NEAR OR FAR?

I watched Chappie over the weekend.

If you haven’t seen it yet I’d recommend it. I found it to be a compelling story about what goes into being human and how artificial intelligence would be treated. There were classic images which looked to be an almost direct copy from Robocop and the robot itself carried a very odd similarity to the droid army in The Phantom Menace but all in all I enjoyed it a great deal.

The film deals with issues of societal sub-cultures and battles for power but it does it in the very near future.

As with Neil Blomkamp’s earlier film, District 9, the human race is placed in a position of relative power over another species. Aliens or sentient robots are the ones that are marginalised and distrusted and the stories happily hold up a mirror to what the behaviour of the bully in a society looks like, but, it wasn’t the overt steps that made the story more powerful.

The narrative of the under class of people/aliens/robots has been explored in many stories in the past with Star Trek being a great example of a ‘property’ looking at how these things could play out but action is very often set in the far off future. Almost as a way to take a look at the details of how a race of people can be marginalised but without the need to look too close to home. What stories like Chappie do is take a single step rather than a mighty leap into the future. Rather than these things happening in a completely alien locale all of the horrible things are taking place in all of the environments we’re far too familiar with.

It’s by putting the horror of these stories in a world that’s only just beyond the reach of now, in a world that looks, feels and smells like the world outside our window, that so often makes the discomfort even more unsettling. We know the story is fiction but there’s so much that we can recognise that maybe, just maybe, there could be more to it.

The near future allows the far off stories to be told in a much more recognisable setting. There’s no chance to write off the actions as just being about aliens when everything is going on in the very world we can see out of the window.

All of the stories find their way much closer to you and if you stand still long enough, I’m sure that you’ll feel them breathing down your neck.

ALMOST OVER

For this post I only have a single point to make.

I feel that after the 2016 we’ve all witnessed, where division and anger seem to have exposed the gruesome heart of the human race to the light, I open my arms to everyone out there, regardless of all those defining characteristics we all cling so very tightly to, and which seem to be always pulling us apart, and say to each and every one of you,

“Let’s celebrate our humanity and do what we can to make the lives we touch every day a little bit better. Let’s make sure 2017 is the perfect antidote to what we’ll soon be leaving behind us.”

Have a good ‘un all.

LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND

David Attenborough is a hero

I’m one of the millions who’ve watched any number of the TV shows which he’s been involved with and the majesty and wonder that exists at all corners of our planet is so far beyond just looking at animals etc.

In the latest series so many different environments all over the globe come under the spotlight and the lives of all kinds of creatures are shown in all of their beauty and horror. If you haven’t been watching Planet Earth II I’d absolutely recommend hunting it out and taking a look. So much sheer life to marvel at as it just takes place regardless of the people with the cameras, it brings to the attention of all of us that the human race makes up a tiny, tiny part of what’s happening every day.

Now my mind started to meander at the understanding of how very much is happening all over the place that it made me wonder about the story telling idea of leaving the planet behind and heading off into the great unknown of outer space.

Very often there is a storyline of the human race having done something steadily or indeed cataclysmic, which has caused us to have to flee the home we’ve all known. Sometimes there are outside forces which come in and force us to leave the Earth behind but very often it’s something that we’ve done to our own home. We have to make choices that send the human race into the stars, leaving the planet behind and to do that, the planet is so easily shown as a burned out cinder which can no longer sustain the life which remains. It becomes a no brainer that we as a race would jump ship when it was sinking.

The problem becomes the reality of what we’d be leaving behind.

The understanding is inherent that we could be technologically advanced enough to transport at least some of the population from the planet and in many cases there’s the addition of the idea that we would be leaving with a collection of the Earth’s wildlife in an attempt to colonise another planet somewhere and restart the life we had. So often the point is the struggle of doing all that can be done to save the few and as many of the creatures which surround us that the fact that the same technology which is being used to offer salvation has been that which has driven us to our downfall.

We’re quick to accept the thought that we as a species would not only destroy the planet we live on but that we’d then be more than willing to leave the mess behind and head off to another spot in the universe to just start it all over again.

Why is it we’re happy to accept that?

We focus on the fact that we’re amazing in how we can escape the horror we’ve created but why would we not be concerned that it’s likely we’d just be doing exactly the same thing at our next stop? How can we be content with the thought of upsetting the possible natural evolution of another planet just because we trashed our own home?

I don’t have the first idea about the logistics which would have to be employed to collect together samples of all of the life on Earth and then to be able to transport all of that off into space but I’d suspect that we’re some way away from being able to do all of the amazing things we see in the movies.

We have a story already which deals with the destruction of almost everything on the planet because of the actions of the human race and the efforts made to preserve everything do nothing but show that we have a need to endure and that we can. It doesn’t matter what mistakes we’ve made along the way, we can just pick up and start again but as the story of Noah’s Arc is a myth meant to show the importance of adherence to a supreme being, what this story says to me is that there’s an almost extreme complacency that no matter what happens, the human race will go on.

We assume that we’re the absolute pinnacle of life and we have the power to do whatever we want but watching the constant struggles which are taking place all over the world with every form of life imaginable on planet Earth puts us into perspective.

We have an amazing intellect and that intelligence is what’s allowed us to advance in the ways that we have but we have to accept that there is so vastly more to life on Earth than just us. We’re happy to consider the fact that we can leave but we’ve all got to understand that we can’t just leave all the other life on Earth behind.

I watched the wildlife programing and there were so many amazing images which fired my mind in terms of action set pieces all the way through to inter-relationships within groups but it really concreted in my head that the need to all come together and work together spreads beyond just the human race. We have to consider so many more things to be able to always achieve the best we can for all of the life on the planet.

