The No-win Scenario

I just realized something at work today which I will swear to my deathbed is unrelated to a specific coworker’s hygiene: telling a girl she has B.O. without ticking her off is essentially the Kobayashi Maru of social situations.

How to pass the Turing Test

Employ animists to judge the test.
Employ small children to judge the test.
Employ the computer-illiterate to judge the test.
Employ the mentally-disabled to judge the test.
Employ the intoxicated to judge the test.
Employ the senile to judge the test.

Bodacious Space Anime

http://dai.ly/xpm0un

Music video of the opening theme.

I’m currently doing a marathon of Bodacious Space Pirates, a sci-fi anime about a high school girl who becomes a pirate captain in space (the title is fairly self-explanatory). It is glorious. Don’t be put off by the cutesy opening. It reminds me of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in its oddball premise and in the way it firmly grounds its fantastical science fiction elements within an interesting narrative. It’s how science fiction should be done, but too often writers forget the “fiction” part and it becomes a three hundred page exegesis of the workings of blaster pistols.

It’s actually fairly hard sci-fi for something from the visual media (i.e., movies, tv, comics, etc). Not that I care about the consistency of fictional gibberish (one of my favourite science fiction writers is Ursula K. Le Guin), but the little details are still pretty neat, such as how the space suits have an attachment point for helmets on the back and how the bulkheads have to be manually cranked open after the power on a ship comes back on.

I even like the recap at the beginning of each episode. Normally I’d just fast forward through it (for instance, Bleach has freaking five minutes of recap and the opening before you actually get to the episode you want to watch) but this show’s recap usually has some kind of space philosophy being read to you while scenes from the previous episodes remind you of the gist of what happened before. Stuff like,

“In outer space there isn’t an absolute left, right, up, or down. It all depends on your relative position. Understand where you’ve come from and where you’re going, which way you’re facing and you’ll always know your current position. Confronted by the vastness of space, you may be disoriented by how small you are. But overcoming that feeling is your first step in outer space.”

All of this while the protagonist is shown on her training cruise and learning how to space walk. The recap even presents new background info which isn’t absolutely needed but is nice to have.

Anyway, I like this show. Watching it isn’t a bad way to say goodbye to 2012.

The mainstreaming of sci-fi

I just saw Looper. It was an okay bit of time travel narrative but I’m rather surprised so many people thought it was mind-bending. I thought the time travel aspect was fairly straightforward and can only assume that it was confusing mostly to people who didn’t see time travel being the main plot of like every fifth episode of The Next Generation.

In fact, the reception for Looper rather reminds me of that for Inception as far as its sci-fi bits go. Have we forgotten the lessons taught to us by both the Back to the Future franchise and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure?

Primer, now that was a genuine time travel headscrew. Be more like that, Looper. And as for the rest of you people, quit being so dazzled by sci-fi, these plots have been going round and round for decades by now. And while we’re at it also make me king of the world. Is any of that really too much to ask?

Get your war on

Thanks to The Onion AV Club I’m currently reading Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain. From the cover art and the fact that the book is reviewed in actual paper newspapers one might think that it’s a semi-autobiographical story about growing up as a Jewish science fiction fan in 1960’s New York. The title, however, is gloriously literal: it’s a story about a conflict between an actual world-conquering mollusk and a disembodied brain. It’s not a metaphor, it’s not an allegory, it is in fact exactly what it says on the tin.

It’s really quite fun.

Law and the Multiverse

I’ve just discovered Law and the Multiverse, a blog devoted to exploring the legal ramifications of life in a superhero universe. For example, one post discusses human rights in the context of non-human intelligences (i.e., aliens), while another covers Superman’s immigration status and whether he counts as an American. Like its subject matter, the blog deals mostly with the American context, but sometimes it deals with issues with a greater scope, such as whether supervillain lairs in outer space are protected by the Outer Space Treaty forbidding the militarization of space. It’s fascinating, though the American focus means I end up reading only half of the posts (what do I care about US traffic laws?).

Where’s my jetpack?

Seriously, where’s that damn jetpack? Or the hoverboards from Back to the Future? It’s 2011, people. Isn’t the future here yet?

The future is here

Yeah, that’s probably how time travellers from the past would feel. Warren Ellis made the same point in Doktor Sleepless, except I found his presentation slightly annoying in its bleeding edge post-cyberpunk atmosphere. You know what I mean, with the technologically-sophisticated rebels fighting against the authoritarian squares. “We may be virtual, but at least we’re authentic,” say the rebels. “Your Star Trek utopias were naive, but we have created the real future.” That kind of talk honestly gets on my nerves sometimes, especially since I couldn’t give less of a crap about something as ridiculous as authenticity.

But hey, remember the 90’s? That was kind of fun. Weird how disjointed that decade feels. It was kind of all over the place, wasn’t it? I guess the West was still groping for a new grand narrative after the end of the Cold War. Thank goodness the War on Terror made a nice punctuation point to the whole period.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

I watched The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya last night. Word on the street was that the movie was a good addition to the Haruhi Suzumiya series, and I really must concur. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get into the series until a few months ago, since apparently the last new content was from 2007. That must have been a long three years for the fans.

