Tag Archives: Science Fiction

The “grosstopical” notion of China Mieville.

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I  first read Mieville last year. I had picked up Perdido Street Stationone book in a trilogy of novels set in a world of the author’s own creation. New Crobuzon, the cerebrum-shaped city in Perdido, is depicted as an expansive cluster of disparate architecture and neighborhoods, inhabited by a menagerie of imaginative characters.  There are arcane garudas that dwell on the rooves of buildings, giant trance-inducing moths that menace the city and subsist on dreams, a massive multi-dimensional spider with human hands hanging from its abdomen, bio-engineered people with grotesque mechanical adaptations, and a powerful neural network comprising discarded electronics in a city dump.

There’s really a lot of ideas in this book. Perdido, at times, reads as an excursion into the fantastic, only partially regulated by a concern for plot. As a writer, Mieville takes on the role of a world-builder, creating a place where all his insane creations can exist and interact. With the story confined to a city, New Crobuzon develops its facets and reveals its layers around the events throughout the book. The story is in place to satisfy the author’s passion for the characters, rather than the other way around, and the  imagined world and its inhabitants take precedence over the traditional virtues of the novel.   He even admits to this tendency, stating in his Believer interview, “I’m in this fucking business for the monsters. The monsters are the main thing I love about the fantastic. And unfortunately  you can’t really sell books of monsters to publishers. They insist on stories linking them.”

Mieville’s work has been described as “baroque urban fantasy“, those three words being some of the most heavily used designations in conversations surrounding his work. Reading The City and The City, it’s noticeable early on that the author eased up on his baroque leanings to write what is essentially  a crime noir novel,  a combination of  “weird fiction” and the “police procedural“. Though more contained in its chimerical qualities, it’s still a science-fiction story. The elements of fantasy are seen in the inner-workings of two made-up cities–Beszel and Ul Quoma: separate cities in the same space.

thecityandthecityThe City and The City is mythologies, murder, and politics set in a unique reality, a nuanced cadre of peripheries. An anomalous circumstance sets the stage for the particular rules of engagement in the city/cities. Movement through space is marked as much by seeing as “unseeing”; “unseeing” being a propensity of the residents of Beszel and Ul Quoma: two different cities, sharing the same physical territory in isolation from one another. A “breach” between the separate cities can happen on either a physical level or, more abstruse, on a perceptual one.

An example of the intricacies of Beszel and Ul Quoma in a passage where the narrator is moving from one city to the other:

…[I] had the driver take us, to his raised eyebrows, a long way round to Beszel entrance on a route that took us on KarnStrasz. In Bezel it is an unremarkable shopping street in the Old Town, but it is crosshatched, somewhat in Ul Quoma’s weight, the majority of buildings in our neighbour, and in Ul Quoma its topolganger is the historic, famous Ul Maidin Avenue, into which Copula Hall vents. We drove as if coincidentally by the Copula Hall exit into Ul Quoma.

I had unseen it as we took KarnStrasz, at least ostensibly, but of course grosstopically present near us were the liens of Ul Quomans entering, the trickle of vistor-badge wearing Besz emering into the same physical space they may have walked an hour previously, but now looking around in astonishment at the architecture of Ul Quoma it would have been breach to see before.

I’m interested in the spatial precepts conceived here.  In describing an area that is at once one place and yet another, the narrator defines proximity “crudely physically, grosstopically, to use the term unique to Beszel and Ul Guoma, unnecessary anywhere else.”

Neither pre-1987 Berlin or modern day Jerusalem, Mieville addresses “real-life border conditions” as source material and basis of comparison in his interview on BLDGBLOG:

My intent with The City and The City was…to derive something hyperbolic and fictional through an exaggeration of the logic of borders, rather than to invent my own magical logic of how borders could be. It was an extrapolation of really quite everyday, quite quotidian, juridical and social aspects of nation-state borders: I combined that with a politicized social filtering, and extrapolated out and exaggerated further on a sociologically plausible basis, eventually taking it to a ridiculous extreme.

