First some sci fi news! Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson’s Worlds hit bookstores on April 30th. Terrific stories dedicated to one of the greatest of the greats.
== Just ASKING to be stomped…. ==
Okay, I’m about to risk all by bearding the fanboys in their dens. Bets whether I’ll survive?
To be clear, I will go to see the new Godzilla flick. I hope it is well-done and I’ll turn down as many dials as I must, in order to enjoy all the roaring and stomping and useless-shooting that’s a metaphor for the futility of war… or the futility of all human endeavor.
Still, let me turn to all you guys out there who are going nuts over this prospect, and ask… really? I mean….
…I mean it looks like just another plodding, invulnerable, tail-dragging act-of-nature. An unpleasant guest. A bully, void of any personality or motive, other than malevolence, trashing up the place in revenge for our effrontery for daring to develop technology, for all its plusses and minuses. A stomping expression of the modern-cowardly obsession with apocalypse and the simplistic balm of hopelessness.
Do I hate all monsters? Nonsense! Frankenstein’s creation is a tear-jerker. And I howl in fury at what Hollywood has done, lately, to the lycanthrope wolf-man, who used to be the bourgeoise, middle class monster! Between the effete, lordly vampires and the innumerable, shambling, proletarian zombies, there was the story of a guy with a mortgage and a wife and kids who won’t listen… and a monthly dread that came with every full moon… what a story! Ruined by recent, coke-addled producers, who turned wolf man into a pack of cheap, white-trash versions of vampires. So sure, I like monsters. But I’m picky.
Heck, Godzilla can be cool! The very first version had some genuine pathos. The 1998 Roland Emmerich version (with Matthew Broderick) featured a female titan who — while huge and lithe and deadly — was also vulnerable, courageous and FAST! And even kinda sympathetic, in her own way. She was in and part of nature, not a stomping-cranky, invulnerable, walking-destroyer-god metaphor.
Oh, sure, the overall Godzilla 1998 flick kinda sucked as cinema. But the monster? She lived by her wits and had understandable motives. The audience felt conflicted and even came to view her as a tragic underdog.
So this new guy-in-a-rubber-suit can take hits from nukes? Where’s the fun in that? Yaaaaaawn….
== Grousing about even MORE popular culture! ==
After Hunger games and Divergent and Ender’s Game and Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, is it possible to see a theme? Other than a fetish for the word “game”? How about this:
“I am a misunderstood, undiscovered demigod/chosen-one who is being hemmed-in by authority figures who demand that I crush my uniqueness into their square-peg system, and BOY are they gonna be sorry when I find my true (rebel) friends and discover my hidden/latent talents!”
Does that about sum up the core message of just about every teen exploitation film? The irony is so rich that almost no one ever actually groks or discusses it. That preaching romantic versions of Suspicion of Authority does not make free thinkers. It does not produce independent-minded citizens, capable of using the good parts of society while fixing or deconstructing the bad. What it tends to produce is bitter, indignant people who will march to whatever drummer feeds their resentment and attack whichever “elite” they are propagandized into blaming for their own limitations — while thus serving the purposes of whatever elite is pulling the strings on their own side.
Oh, noteworthy: this trait encompasses both left AND right.
Is there anyone in mass media, anymore, creating lessons that preach: “Buck up! Stop whimpering. And stop expecting super-powers. You are merely above-average and if you want to change people, you’re gonna need help from a lot of other above-average folks.
“Go Change what’s bad. And start by admitting some folks already did some of that, before you. And there are aspects of the society you live in — including some of your institutions and neighbors — that might be smart enough to discuss and negotiate solutions with you. They might even lend a hand, when you find yourself battling evil.”
Do you know anyone saying that?
Nah. See this satirized beautifully here: It’s a bunch of years after the war and everything is different. And my own rumination (The Idiot Plot) on why these tedious cliches hang around with such tenacity.
