusual way.”

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Science fiction writers put characters into a world with arbitrary rules and work out what happens” – Rudy Rucker.  

Take a look at the pic above. That’s fearless pilot: Ham Salad and his trusty sidekick: the Wookie Monster. The boys at the back look pretty familiar as well. Instantly, you recognised who they were parodies of. The characters of the galaxy’s greatest saga are so ingrained on popular culture because they were so well-defined.   

Not only must you know where a character is going, it is imperative that we learn where they are coming from. A history or – if time and space is limited – a simple back-story becomes essential. It helps to flesh out what should become special characters.

Take a look, for instance, at Darth Maul: one of the factors that made Star Wars Episode I slightly less painful than Episode II. Groovy painted face and cool moves, sure, but sorely lacking any detectable character. How and why did he turn to the Dark Side? We are not given any knowledge, so – not surprisingly – when he is sabred in half, we just don’t care.

Incidentally, his opponent in the lightsabre duel midway through this flashy yet flat misfire was a Jedi played by Liam Neeson named… umm… (Can’t be bothered to Google it that’s how useless Neeson’s “contribution” was). Here was somebody with even less “character” than Darth Maul, and he had much more onscreen time! Unbelievable!

At least Groovy-Painted-Face was a figure of action. This is a useful reminder that characters have a better – more immediate – chance of fascinating us by what they do. And not just the process of the action itself, but the anticipation of how a certain character will act, or – more crucially – react.

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“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” – Henry James. 

In other words, plot and character are one and the same, but don’t value plot over character. It is said that a good science fiction story centres on a single idea, yet that idea cannot drive the plot alone. Characters are required to deal with that idea – they make it relevant; they make the material matter.  

A physical description of a character is NOT characterization.

Plenty of writers list physical attributes as if it is imperative that the reader should have an accurate image of them in their mind’s eye. Rather than simply apply labels, provide more details. In science fiction, is it relevant that she has green skin and he’s got tentacles? Probably not, unless it drives the plot somehow. 

Apart from the fact that Gamora (from last year’s smash hit: Guardians of The Galaxy) has green skin, how can you describe her? She is a nimble fighter in the movie – yes, but that makes her merely an action figure, not a character. To compound the problem, she has to confront her half-sister: Nebula who is… well, someone who shouts and struts around a lot. Their fight turns out to be just as bland and superficial as they are. We are too easily reminded of the two nonentities we had trouble describing in the previous paragraph.

Let’s end this paragraph on a more positive note: one particular trait of characterization exclusive to the science fiction genre concentrates on the responses of specific characters to a change in environment, caused by nature or the universe, or technology. What will draw readers to these characters is how they cope with that change. 

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“Characters, if they are strong enough, can evolve into pseudo-autonomous beings who are resilient enough to lead the author through the twists and turns of plot. It can be fun to travel this way, because we never know what’s around the next turning” – Teach Yourself: Write A Novel. 

Characters – especially in this genre – need to be aspirational – the kinds of heroes readers/viewers would want to be themselves. Even anti-heroes should have redeeming features. Whether it be charisma, wit, style and/or intelligence. Ideally, they have to be the character you love to hate. 

“Character” is internal and shows up in the good – and bad! – choices made under pressure. Before making your characters leap from the page, they have to affect you first. If you care about how they develop, the reader will care about them too. By all means necessary, they must engage with readers on an emotional level.

You should sympathise with them as well as empathize. Who has not shed a tear for the homesickness of ET or the last desperate hour in the short but very bright life of Roy Batty?

In this case, it is amusing to add one of the most important tips for creating any kind of fiction: characters need authentic underlying humanity. It’ll be a really nifty trick if you can apply that to any of your alien characters!

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Quasi-Scientific Powers: A Blog About Magic

Is There Any Argument To Include ‘Magic’ In Science Fiction?

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“Magic is, by definition, not science. It is, therefore, that which cannot be entertained within science fiction. Its banishment, however, has been less than total” – Brian Stableford. 

Perhaps the best way to tell the difference between science fiction and fantasy is that while the former emphasizes science, a great deal of fantasy deals with magic. 

By definition, magic is the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. Imagine magic disciplined into an “applied” science. Some SF writers have dabbled in it, leading to a varied array of stories about magic, or – more precisely – quasi-scientific powers.