A grosstopical understanding of spatial dimensions is a basic comprehension of an area,  controlled by separate governing bodies, removed from the definitive dueling politics. Geography becomes awkward when it loses its ability to be depoliticized. Simple terms of physicality aren’t sufficient in addressing how we deal with space. A map, while composed of different masses of land and bodies of water, is more-often-than-not defined by the borders and territories imposed upon it. It’s an interesting challenge to imagine reading geography in alternate ways, overlaying new meanings onto  standard interpretations. Complicate the matter with the idea of a space, simultaneously singular and seperate, and you’ve arrived somewhere around where the “grosstopical” notion could have derived from.

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Reading Material: Cities / Playscapes / Drugs / Jerusalem / Time / Bunkers / Apocalypse

It’s been awhile.

The internet got shut off. Life got complicated. Enderender maintenance became less of a priority.

Sine last posting, I traveled by thumb from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles  California. I came back to New Orleans afterwards and things were bad. Then I left America at the start of last year, went travelling in the Middle East. I returned to New Orleans, this time in late spring. Now I work in a public library.

Perfect. That’s the explanation for the my nearly 18-month absence.   Now, to readjust focus…

A list of recent reading material, in no particular order:

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Common Ground In A Liquid City by Matt Hern

Ideas for sustainable urban futures specifically focused on arguments for density, localization, and city planning as a collective, participatory activity. The premise for this collection of essays centers around the comparison of various locales (New York, Las Vegas, Istanbul, Diyarbakir–to name a few) to the author’s own, Vancouver. The result is a civic-minded sampling of the successes and failures of different cities, with special attention paid to the possibilities of the places being analyzed.

Common Ground has a lot to with basic considerations of public space. A lot of the themes throughout the book  suggest that in order to transform our cities–whether it be through redesign, repurposing, or rehabilitation–we need to first change the way we think about them.

Makes sense. Hern’s approach to the shaping of cities is informal, organic, and spirited. He’s into bikes, potlucks, and as much shared space as possible. Corporate interest and privatization don’t make for the kind of city he’s trying to envision in this book. Essentially, he’s calling for cities to be built from the ground up, to develop character on their own, rather than be assigned one by aggressive development firms and government officials.

The writing is consistently approachable, although he could probably stand to put a little more effort into the visuals accompanying his next book. It wouldn’t be unfair at times to  categorize Hern  as “idealistic”. Of course, imagining the type of place we want to live and be a part of is a lot easier than actually implementing the changes necessary to make that place a reality. His best argument is for densification, building fecund urban centers with lots of resources and preserving the rural areas in the process.

I’d probably be pulling quotes from it if I didn’t already lend it out, recommending it to a friend as definitely worth reading.

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Reimagining Recreation by James Trainor

I developed a weird fascination with playscapes awhile back. This article is about the trials of New York City playground development, the radical urban playground designers of the 60’s, and Robert Moses.

In my reading, I was dragged back to the age of six-years old, running around on what would now be most certainly condemned as a totally unsafe playground at The Hansen Elementary School in the suburbs of Massachusetts. It’s gone now, replaced by a generic, prepackaged play environment. It was made mostly out of thick lumber and old tires. There was a pyramid you could crawl on top of and around and inside, made completely out of conjoined automobile tires! And it was on the huge monster-truck tires, half-buried in the sand, with an 8-foot gap in between them traversable through a rope swing, where I split open my forehead. Lots of crying, some stress for my father, and a few stitches.

I look back upon that place as magical, maybe even more so because of my painful experience.

Lady Allen of Hurtwood, “a British landscape designer and fierce child welfare activist” and one of the major influences of Richard Dattner, a radical playscape designer, was known for her  “…unsettling dictum, ‘Better a broken bone than a broken spirit’.”

Reimageining Recreation does a good job of positioning these designers amongst fine artists and, especially, land artists. It’s seems totally reasonable to talk about playgrounds and the Spiral Jetty or Roden’s Crater in relation to one another, conceptually juxtaposing these spatial interventions.