== Sometimes, there are better stories… ==
Just out, a graphic novel called “THREE” that takes a harsh look at the realm of Sparta, the city state that Frank Miller glorified in “300,” without ever mentioning the wretchedly gruesome nature of the Spartan regime, or the blinding hypocrisy of crying “freedom!” while running one of the worst slave states in human history.
In “THREE,” Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly follow a trio of helot slaves who get fed-up, rebel, and are chased across Greece by an army of three hundred brutal pursuers.
I haven’t acquired the book, yet, but the sample illustrations are excellent and the rebuttal to Miller’s outrageously sick “classic” is long past-due. (See my own dissection of the relentless lies and turpitude of “300” here.)
And speaking of questioning cliches… Now available online in English translation, at last, is “The Last Ringbearer,” a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (from “The Lord of the Rings”) and told from the point of view of the losers. The novel was written by Kirill Yeskov, a Russian paleontologist, and published to acclaim in his homeland in 1999. It dives into some of the questions that I explored in my infamous Salon article on Salon: “J.R.R. Tolkien vs the Modern Age” in which I merely explore (with some respect) the conflicted relationship between Tolkien and the modern world, and speculate entertainingly about what might have been. Yeskov takes this idea farther!
And while we’re touting better stories… the SyFy channel will turn “James S.A. Corey’s” Expanse space opera novels (Leviathan Wakes, Abbaddon’s Gate) into a “Game of Thrones in space.” Forgiving that bit of salesmanship bluster… I can’t wait.
Want good things to read? The Forever Watch by David Ramirez is a vivid and imaginative and solidly crafted novel about crime and danger and deep, deep secrets aboard a generation ship carrying the last of humanity to a distant star. Recommended.
And yes… you… want… to… read…
== “Nonfiction Sci Fi” ==
Rick Smolan sent me two wonderful volumes. Truly amazing and beautiful coffee table books. The Human Face of Big Data and From Alice to Ocean: Alone across the outback. Spectacular photography accompanies very insightful explorations of two very different topics. Fabulous gifts for those you actually like, who have birthdays coming.
Just plain musical fun: Salut Salon “Wettstreit zu viert.”
And my colleague George Dvorsky’s new course — Introduction to Transhumanism — introduces the philosophy and socio-cultural movement that is transhumanism. “We will survey its core ideas, history, technological requirements, potential manifestations, and ethical implications. Topics to be discussed will include the various ways humans have tried to enhance themselves throughout history, the political and social aspects of transhumanism, the technologies required to enhance humans (including cybernetics, pharmaceuticals, genetics, and nanotechnology), and the various ways humans may choose to use these technologies to modify and augment their capacities (including radical life extension, intelligence augmentation, and mind uploading). Along the way we will discuss social and ethical problems that might be posed by human enhancement.” Visit George’s column on iO9.
== Brinstuff ==
Here are details re my two separate trips to Santa Clara, this month:
May 9 – 4pm speech about transparency, sousveillance and Internet transformations – at the 2nd Cyber Surveillance Conference (The Internet Society), at Mayer Theater, Santa Clara University. Open to the public.
May 21 – 4pm speech at the Uptime Institute: The Near Future: Big Data and the next 40 years. I believe membership is required.
Did I mention I have a story in that Poul Anderson anthology?
What’s Next? The Horizons of Our Dreams: My talk at TEDx San Diego-2013 is now posted for viewing by all. It was very popular, but challenging for the smart audience, as I took them on a rapid tour of human history, society, evolution… and our galactic destiny… all in 12 minutes!
And I speak at TedX UCSD on May 10.
Want to read an interview with one of your favorite science fiction authors… in Chinese? What did I say! No seriously… someone tell me what I said?
See also an impressive job of interview-by-paraphrasing — I have seldom seen better. The responses and opinions that Catherine Book describes me having actually overlap with the ones that I hold! Impressive. It is a skill we all desperately need. Only when you can paraphrase your opponent so accurately that he or she has to grudgingly admit “that’s what I believe” are you then in a fair position to debate them and demolish their arguments. The Paraphrase Challenge is the very core of human maturity.
Go thou forth. Read good tales. Critique the crud. Be citizens.