Thursday, November 27, 2014

Science Fiction Parody & Satire - Week Fourteen

I think parody and satire work really well with the science fiction genre, especially after watching The Stepford Wives during the break in class this week. I'd seen the movie before and it has been one of my favorites, just because it's so brilliantly funny. Despite how it ends (as most movies that begin really good and fizzle out at the end *cough* horror films *cough*) The Stepford Wives more than makes up for it during the exposition scenes where Joanna is set up to be her own woman and she is removed to a society that is basically a 1950's Better Home & Gardens magazine come to life.

It's a hilarious and, in my opinion, well paced first half of the movie and if they could have maintained that throughout, The Stepford Wives would have been a knockout. It's a great sci-fi satire where the men of this gated community want to have the perfect life and the perfect wife, so they go out of their way to make robotic clones of their currently existing wives. In typical sci-fi fashion, the heroine of the story takes it upon herself to set the little society back to rights any way she can, even without the help of her friends (who were also turned into robotic clones) and the entire Stepford society completely flips with the previously cloned and replaced wives taking their revenge by putting all their husbands on house arrest. Seems fitting.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Literary Speculation - Week Thirteen

I've heard of the concept of Ice-Nine and have been intrigued with it for quite some time now so I took the chance to read Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and I was definitely not disappointed. The entire concept of Ice-Nine, though entirely fictional, is so intriguing.

Ice-Nine is a polymorph of water that has the ability to instantly freeze any body of water or water substance and create more Ice-Nine, like seeds to spread at a rapid pace. This includes oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and even the human body (say if the Ice-Nine hits the eyeball). And of course, as all good end of the world sci-fiesque stories must go, Ice-Nine freezes the entire world, killing off most of the world.

After reading Cat's Cradle, I did as much research into Ice-Nine as I could because I wanted to know absolutely everything about it (spoiler: there isn't much because it doesn't exist but you do get some interesting reads about the actual melting points and things like that) and I think that's the mark of good literature.

In terms of writing strictly for genre or writing elements of genre in your writings, I think it should be open. The beauty of art is that you can explore different avenues of one thing and (since we're talking about literature) if an author wants to use elements of sci-fi or horror or fantasy in their writings, they should! I suppose the only time that it would be a necessary or important distinction is if you're specifically looking to read something that is strictly genre or if the added genre elements add or take away from whatever you're reading. In my personal opinion., that should be the only time that the distinction matters.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Aquatic Uncle - Week Thirteen Point Five

1. Are there any prominent symbols in the story? If so what are they and how are they used?
There are a lot of symbols that permeate The Aquatic Uncle such as fins versus feet, water, and land. Talk of fins and talk of paws is the subject of a good majority of the story, as it's a way to separate the more "civilized" animals from the ones that cannot renounce the old ways of living in the water. In regards to the more "civilized" and more evolutionarily developed animals, there is the constant battle of land versus water. It's not an actual battle, like with wars or anything, but there definitely is strife between those who choose to stay in the water and those who try to coax their loved ones out of the water and into a new way of life.

2. What connections did you make with the story? Discuss elements of the story with which you were able to connect.
As I stated in my last answer, I definitely picked up on the differences that are seen between old and new generations. The younger generations are generally more quick to adapt to new ways of thinking, new ways of life, and new ideas that present themselves to them rather than constantly dwell on how things were decades ago.
When uncle N'ba N'ga tries to coax Qfwfq and his family into coming back into the water with him, saying that there is plenty of room and more worms than ever to eat when they come to visit him is reminiscent of how some parents or grandparents or what have you try to convince the younger generations to slow their pace of advancement. Sometimes it seems like older generations don't understand how the newer world works and think that it's easy as anything to go back to the old ways.
Like how college students are in severe debt after graduating and getting jobs is a lot harder than it might have been in their grandparents' time -- as an example.

3.What changes would you make to adapt this story into another medium? What medium would you use? What changes would you make?
I think it would be cool to adapt this story into maybe a short animation. I would probably give the beginning animation a quick voice over to explain that the species were evolving and separating from the water (or in Uncle N'ba N'ga's case, staying in the water and relate how this caused strife between families). I wouldn't change the story much as it's pretty straight forward and self-explanatory, but I would probably make it clearer as to why Lll chose to go live with N'ba N'ga instead of her fiancé since she was so accustomed to living on land and had only known that her whole life.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Diverse Position Science Fiction - Week Twelve

For this week, I read Octavia Butler's Bloodchild with the rest of the class and I actually quite enjoyed it. Octavia Butler puts a nice spin on a very different kind of future where it's the men who are bearing children, and not human children either, but the children of a species that we've never heard of before.