Regarding the radical playscapes of NYC circa 1960:

The playscapes were the first in New York to be designed by architects—idealistic, savvy, and ambitious young designers with their own tots in tow, steeped in New Left politics, versed in current social theories and child psychology, and at home in downtown art circles. (Friedberg was a lifelong friend of artist Jackie Ferrara, whose feminist take on post-minimalism featured wooden staircases, ramps, and stacked pyramids that almost invited the viewer to start climbing on them.) Unbeknownst to most, Dattner and Friedberg embodied a small but important vanguard working in parallel and often anticipating the environmentally engaged work of Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, and others.

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Operation Delirium by Raffi Khatchadourian 

Totally scary, fascinating article about an army doctor conducting drug experiments on young soldiers during the cold war. This expose calls into question the ethics of the US Government feeding young men illicit substances in the interest of developing psychological weapons. Centered around James Ketchum, one of the leading doctors at Edgewood, the article is a collection of horrors and cold military rationale:

In 1949, L. Wilson Greene, Edge wood’s scientific director, typed up a classified report, “Psychochemical Warfare: A New Concept of War,” that called for a search for compounds that would create the same debilitating mental side effects as nerve gas, but without the lethality. “Throughout recorded history, wars have been characterized by death, human misery, and the destruction of property; each major conflict being more catastrophic than the one preceding it,” Greene argued. “I am convinced that it is possible, by means of the techniques of psychochemical warfare, to conquer an enemy without the wholesale killing of his people or the mass destruction of his property.

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 Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

Guy Delisle documented, in comicbook form, his year spent in Jerusalem.  His partner worked for Doctors Without Borders, spending much of her time in Gaza, while Delisle looked after his two young children and explored his surroundings. What came out of this is a very honest account of Delisle’s personal experiences in a place of conflict.

I think the initial naiveté of the author is actually one of the strengths of the work. From the beginning, he seems routinely surprised at the conditions produced from the tensions between Israel and Palestine. He’s not visiting Israel for religious or historical reasons, nor is he visiting Palestine in the interest of solidarity or politics. Instead, it seems more like he just ended up there, the caretaker for the kids while his wife  was at work. For this reason, Delisle’s perspective is valuable. Simple and straight-forward.

It’s a good counterweight to reading Joe Sacco….but if you’re going to only read one, definitely choose Sacco.

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The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

I’ll spare you from my own unabashed adoration of the father of modern science fiction and just leave you with a crude synopsis: A scientist travels way far into the future. The leisure class has turned into supple, dim-witted imps, the working class into subterranean savages. The future looks bleak.

‘For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the social effort in which we are at present engaged. And yet, come to think, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work of ameliorating the conditions of life–the true civilizing process that make life more and more secure–had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw!’

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Home at the End of Time: Robert Vicino Built an Underground City Where You Can Ride out the Apocalypse by Austin Considine and You’re (Probabaly) Not Invited: End Times Living with the Doomsday 1 Percent by Jake Hanrahan

Both these articles came from the same place (Motherboard), around the same time (the Mayan Apocalypse), and deal with the same content (doomsday bunkers) so I grouped them together.

Remember 2012? Like last year, when that thing didn’t happen? Well, at the very least, it propelled “the end of the world” into the mainstream for awhile, which was exciting and then, quickly, tired and annoying.

When reading about these survival bunkers, I can’t help but think of that old Don Johnson movie A Boy and His Dog. I’m specifically thinking about the post-apocalyptic, subterranean community that kidnaps the young Don Johnson for his sperm. In this underground society created in the aftermath of nuclear disaster, it’s all hyper-Americana and inbreeding, weird violence and verbal instructions for apple pie blasting out of speakers. Not necessarily a future worth sticking around for.

What Robert Vicino’s bunker company Vivos offers is the economic version of the doomsday domicile. The going rate for a spot in one of his bunkers is $50,000 per adult, $35,000 for children. Vicino said reassuringly, “What Vivos is, is a modern-day fortress or citadel, where our members are safe and secure, with all the supplies they need to ride it out. And we can defend the facilities. So if the rest of the world’s gone crazy, our people will at least be in a safe haven,”

Sounds fun. And according to the Vivos website, this mass hysteria, necessitating a flee from collapse into the underground,  could be a result of any number of forces including, but not limited to, bio war, anarchy, a killer comet, a global tsunami, or a super volcano, respectively.

