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.

MEANING

And so it begins.

The world affecting circus that is the Donald Trump presidency of the USA creaked under way last week and bumbled directly into a problem driven by the facts of a situation.

After showing an almost rabid desire to have the highest numbers on almost everything you could imagine (even down to pointing out that The Apprentice viewing figures for Arnold Schwarzenegger were smaller than they’d been when he’d been the one firing people) day one saw the delight continue. The number of people who were actually in attendance to see the inauguration and those who were watching on TV.

Now on it’s own, this point is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, the number of people who attended the event is an utter irrelevance. If Donald Trump is able to oversee world peace and be the driving force behind everyone coming together for the good of humanity as we start to explore the stars, he could have had no-one turn up to begin with and there wouldn’t be anyone who’d care.

The issue came that his ‘people’, despite evidence to the contrary, steadfastly clung to the party line of there being more people there than at any other presidents inauguration. Regardless of the facts, the decided line was going to be what they wanted it to be. To compound this they defended what was said with the soon to be immortal phrase, “alternative facts.”

Alternative facts as an idea scare me.

Information can be interpreted in different ways but if there are one hundred thousand fewer people in attendance of an event, you can’t spin the fact to be anything else. Facts are facts and as such aren’t subject to the whims of people wanting to say the opposite. Indeed there was no such concern with alternative facts when the result of the election was decided.

As a writer, I deal with words all of the time and there are examples where words can be used in many different ways which can be at odds, wicked being  both good and bad depending on context. But truth is more than that. Personal opinion on any given point has to be up for scrutiny and if the facts show the complete opposite, your opinion is wrong.

Literature has many, many examples of the use of ‘alternative facts’ by systems and people trying to do something despite the truth. One of my favourite books is 1984 and the existence of doublethink within the story showed clearly how truth can become nothing more than a hindrance to what the ruling power wants, changing as is required.

I hope that Donald Trump and his team  are able to prove all of their doubters wrong and deliver for the good of the country and the world at large but even now, so very few days into the job, there are already clear examples of an almost dictatorial obsession with everyone agreeing with what he wants to be the truth. Is truth going to be lost along the way amidst alternative facts?

How many lights do you see?

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.

BOOK FILM

What’s your favourite book?

Has it been made into a film or TV show?

If it has, did you think that the version on the screen did the  book justice?

The reason I ask is I’ve seen a picture doing he rounds on Facebook which depicts a castle as the story, only a very small fraction of which is above the water line. The rest of the once majestic citadel is submerged and therefore, lost from view. The point of the image is that the film of a story is what lies above the water whereas the book includes that which is below as well.

In a book you have so many chances to explore and embellish any and all details that take the authors fancy. You can pour words all over any single point and bring every possible level of understanding you could ever need so the reader takes each and every facet away that the author intended. The film will often miss out on this kind of attention to detail, instead having to rely on the actors and the director to convey all the unsaid stuff that pops up on the page. You end up relying on glances, music and added dialogue to keep up with the narrative.

So the book is always better, right?

Potentially, only if the story that did so well on the page is brought well to the screen rather than just having the faintest link to the source material. When the Dresden Files TV show hit our screens, the Blue Beetle, Harry’s stalwart car which was an ever present in the books, was changed to be a old army style jeep. On the face of it, sacrilege but the reasoning became that they wouldn’t have been able to film the scenes because of limitations of space. They still had a vehicle which they could fit happily into the hole left by the beetle in terms of relevance to the story but which would allow them to do the business.

This just shows we can’t automatically assume that the book can’t be amended or changed without ruining the whole.

When my wife and I discuss books we’ve read, it sometimes happens that we pick up different things which then leads on to a discussion of what we think. Themes and meanings get mulled over and we dissect what we thought. But we do the same thing with film and TV. How do characters react together? What power was coming from certain words? But on the screen we’re treated to different images and our conversations go on anyway. “Was that a deliberately placed explosion? Symbolizing the characters loss of self?””Do you think the colours of costume show that the people are dealing with specific issues?”

I like film and books. They’re both different mediums for getting a story across, explaining what those who made the piece wanted to say. Why shouldn’t they be seen as different and not just assume one is better. I’m sure that should someone want to put my story on the big screen, I wouldn’t just say no for fear of the source material being corrupted.

It all just boils down to connecting with people and getting the story heard.