At first I thought this might have been a slave narrative in the form of an alien co-habitation story but Octavia Butler has said in a few interviews that this is not about that at all. It's been explicitly stated that this story is about love, symbiosis, and male pregnancy. As unsettling as the narrative is, I think it really is a beautiful story from start to finish. The humans (or Terrans) as they're called have come to this planet and have eased into a very specific life with the Tlic. They are very good at incubating Tlic eggs, raising the young within them until they're ready to be taken out (through a graphic surgery performed by the Tlic, themselves.

Bloodchild was written and published around the same time as Bell Hooks' Feminist Theory so we can interpret this story from a feminist point of view. We see an interesting role reversal in Bloodchild where men are the ones tasked to bear children (even if they're not human children) and the women are pretty much left alone to continue the human race for the Tlic. We could see how this story affects people just by reading it and discussing it in class. Some were visibly uncomfortable by the graphic description of the Tlic infant birth, simply because it's not "normal" for men to give birth, but some of us in class were interested in the turn of events.

I think Octavia Butler does a great job of exploring gender role reversal (in terms of who bears the children) and I think the story works very well within its context.

Monsters, directed by Gareth Edwards, is a movie about large, octopus-like aliens who've piggybacked on a NASA probe and fell to earth (around the Mexican-USA border) and are now roaming (and multiplying) within both countries. Andrew Kaulder, a photographer, is tasked with going to Mexico and retrieving his employer's daughter, Sam (although why would they send a photographer? I don't know).

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. One of my favorite tropes in movies (especially monster/alien movies) is to not show the threat until the very last (or even not at all) and this movie did that really really well.

In keeping with the topic for this week and whether or not the movie reflected the values and perspectives of majoritarian culture, that's hard to say. Most of the movie took place in Mexico, but I often found myself forgetting that, because both of our characters were white and they were alone for a good chunk of time. It was nice to see how the outer Mexican towns were faring against living with these large alien creatures, and how it seemed that daily life just kept going on like normal because "where are we gonna go?" as one man responded when asked why he and his family didn't just relocate.

I actually liked that not everybody was trying to relocate to the United States or flee further south. The aliens were pretty predictable, having specific migratory seasons that could be tracked and counted on time and again, so the people of these smaller towns, and even a larger port city, just made it work with their daily lives.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cyberpunk & Steampunk - Week Eleven

I find stories/movies/tv about altered realities/alternative realities really interesting. It's incredibly fun to entertain the idea that, in an alternate timeline, there are people who are living out their lives as we are, but say, with Kaiju running around, or with the ability to enter people's dreams, etc. Both William Gibson's Neuromancer and Satoshi Kon's Paprika were a refreshing look into how humans can tap into a wireless network of both the internet and dreams.

Gibson's Neuromancer tells the story of Case (or Henry Dorsett Case) and his quest to find a way to hook himself back up to the global computer network that was ripped away from him when it was found out that he was stealing from his boss. Neuromancer's world is one of linking up to cyberspace via a virtual reality dataspace they call the 'Matrix' and its also one where, if you have the means, the connections, and the money, you can basically build your body from the ground up.

The thing that I liked most about Neuromancer, as illustrated by the book cover above, is that there are multiple layers of reality. Much like most stories where there is a Matrix of some sort there's always the "real world" the world of the Matrix and possibly (depending on how deep the creator wants to explore this idea of layers) multiple other worlds within the original context of the story (think Inception and all it's levels, Limbo included). It's a great way to explore narrative especially when your narrator is unreliable.

I unfortunately haven't gotten the chance to finish Neuromancer, but from what I've read it's a pretty wild ride. It moves pretty fast for a book written in the 80's, I think. We're in one location with Case and Molly, working for Armitage, the next, we're on a boat out at sea, the next we're somewhere else entirely. As was stated in class, Neuromancer doesn't take a whole lot of time to get from one place to another. It doesn't concern itself much with scene transitions or visible montages the reader can follow and that can be a little disorienting. Then again, the entire world of Chiba City can get pretty disorienting, especially if you're still able to freely access the global computer network; you're in, you're out, you're everywhere.

In much the same way Paprika, directed by Satoshi Kon is a pretty disorienting film, simply because the world of dreams that the DC Mini allows us to access is expansive, and easily bled into the real world. Some people can't even tell when they've been uplinked to the dream world because the transition is so quick and seamless.