Larry Hall’s Luxury Survival Condo is unique in that his bunkers are built inside repurposed missile silos built by the Army Corps of Engineers. In terms of design, they’re stunning. And two million dollars for a spot…before they sold out. Which leads to this interesting predicament noted by the article’s author:

So with all the comforts that any wealthy survivalist could throw money at, Larry Hall has designed the survival condo for likeminded millionaires savvy enough to realize that if or when the economy or society goes to pot, their cash-at-hand will be worthless, and their survival investment will be money well spent. But surely Hall realizes this, too? It’s my hope that, come time to batten down the hatches, those people sharing his oxygen don’t get on his nerves when all the profit he’s made becomes worthless in a barter-based economy.

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Chinese Dig in for ‘approaching doomsday’ by Rita Alvarez Tudela

More architecture for the apocalypse. Imagine the end of the world actually happening, the only survivors being the guys brazen enough to lock themselves inside a giant ping-pong ball. Or better yet, imagine the end of the world being brought on by a global tsunami, earth turned into one giant ocean dotted with tsunami survival pods carrying the last surviving members of mankind, trapped inside giant ping-pong balls.

The future forty-seven years ago.

This clip of science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke discussing future potentialities for civilization is outstanding. Granted, his forecast of developments in the urban environment isn’t totally correct. The architectural examples don’t exactly match up. The version of the urban center presented represents a visual aesthetic of the future-past more familiar with The Jetsons than most metropolises of today. However, Clarke’s foresight in discussing  interconnectivity through what we now refer to as telecommunication is  on point. He’s talking about telepresence, a term coined some sixteen years later, more than a decade prior to the the home computer being introduced to the commerical market.

Watch the rest of the BBC Special [part 1 and part 2] to hear about the bioengineering of animals to create super-chimpanzees, the end of biological evolution making way for inorganic/mechanical evolution, the application of suspended-animation for travelling into the future, and “the invention to end all inventions” called “the replicator”. According to this chronological list of predictions beginning in 2001, the universal replicator can be expected to be completed sometime in 2040, the same year as the popular utilization in the medical field of “the braincap”, a device which allows doctors to experience their patients symptoms.

Read Childhood’s End if you haven’t already.

Thanks Hill.

The Tralfamadorian experience…

 

“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

A Tralfamadorian explaining literature and the nature of time to Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five


The Twilight Zone—Season 1—“Time Enough at Last”

“…Henry Beamis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers, a bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but it was conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world of time clockers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment Mr. Beamis will enter a world without bank presidents, or wives or clocks or anything else….”
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Mr. Beamis is not “an efficient member of [the] organization”. His superior reprimands him for being “a reader”, a quality unappealing in an employee. Beamis’ ritual of scanning through texts at work is a direct result of the autocratic rule of his wife who refuses to let him read, rejecting the custom as “sacrificing the art of conversation”.  Sterling crafts for us a situation where the society of a man rejects his hermetic habit of books. Albeit, this is not a Farhenteit-451 construction in which books are considered completely deplorable and to be done away with by force. While the libraries still stands and the texts are still available, it seems that the forces in Mr. Breamis’ world, the company he keeps, prevent him from his indulgence.

Mr. Beamis sneaks away while at work to read within a bank vault, inadvertently functioning for our protagonist as a bomb shelter. In this appears a perfect juncture to insert an apocalypse, a cataclysm by hydrogen bomb. It seems impossible for much of the television and movies produced during this time (late 1950’s) to not address world war fears and the development of nuclear armaments. This particular episode is really most interesting for it’s presentation of the post-apocalyptic moment, after the breaking of Beamis’ pocket watch, which cracked due to the bombing, into a new mode of time. The destroyed innards of the bank serve to symbolize the ceasing of a world created upon a very specific system of values, a collapse of civilization.  The destruction of  a structure created for the purpose of storing and dispensing forms of capital, is the initial indicator of the end of the world. A tape recorder reels out the speech dictated by the head banker to his secretary for the Thursday night banquet (“a constant remembrance that the bank, like a political office, is a public trust”) self-destructs as the sole survivor first moves with timid steps through the remains of a past-life vanished. The “battered monuments” of infrastructure, (a pay-phone, a neighborhood bar, a mailbox) help to confirm the mysterious extinction of Beamis’ former environment.