It’s all James George Frazer’s fault. In The Golden Bough: A Study In Magic and Religion (1890), magic is represented as a kind of proto-science based on presumed natural laws: the law of similarity and the law of contagion. The first states that one can influence a process by imitating it, or influence an object by operating upon a likeness of it; the second states that objects once in contact remain associated, so that – ah, stuff it: anyone fancy any cake?

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – Arthur C. Clarke. 

No matter how determined SF authors have been in shutting out the mysterious lure of magic, they have invariably kept returning to it. It is said that one branch of specialised (science-based) jargon can easily pass into fantasy territory; strict boundaries btween the two no longer apply. Why should there be any boundaries in fiction?  

As just one example, psionic power can be converted into witchcraft, and vice versa. The combination of “careful extrapolation and absurd premises” fuelled the fantasy that appeared in “Unknown Worlds,” at one time a short-lived companion magazine to Astounding Science Fiction. One of its most notable stories was “The Devil Makes The Law,” (aka “Magic, Inc”) by Robert Heinlein.

A number of SF authors have toyed with pseudoscientific versions of supernatural phenomena. The shape-shifting inherent in “There Shall Be No Darkness” (1950) by James Blish comes to mind. The world really thrives on the mythology of magic in Black Easter (1968) by James Blish, while a world “where magic works and has been disciplined for application” featured in Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos (1971).

Yet perhaps the most awesome SF/fantasy crossover is the The Book of the New Sun, a four-volume series by Gene Wolfe. He pioneered the innovative concept of “science fantasy” whereby conventional science fiction was rearranged into a new “posthistoric” Dark Age centuries after the collapse of our own civilization.

The first volume: The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) carries one of my all-time favourite SF book covers (see above), so – if the whole series can be found this Winter during my festive book hunt – then some thoroughly enjoyable reading is in order!

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“I’d like to see little girls playing Avengers in the playground and doing the Scarlet Witch hand gestures” – Elizabeth Olsen.   

While scientific mishaps created (most of) the comic book heroes we know and love today, there are plenty of mystical mavericks ready to fight for justice, especially in Marvel Comics.

Leading the way, dazzling the least-suspecting with her luminous pink hex power is the Scarlet Witch. Wanda Maximoff became one of the most prominent female members of the Avengers; she married everyone’s fave android-in-green-tights: the Vision. 

The mutant mystic made her big screen debut this year in Avengers: Age of Ultron, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Apparently, her character’s powers were useless against the real dangers of filming: “You’re looking around and it’s like all these prestigious actors dressed up in costumes and none of us could stop laughing because we kept screwing up the scene.”  The actress confirms that the Scarlet Witch will make a second appearance in next May’s Captain America: Civil War and the next Avengers adventures.

Sure, my comics radar was well aware of Dr. Strange: the Master of the Mystic Arts, but somehow, his title never appealed. Even when you’re seven years old, a moustachioed man in a mini-skirt, with tights, does not look cool.  

However, having realised (in my teenage years) that he was actually wearing a long tunic, and some of his comics (from the early 80s) were actually quite impressive, the prospect of seeing him on the big screen is intriguing; the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch has signed on to play him has only piqued my interest further. It’s not due for release until 4 November next year, so that leaves plenty of time to catch up with the doctor’s exploits (back issues).

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“m’I tuo fo ym ecaf” – Zatanna Zatara. 

DC Comics – not to be outdone – have their own formidable canon of mystic heroes.

Perhaps this stable’s best-known mystic is Zatanna, who made her debut in Hawkman #4 in 1964. Most notable for her odd knack of casting spells backwards, not only is she more glamorous than either Dr. Fate or the Spectre, but her fondness for white rabbits should be generously rewarded.  

This black-clad, top-hatted, curvaceous conjuror just happens to be embroiled in DC’s Identity Crisis storyline, with all its magical mind-wiping madness. 

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“Pick up any one of the Essential Defenders reprint trades and you’ll see the Hulk and the Silver Surfer venturing into the worlds of magic with the Atlantean prince Namor. Rocking” – Charlie Jane Anders. 

Despite his penchant for blue tights and yellow helmet and cape, there was nothing about Dr. Fate that made me want to grab his comic. Funnily enough, whenever his so-called ongoing series was revived, it never lasted long – so it seems unlikely that we will see him on the big screen any time soon.

So, is there any room in this dizzying technological age for a little bit of hocus-pocus?