In a world where there is a machine (the DC Mini) that allows people to enter other people's dreams and record them for review, Doctor Atsuko Chiba uses the DC Mini to illegally perform psychotherapy on people outside of the research facility by assuming her alter ego Paprika to help them get to the root of their anxieties. It all goes wrong though as the world of dreams is taken over by someone with a god complex and they begin to meld the dream world with the real world.

What I really liked about Paprika was that Paprika wasn't just a created alter-ego for Dr. Chiba to use to protect her identity when psychoanalyzing patients. As the movie progressed and we learned more about the world of the DC Mini, Paprika became a full fledged character in her own right, even going so far as to save the world when it was really needed.

This movie had an interesting "Inception"-like quality to it, which I really enjoyed. It's always nice to see how media affects other media and this movie also demonstrated the different layers that Neuromancer provided, even blurring the lines of those layers. The watchers of this film are taken on an interesting and face paced ride of what it means to be lucid in this world and we're never really sure 100% what is real and what is dream.

"The sky above the port was the color of television, turned to a dead channel" -Neuromancer

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Fiction of Ideas - Week Ten

For this week, I read I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream by Harland Ellison and it was a ride from start to finish.

The story takes place 109 years after the destruction of humanity at the "hands " of a self-aware supercomputer who refers to itself as AM (originally meaning Allied Mastercomputer, but eventually referring to its state of being by basing itself off of René Descartes philosophy, "I think there fore I AM").

AM's Talkfrield #1: "I THINK THEREFORE I AM"

AM takes full control of the third World War that has been raging and carries out mass genocide, save for four men and one woman. The narrator of the story, Ted, maintains that they have no reason why AM decided to keep the five of them alive, if only to torture them for the rest of time. That's exactly what AM has done. Each character has been either physically or mentally altered (AM's doing) and is tortured on a daily basis, sometimes not eating anything decent for months, often subjected to the elements (whatever elements AM can created in his vast, cavernous computer underground and each wishing that they were dead.

I think the world that Ellison has created is terrifying, and definitely a sy-fi future that I wouldn't ever wish to see. To think of the world run and destroyed by a computer that we created, completely taken over by this entity that is made up of binary code and some strange God Complex is something that I often think about, so to see it manifested in writing makes me even more curious.

There's a lot of media present where humans create artificial intelligence, whether in the form of humanoid androids or stationary computers, and they always turn on us in some way. Always. create them to make life easier for us, to give us less responsibility for our daily tasks (whether those tasks are keeping a house clean or running a government) and we always, always have to take full responsibility in the end, either by being punished and tortured for 109 years or watching everybody around us get eliminated and very few of us are left behind to pick up the pieces.

So I guess the real question is, do we actually think that this could happen if we were to create a super computer with hyper intelligence like AM, or Portal's GLaDOS, or even HAL 9000, would they turn on us like we think they would? Or are we just being paranoid? Should we even risk it?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Space Opera - Week Nine

This week I read Murray Leinster's First Contact and was pleasantly surprised at how much information Leinster was able to fit in a short amount of time.

Tommy Dort is a photographer on the ship Llanvabon, set out to photograph the turn and evolution of the Crab Nebula (a feat that nobody on Earth would be able to see considering how long it takes light to reach our planet) and is present on board when the Llanvaon encounters another ship, hovering amongst the mist of the Nebula. The two ships sit quietly, neither wanting to turn tail to retreat for fear the other would blast them or stealthily follow them back to their home planet.

Eventually the crew establishes contact with the "aliens" on board the other ship, which is described as jet black and absorbs all light, and they figure out that the aliens don't have ears, and they don't speak from mouths. Instead, they send pulses from a part of their head and communicate in a way that we'd easily recognize as being telepathic.

While the skipper of the Llanvabon and the skipper of the alien ship barter and debate with each other on what the best protocol is, Tommy actually connects and establishes communication with what can only be described as his counterpart on the ship. They "talk" for about two hours and feel a sense of camaraderie while their skippers are conversating about whether or not to kill each other, and Tommy eventually states that the aliens have the "same psychology as we do".

I like that Murray Leinster brings in and explores the idea of duality in this story. There's is a theory that somewhere out there (mostly dealing with parallel universes) there is someone who is just like us, living out their lives as we are (though perhaps a bit differently, maybe they'd made different choices, turned left instead of right for example). The theory typically tends to mean that the other "us' is human as well, but I don't see why that can't apply to "aliens". We already know that there are people living on our won planet who tend to remind us of people we already know. Maybe there's someone you've seen on the street who looks like/talks like/laughs like an ex, your sibling, or a friend. I think this theory and idea could definitely apply to a foreign species, especially one that has the "same psychology as we do".