On a side note, one of the cinematography effects I appreciate about the scenes portrayed of a world-burned-out are the obvious markings of the shot taking place on a set, like the weird way the horizon looks and how the sky appears totally motionless. There is something exciting about the idea of imagining the world destroyed and then constructing such a vision, “a smashed landscape”, on a closed set in warehouse in southern California.

There is a moment when Beamis almost succumbs to his loneliness, finding a small handgun amongst the rubble. At the moment when he is about to exact his own demise, a beacon of hope presents itself—a fallen pillar of the public library. This is the most beautiful portrait of destruction, Beamis excitedly running up the debris-ridden stairs littered with novels by famous authors. These works appear to be his saving grace, his reason to live.

Of course, it seems rather obvious from the beginning that this bespectacled man with lenses thick like magnifying glass will suffer some strange fate related to his sight. Indeed, upon his greatest moment of joy, his exuberant embrace of time unconstrained, he leans over and his glasses fall from his face, smashing to pieces on the ground.

It’s fair to say that this is a morose story. Without doubt, it would be unlikely for Beamis’ fate to not become somehow twisted, for everyone else’s apocalypse to become his own utopia. Still, we are never led to view Beamis as a morally corrupt man deserving a harsh sentence. Instead, we witness a man saved from death twice only to suffer a grueling sentence, to be stripped of his vision and, ultimately, his will to live by Sterling’s exploitation of a frailty.

This episode contains the classic sort of irony characteristic of Rod Sterling and The Twilight Zone, the appearance of a situation that reveals itself as not possibly being what it seems. The viewer can understand at an early point that the plot will somehow manifest a shifted version of reality by the end, the last moments destined to make sense of the scenes prior and generate an end with a resemblance of shrouded explanation. What is commendable about The Twilight Zone is it’s unwillingness to edify, the series reluctance to provide unprecedented glimmers of optimism or explicit morals. The whole premise of Sterling’s creation is to depict an altered dimension more-often-than-not with a rationale not based in our own immediate realities. So nice about this approach to storytelling is the expressive freedom present in creating a world where things are inexplicable and left with an aura of the unknown. This allows for the tales to present ideas not constricted by the rules of reason, or as Sterling would say, in The Twilight Zone.

Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World” (1932)

Realizing I probably should have read this book back in high school, I was a bit amazed both at how pleasurable reading Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” was and that I hadn’t read it sooner. I think I had something built up in my mind, the false idea that this book would be more challenging and dry than it was. In reality, I found Huxley’s most prized piece of writing to have some genuine humor throughout it. The absurdity of situations are elevated to comedy. For example, police spraying soma gas (a universally popular and near mandatory narcotic distributed by the government meant to provide feelings of bliss and absent-mindedness) at a crowd on the verge of aggressively rioting and altering the mass into a sobbing horde of groping bodies drugged out of their dissent.

Alas, there is also violence present within the novel that is raw and not intermingled with the light-hearted. An earnestness underlines the entire work and reminds the reader that what they are in fact engaged in reading is a tragedy, putting the problems of peace under scrutiny.

This is a theme I find interesting, an alternative among the abundance of post-apocalyptic scenarios drawn out in countless science-fiction tales where the world is burned out or neglected to the point of being uninhabitable. In this version of the future, the apocalypse as a cataclysmic event is stunted by the control of a governing body that works to maintain peace and order, to preserve and progress human society to a point of thoughtlessness, in effect ruling out the possibility of war altogether.