The Haruhi Suzumiya series reminds me a lot of The Time Traveler’s Wife – not in terms of plot or even aesthetics, but rather in the way both use science fiction in the service of the story. They’re not like too many other science fiction stories, where the writers are too busy geeking out over the ray guns to bother about the characters or the plot. Rather, the fantastic elements in both stories exist to drive forward the fundamental relationships at the heart of their respective plots – in Haruhi Suzumiya’s case, it’s about a misanthropic girl learning to appreciate the mundane and a misanthropic guy learning to appreciate the fantastic (with that term encompassing time travelers, psychics, and aliens). However, both Time Traveler’s Wife and Haruhi Suzumiya aren’t just regular stories with science fiction stuff thrown in, they would be fundamentally different without being science fiction.

I like Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s always got such interesting ideas.

That was it? (Ergo Proxy: A commentary)

Lil Meyer dressed in black pointing her gun at the camera while standing in the stairwell of a decrepit apartment building

Seriously, that was it? I can’t believe I watched all 23 episodes of Ergo Proxy and by the end I was still waiting for the story to start. “Underwhelmed” would be the best word to describe my feelings.

All right, that’s unfair. The series was pretty interesting in the beginning and had great potential at successfully combining philosophical ruminations with narrative cohesion, like The Matrix. By the end, though, it turned into a mishmash of disjointed plot points pasted together with pretty visuals. Which isn’t to say that it was bad, exactly, but how could they have spent so much money on the visual effects and still not manage to make a satisfying climax for the story? Remember the structure of the three act play, people: Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, and Denouement. Yes, those four parts fit into three acts.

Anyway, in case you’re still reading and have no idea what I’m talking about, Ergo Proxy is a Japanese cartoon show, or anime, that delves into themes of continuity, memory, and the meaning of life while depicting its story with a cyberpunk-inflected aesthetics.

Continue reading “That was it? (Ergo Proxy: A commentary)”

Battlestar Galactica 2010

Get Your War On

So, Adama didn’t nuke the planet after all.  I’m having trouble remembering other parts of last Sunday’s episode, though, since I almost dozed off a couple of times.

I don’t think it’s because the episode itself was boring, since the parts I recall seemed fairly exciting — Cylons getting blowed up, gunshot wounds to the head, and a scene where Apollo and Anders almost gave in to the sexual tension between them (this one I may have hallucinated while I was half-conscious).

I suspect I was still somewhat tired from skiing the day before and pleasantly groggy from my pork chop dinner, but I think my inattention also had to do with being in a different place and time to watch Battlestar Galactica.  This is the first time I’ve watched this show on Sunday instead of Saturday and in my old house instead of my place in Halifax.  It didn’t quite feel right, and the experience made me consider just how much context is responsible for Galactica‘s success.

Consider, for instance, that there is a new animated series of Star Trek being considered for production by whatever company it is that makes Star Trek.  The third comment points out that the original Star Trek drew upon dewy-eyed 60s optimism in its story-telling.  Star Trek failed and was cancelled in its first incarnation, but became popular in its movie version.  I think this was due partly to the difference between 1966 and 1979, the year the first movie came out.  In 1966, the United States was steadily losing its war in Vietnam, and Star Trek‘s optimism must have seemed like some cruel joke to a country dealing with major military defeats for the first time in its recent history.  In 1979, the Vietnam War was already finished for most Americans, and perhaps Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a nice distraction from the reality of corrupt presidents, dead leaders, and empty spots at the dinner table.

I’m sure we can all think of other tv shows or movies that, no matter how excellent, just didn’t catch on for some reason.  The Al Pacino movie Scarface, for instance, was a flop when it was first released, but it’s now considered a classic today, with its digital re-release celebrated by numerous film critics.  The reverse also holds true: classic Saturday Night Live skits like Jim Belushi’s samurai deli falls flat among people of my generation, the phrase “pile of dog crap” being bandied about at times.  The present is different from the past, and stories that were popular yesterday are not necessarily popular today.  But what, then, of Battlestar Galactica and its examination of the so-called War on Terror?  What of Battlestar Galactica‘s prospects for popularity among future generations of viewers?

Let us pretend that it is possible to win the War on Terror, or conversely (and perish the thought), it is possible to lose that same war (victory not necessarily being the objective of either “side”).  Let us pretend that it is now years, decades later, and we have achieved the status quo ante bellum, and the War on Terror is as distant as the Falklands War.  Would Battlestar Galactica still be considered brilliant by those who’d never seen it before?

I can easily imagine that it would be seen as too dark by future viewers who’d never been disgusted by graphic images of actual torture or had to helplessly read about monstrous crimes being perpetuated in their name many distant miles away.  In fact, Galactica might be seen as an unwelcome reminder of a past better buried, or perhaps even as a sign of the sickness of the society that it was produced in — after all, Galactica is meant as entertainment, and what is entertaining about reproducing images of terror?

The greater fear, of course, is that Battlestar Galactica will still be relevant twenty years from now.  If satire is meant to serve as a warning, then does that mean that Galactica‘s creators would like nothing more than to be a historical curiosity in the future?

I’m reminded of Weapons of Choice, a science fiction novel I read a few months back.  In it, a naval task force from twenty years in the future accidentally time travel back to the Second World War.  This means that the crews on board the ships have lived through twenty years of the War on Terror.  The future presented is grim, with summary executions of prisoners being conducted by the US military immediately after battle, and with American citizens living in a heavily militarized society.  Setting aside the author’s Tom Clancy-esque fascination with the machinery of war, the book’s portrayal of the future seems depressingly probable.

So there you have it, fellow fans of Galactica.  The series will be relevant in the future, or it will not.  A prediction, though: either way, lots of stuff will get blowed up.