You could fly from one side of this galaxy to the other, see a lot of “strange stuff,” but never see anything to make you believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everyone. No mystical energy field controls my destiny! It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

Or is it…?

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Abracadabra!

“Watch Your Back! Stay On Target!”: How To Be An Ace SF Fighter Pilot.

All Wings Report In. 

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“Fairly early on, the idea of a space dogfight came into play. Wouldn’t it be interesting to take that kind of visual excitement and put it in outer space? We [at ILM] began to focus on the fact that we would have to create a different technology in order to accomplish that” – George Lucas. 

With 100 days until the release of the Most Anticipated Movie of the Decade, a discussion of what Episode VII has to offer seemed like the obvious topic to thrash about tonight. However, considering how stingey Lucasfilm and Disney have been in handing out juicy titbits for eager hacks like meself, there is still hardly any cool data to fill a tweet, let alone expand into a whoppin’ great blog Post.

Nuts…

So, after a particularly gruelling week (so far!), something light and easy was in order. This is not so much letting off steam, but going to bullseye womprats in my T-16. (To this day, still haven’t got the foggiest idea what that means, but it always sounds kinda liberating. What do womprats look like anyway? Are they hyphenated?)

One of the most common staples in recent science fiction movie-making is the dogfight. Okay, so what if in outer space such lightning speed and deft manoeuvres (not to mention those cool laser sounds, or any lasers, for that matter) would be as highly unlikely as any of us getting a walk-on part in Star Wars Episode VIII? Popularised in Star Wars Episode IV, these sequences have featured in numerous other subsequent good (and bad!) sci-fi movies ever since, all boldly defying countless rules of physics, and logic, of course.

Right, on with the mission.

Don’t get cocky; don’t try practicing half-assed victory rolls or any of that bunk! And there is NO EXCUSE for being too frickin’ complacent out there neither! 

NEVER fly straight and level for more than thirty seconds in a combat area! 

Accelerate to attack speed. 

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“Squad leaders, we’ve picked up a new group of signals. Enemy fighters coming your way” – Rebel Control Officer. 

Keep up your visual scanning; this cannot be emphasised enough. 

Don’t place all your trust in your scope. With all the jamming in the target area, the enemy fighters will be on top of you before your scope can pick them up. You see, to become an ace pilot, you have to learn the ropes pretty darn fast. Or “they” will have you for breakfast. It’s a case of spring chicken to shitehawk in one easy lesson. 

And for pity’s sake: swot up on your sci-fi jargon! When Gold Leader spouts: “They’re coming in! Three marks at two ten,” rather than get blown to pieces in a volley of laser-fire (because you frowned in bewilderment for far too long), you’ll be expected to suss exactly what that means. In a split second as well! And then act accordingly!

Stabilize your rear deflectors. Watch for enemy fighters. 

If you harbour any notion of becoming (one of) the best pilots in the outer rim territories, take control of yourself. And your fighter. 

Stay on target. 

Remember, you can’t always rely on young novice pilots like Wedge to be there to watch your back!

Blast it, Biggs, where are you? 

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“Several fighters have broken off from the main group. Come with me! Stay in attack formation!” – Darth Vader. 

Switch all power to front deflector screens. 

Stay close.

Stay focussed. 

Stay. On. Target! 

Keep your eyes open for those fighters!

“No sign of any- Wait! Coming in point three five.” 

If you pick one up – watch it! Increase speed full throttle!

Am going in – cover me. Select target.

Ready.

Aim…

Just DON’T switch off your targeting computer if you begin to hear frickin’ voices in your head…

That’s it. 

Once the target is obliterated in a spectacular (if a tad overdone) CG supernova, it’s back to base for cake and medals.

Huzzah!!

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The Force is strong with this one…

“Evacuate?! In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!” – Grand Moff Tarkin. 

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It’ll be just like Beggar’s Canyon back home.

Breaking Brad: Trying To Put Up A Good Fight In The Tech-Wars

Do Not Even Think About Upgrading The System!

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“God isn’t interested in technology… Look how he spends his time: forty-three species of parrots! Nipples for men! …Slugs! He created slugs! They can’t hear. They can’t speak. They can’t operate machinery. Are we not in the hands of a lunatic?!” – Evil.

The future is upon us. Tell me about it; my laptop crashed twenty minutes ago. 