David Attenborough knows.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

I’ve been working on my latest book recently and can present you with the cover for my soon to be released anthology of short stories.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the cover for “Tall Tales for Dark Nights”.

cover

I’m really pleased with the book and I’m looking forward eagerly to the release.

Watch this space for the date.

WHY NOT?

I watched the latest Fantastic Four film a few weeks ago. Now this post isn’t going to be a deconstruction of the film or a look at the merits and failings of what was put on the screen. Instead it’s a look at something which was held up at the very start of the film. The delight of scientific discovery.

Science is very often portrayed as the pervue of terrifyingly intelligent people who just deal with numbers, cells or chemicals all day. Studious sorts that are regularly shown to be socially awkward and so often, not very attractive. But science isn’t just those things.

If you listen to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson speak about their specialist subject you can begin to get an idea about the kind of wonder and splendour which reside within the realms of science. The understanding of the truths at the very edges of human knowledge can be some of the most amazing journeys we can take and wanting to push those boundaries whispers to just about everyone.

If you look at where so many of the classic comic book characters begin, they come from science or unforeseen circumstances in the pursuit of the scientific truth. The Incredible Hulk and gamma rays, Spiderman and the dodgy bite, Fantastic Four and their various cosmic rays all ended up with amazing powers at the hands of science. All these people were trying to expand the knowledge of the human race, trying to see if they could step beyond the beaten path and its possible to say that they were ‘gifted’ the amazing powers almost as a reward for that enthusiasm.

Scientists are trying to crack puzzles. The understanding of something which could expand the standard of life in some way and improve everything for everyone is a noble goal in itself but for so many, the desire to just look beyond how something works, to understand it and gain knowledge of it is almost like a drug. To reach further than everyone else and unlock a new truth drives some like the classic, “Why climb the mountain? Because it’s there?”

But should we always strive to see behind the curtain and get a glimpse of what the wizard actually looks like?

The counterpoint to the almost childlike exuberance of discovery comes when you consider the wider implications of what said discovery could be. Another film quote seems to sum it up well for me. Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park points out that, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” in reference to the relative over reach of the scientists.

Just discovering for the sake of it doesn’t add anything but could, in extremes, cause unforeseen problems. Does that discovery seem as worthwhile if there is enormous collateral damage?

We also see far too regularly in fiction, and no doubt in the real world as well, how a previously benign discovery can be twisted by governments or corporations looking to exploit any kind of new technology. The Xenomorph in the Alien franchise was originally wanted for weapons research and Arrakis is fought over for political power associated with the properties of the spice melange. Add to the mix a healthy dose of paranoia at what horrors are being unleashed by the mad scientist, Frankenstein being a good example, and you end up in a pretty bad place.

All scientific breakthroughs will come with risks attached, even if we can’t identify each and every one of them as we’re discovering but that simple curiosity burns like a flame in our species meaning that there will always be a group of people reaching further than before. Man walked on the moon with technology endowed with less computing power than most modern smart phones and we’ve always wanted to push against what we perceive as being our boundaries. I love that aspect of the human spirit. We want to do more, to go faster, further or longer and that enthusiasm has spread into the realms of science. The problem I think, comes from the fact that where there are people trying to advance the human race, there will always be those who are trying to profit from it, those trying to own it and those who are afraid of what’s going on.

Spread the knowledge as we keep looking for answers, it’s the only way we’ll ever move forward as a species.

TOO MUCH TRUTH?

I’ve just watched Interstellar.

I’m a massive fan of the science and of all of the possibilities that come with advancements in technology and I see such an enormous realm of possibilities with each new step rather than just the evil black shadow of impending doom. But the translation of science into fiction isn’t as easy as just talking about robots and aliens.

For me, Interstellar was a great film dealing very well with some deep topics like relativity and the impending death of the species but it didn’t seem to maintain as strong a bond with the human characters as it did with the science. Indeed, the ending for Matthew McConaughey‘s Cooper, on the advice of his daughter, felt like a bolt on to the end of the story because it would have been a waste of Anne Hathaway for her character to not appear on screen one last time. As you’d expect in a film which deals with a topic which still has holes in the knowledge, the climax inside Gargantua could be open to interpretation but there seemed to be an almost desperate attempt to inject the required sentiment to the story which up to that point had veered almost totally towards the fact, not feeling, end of the spectrum.

To me, it highlighted that most delicate of tasks in storytelling, balancing the different threads of the narrative so you don’t overplay one at the expense of the others.

Have you ever read a book where the action was just all encompassing but the characterization just seemed undercooked? What about feeling absolutely for the characters but there not really being anything going on around them? What about if the world that the action takes place within was constructed so wonderfully in every way but is then populated by cardboard cutouts?

Factual accuracy is important to any story. If there are basic errors which the narrative relies upon, then this drags us out of the world the author is trying to create so the nuts and bolts can’t be overlooked, but you can’t expend all of the energy on information without adding much needed ballast to the humanity, to the central thread.

The human element, or at least the characterizations should you be dealing with robots etc. is what draws you into the story. I watched the Matthew Broderick Godzilla film when it came out and ended up feeling more for the creature than I did for the human cast because they hadn’t been put together that well.

In the same way, I ended up feeling more for the predicament of T.A.R.S., the robot in Interstellar, thaN the human cast as everyone seemed just a little too sterile, all just fact over feeling.

I commend anyone who goes to the kind of level of detail that the makers of Interstellar went to but for me, they could have benefited from a little more time making sure we cared about the people as well.