The point made with “Brave New World” is there can no great tragedies or art in the absence of social instability. In a societal structure shaped through conditioning, culture is necessarily mass-produced and insubordination beyond the realm of the imagination. Religious over-tones aside, Huxley at times coming across as a tinge conservative in beliefs and possibly a racist, “Brave New World” certainly deserves the title of “required reading” among any literate person interested in ideas of social structure or visions of the future.

I found Kurt Vonnegut through a high-school English class after reading “Harrison Bergeron”, an author undoubedtly influenced by Huxley. Perhaps this particular novel would have soared over my head in my teenage years. Some would even go so far as to say that books like “Brave New World” and “1984” are so dated that they don’t elicit the same level of shock as they used to amongst young readers, the fantasy described in the novels already being a reality. Be that as it may, well-formed ideas of the future, even if written over a half-dozen decades ago, still elicit some excitement from me and seem worthy of sharing.

Also, I’ve been meaning to find the cartoon comparing and contrasting Huxley and Orwell. I had seen it awhile ago and it sort of fell out of my mind until I started reading “Brave New World” and found it on chimac.net. Read the cartoon “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Stuart McMillen here.

The Twilight Zone – Season 1 – “The Lonely”

This particular episode contains some strong concepts: outer-space imprisonment, loneliness, and the capabilities of a robot to serve as a cohort.

Solitary confinement takes place on an asteroid, a version of criminal punishment in the future, imprisonment being outdated. Sterling utilizes the desert as an allegory for space and infinity, a theme he will continue to explore in future episodes. The man held captive is delivered a crate during one of the routine supply deliveries that take place every three months. It’s a gift from a compassionate deliveryman to help the man through his fifty-year sentence for murder. When asked what the contents of the crate are by one of the other members of the crew, he states, “I’m not quite sure, really. Maybe just an illusion, maybe its salvation. I don’t know.”

It’s a machine, though “physiologically and psychologically she is a human being with a set of emotions and a memory track.” Violently opposed at first to a machine aiding him through his time, the man becomes enamored with “Alicia” in discovering that she, though a robot, has feelings too. In questioning his situation after eleven months, the man wonders whether what is occurring is a relationship between man and woman or man and machine. The one certainty is  that she not only caters too but also develop his tastes. His loneliness is eliminated by the presence of “Alicia”.

With much time passed, the delivery crew returns with fated news—the man has received a pardon and is being shipped back to earth, though he is only able to carry fifteen pounds of baggage. The problem of most significance in this episode is presented in the separation of the man from “Alicia”. “She’s not a robot,” the man pleads, “She’s a woman. You don’t understand. If you leave her behind that’s murder.” Fully-succumbed to the emotional companionship of his cyborg companion, the man refused to give up his love.

Until the man who originally brought the robot, effecting desperate measures, shoots Alicia in the face.

Similar to a Stepford Wives scenario, a robotic imitation serves the role of a female in the image of the man who makes her possible. Of interest in this case is the man’s dismissal of reality, his lack of acknowledgment in regards to the robotic nature of his love. However, when reminded of her internal components (electronics, exposed through her blow-open face) he is able to abandon his feelings and return home.

A commentary on loneliness as much as the possibilities of a cybernetically guided future, “The Lonely” posses questions even today of our attachment to and enchantment by technologically-aided devices. Perhaps the commentary also inadvertently alludes to the effect of technology to create an impressive illusion of reality, a perfect Twilight Zone scenario.

Silent Running – 1972 eco sci-fi with robot drones

It would be an understatement to say that this 70’s science-fiction flick comes bearing a message.  If the grating voice of Joan Baez in the movie’s soundtrack singing about the beauty of nature weren’t enough to enforce the tree-hugging moral, consider the presented scenario: There are no more trees or plant-life on earth. The only existing vegetation exists in large domes that move through outer space attached to a ship manned by three very unsympathetic astronauts, three robot drones akin to steel-plated television box sets on wheels (accomplished by employing double amputee actors), and one very vengeful astronaut hippy responsible for maintaining the several eco-domes—barefoot, while wearing a cloak. In spite of Earth’s request to radiate the domes into oblivion, our faithful, friend of all furry creatures and is determined to save the forests.