The technology dreaded throughout the sci-fi of olde has now seeped into our everyday lives. But at what price? Amazingly, it looks like everyone has accepted this gleaming gizmo-laden future with open pockets (despite the fact that hardly anyone appears to have any money). Is it disconcerting how people have become so – no, too – dependent on their phones and other assorted gadgetry? Every time on the train, it’s always the same – the majority of commuters with their heads down, eyes locked on their mobile screen, their fingers busy fiddling…

If there is one thing guaranteed to mess up my equilibrium of sobriety and patience then it is the despicable act of “upgrading the system” – that ultimate lunacy of “fixing” what is not broken. Just when you think you’ve mastered one mode of tech, along comes another. And you’re stuck with a piece of junk that has become obsolete faster than you can say: “In which socket does the frickin’ recharger go?!” 

Mark my words: once the the War Against The Machines breaks out, it will be Brad leading what’s left of the human resistance, standing on the front-line, scowling at the HKs.

Whoa no, you accursed machines! You’re not gonna take this carbon-based biped without a fight!

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“‘Humans’ is showing us a world that’s not that far off. We should be questioning whether, as a society, we’re embracing technology too quickly… There’s a generation growing up who only know how to interact with their devices” – Gemma Chan. 

The uneasy relationship between man and machine moves ever closer. As realised in the most recent UK sci-fi drama: Humans, domestic life (in – that most desirable of real-estate – the “near” future) has become so stressful that artificial home-help, known as Synths, is required.

“Basically, they’ll have common sense,” exclaims  Prof Geoff Hinton, one of the top AI scientists. He is currently developing a new type of algorithm designed to encode thoughts as sequences of numbers, which he calls “thought vectors.” He believes the path from current technology to a more sophisticated version approaching a “human-like capacity for reasoning and logic” is plausible. Moreover: “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be like a friend… A flirtatious program would probably be quite simple to create.”

Oh, leave. It. Out. The cynic in me immediately assumes that my human-like artificial intelligent unit will more likely resemble the treacherous Ash (from Alien) than Gemma Chan (above). And would most likely try to throttle me or nick me nachos – both scenarios are far too dire to contemplate…

Hang on, though; nothing to fear just yet.

“We really have no idea how to make a human level AI,” adds Murray Shanahan, professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London, and adviser on one of this year’s best films: Ex Machina. He rates the odds of human-level AI development before 2050 as “possible but unlikely.”

It would appear that the sweeping advances in technology now engulfing the 21st century have left some older miscreants (you talkin’ to me?) out, and yet notice how it’s all second nature to the younglings – what the blazes is going on?! You gotta lol…

Like Groucho Marx once said: “Why, it’s so easy a four-year-old kid could understand this… Run out and find me a four-year-old kid; I can’t make head nor tail out of it…”

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“That cold war paranoia is the larger framework of the first two [Terminator] movies, but now we are so reliant on technology… SkyNet no longer needs to beat down your door because you lined up in front of the Apple store and invited the wolf to dinner” – David Ellison.

With ubiquitous technology influencing our “popular” culture, including the movies we watch, it would appear that the traditional sci-fi fear of haywire technology has been made redundant; so, who wants an obsolete Terminator sequel? For the umpteenth time: the first two movies of that franchise were NOT broken… 

Never mind: time to embrace all this talk of tech-this an’ tech-that. If you can’t join ’em, beat the hell outta them i.e. out with the manuals, instructions (and aspirin) and get swottin’. 

Take the other day for instance: having decided to study how to cascade my spreadsheets, and optimize my HTML, etc. the nearest, most moderately-priced technical tome was selected. Huzzah! Brad faces the future – for the first time – with a sense of hope. 

On proceeding confidently – and nonchalantly (hey, gotta look groovy for that CCTV, baby) to the counter, the “member of staff” fumbled with the bar-code in front of the scanner, unable to make it bleep. After having to type it in manually, she uttered the price. Upon handing over my hard-earned polymer note, she gawped incredulously.

“Wow!” she cried. “Real monnay! Oi ain’t seen that fer a long toime!”

One flick of a switch to activate the till. Nothing happened. She fiddled and tugged. Again, nothing continued to happen. Guess what: “they” had upgraded the store’s internal system and forgot to send her the relevant memo. Typical. What could she give me other than a look of utter despair?

“Soz! You can’t buy anyfink today ‘cos oi can’t get me till open.” 

The case continues…

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Keep your friends close and your smartphones closer.

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