As retrospectively cheesy and over-simplified as this movie is, “Silent Running” carries such a strong “green-minded” stance that I would be interested what the writer would have done had all the information and understanding of global warming, oil dependency, and the global health dangers of genetically modified products were as present as they are now. Undoubtedly, this is what allowed stories such as “Children of Men” and “The Road” (the book, not the movie) to develop with such a keen focus on the present, providing a historically-relevant commentary through presenting a future based on a sensitive understanding of facts. Alas, we still have movies like “The Day After Tomorrow” that have full-access to an abundance of informed ideas and still manage to turn out as awful and senseless Hollywood flops.

For the best cheesey 70’s sci-fi, I would continue to regard “Logan’s Run” as the brightly colored, polyester zenith.

The Twilight Zone – Season 1 – “Where is Everybody”

“it is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition,  and it lies between the pith of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.”
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I’m going to be slowly working through all five season of The Twilight Zone (1959–1964, 156 episodes) and periodically posting responses along with some video stills to episodes I view as worth highlighting upon. While being the first syndicated network show that could be adequately categorized as “sci-fi”, Rod Sterling’s concepts were ahead of their time and his writing style peculiarly poetic. The breadth of the series influence is far-reaching and I’ve figured my viewership fundamental to my interests.

I’ll begin by highlighting the first episode ever broadcast: “Where is Everybody?”

“the place is here. the time is now. and the journey into the shadows we are about to watch could be arching.”
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The first installment of The Twilight Zone presents a man who finds himself in a deserted town. He has forgotten his identity and searches for other people in vain. A phone booth in the middle of the park rings with no one on the other end. A cigar in an ashtray of the police station is found still burning. This scenario is closer to an elaborate practical joke than a post-apocalyptic situation.

A visit to a drugstore results in the character stumbling upon a spindle of books all titled “The Last Man on Earth”. Still holding onto the impression he is merely under the spell of a bad dream, a theatre abruptly lit in the evening brings the man to his peak of anxiety—the most cinematically pleasing-scene being when he flees the theatre in fright and crashes into a mirror, his reflection being his only animated companion in his state of isolation.

484 hours, the equivalent of a trip to the moon, several orbits, and return. The man’s delusions were a product of his existing alone in a small box without any human contact for this elongated period of time, a military exercise in simulating space travel.

As this episode was made a decade prior to the first successful moon mission in 1969, this particular story serves as testament to some of the fears and uncertainties produced by lunar travel. Sterling also seems to be alluding to the general weirdness and the strange subsequent experiments of the late 50’s United States government. Paranoia is a frequently used literary tool of Sterling, one that he was particularly adept at implementing.

To make a brief contemporary comparison, the Mars 500 is an eerie, yet somehow awesome elaboration on the idea of simulated isolation for the purposes of space travel. Six astronauts from various regions of the world spending 520 days together in an authentically replicated spaceship with numerous mock situations related to interstellar travel, the only human contact limited to twenty-minute delayed verbal correspondence with the monitoring base and e-mail. All in a mysterious warehouse in Russia for the intent of studying the physical and psychological effects on a crew during an expedition to Mars.

Player Piano – Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel

“Better to be nothing than a blind doorman at the head of civilization’s parade.”

Vonnegut’s earliest novel “Player Piano”, published in 1952, expresses a fear of a technologically-dominated society in which the basic mechanisms of life are mediated by calculated machinery. All but the most educated of men, the engineers and managers, are left with little to do, they’re basic sense of pride and purpose stripped by society at large. Albeit, this automated America provides levels of luxury and domestic comfort previously unattainable by the majority prior to the war which the premise of this book proceeds. Here Vonnegut presents the interesting problems present in times of peace, where the existential dilemma that is faced by many of his characters is one of normalcy and boredom and how to create change regardless of whether it is for the better.

As with nearly all of Vonnegut’s work, this was a pleasure to read. Showcasing the authors attraction to all things apocalyptic and his bittersweet, optimistic dread, it’s an intriguing window into the development of Vonnegut’s trademark brand of sardonic, humanistic science-fiction.