Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Future Belongs to the Inept

The funniest thing about Mike Judge's cult film Idocracy may also be the saddest. The film predicts a future wherein ineptitude has taken the place of common sense and reasoning. Sound familiar? optimism has had its time and now pesimism reigns supreme and how could it not. Is a society that feeds it's plants sports drinks really any more ludicrous than a society that believes a family planning clinic shooting is an act of God? It's a frightening thought to dwell upon when you take into account the number of leaders both running and currently in some form of office that are willing to defend ideals that of any Tom, Dick, or Harry would find ludicrous with just a pinch of common sense brought to the table. 
When does satire stop being satire? When the jokes it makes end up a reality, and we are left with a grim déjà vu. The collective consciousness will smugly turn to our gaze and ever so softly exclaim "I told you so..."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Quit acting like a punk

When assigned to read steampunk, is there any better option than to go straight to the source of it's origins? Once again, I introduce you to my good friend Jules Verne. Verne, is one of France's most famous authors. His works were comprised of high adventure and scientific wonderment. Thought not always 100% accurate, these works had enough research and credibility to make the layman ponder as to wether or not these were scientific journals and not works of fiction.
With no shame, perhaps my absolute favorite work by Verne is 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The novel portrays a world where a full submersible craft has finally been crafted. Submarines were not altogether new to the 19th century but a entire vessel on the scale of the Nautilus was something unimaginable back then. It is through this craft that we are immersed within the high adventure.
The story is not all fun and games however. The Nautilus was not built as a way to go about and find cool stuff to do, but is indeed a weapon. Nemo is it's captain and creator. He is a man as enigmatic as his mechanical marvel but much more complex in his mechanics. In the late 19th century, war was still an undesirable reality. Weapons were a profit.
Verne's response was Nemo and his deadly submarine. Nemo manufactured the craft to destroy warships. It is a very backwards "peace ensured through violence" ideal that drives the captain. His attitudes would not be entirely out of place in today's society where nations are once more on the brink of war.
Fantasy and Scifi have always been responses to the world around us. In this case, rather than escapism, the bitter truth is always present in the waters of our mind not unlike the Nautilus silently gliding through the waters waiting for it's moment to strike.

What's on your mind?

Id like to introduce you to a little movie called Dark City. This was a (get ready for it) SciFi Neo-Noir Thriller by director Alex Proyas of The Crow fame. Now if you grow up in the 90's you probably remember trailers for some sort of horror film with a bunch of bald pasty Orlocks and some guy strapped on a machine. Well this film's marketing campaign couldn't have steered you in a more obtuse direction.
The film takes place in a nameless city in an unidentifiable time (a semblance of early 20th century culture) with a protagonist waking up to a crime scene. He is then pursued by these Orlocks who contain bizarre telepathic abilities. You can probably guess why this film didn't reach much of an audience...
What the film ultimately amounts to is a rather profound premise. A little sliver of humanity was picked up and relocated to a city in the stars where a race of extraterrestrial beings frantically search for the soul. Through their abilities they warp reality, distort existence, change memories. They violate the very thing they seek after, completely unaware of what makes us human.
Ironically their search for meaning is what provides the downfall for these inquisitive beings. It is only by the end that they realize how they might've been searching in the wrong place. The soul is not some variable in an experiment, the soul is something much more existential. Love, hate, sadness, happiness, these are things you cannot look at under a microscope and hope to publish in a textbook. And all it takes is a Human to prove it.

A Space Opera in Five Acts

Maybe one day something as literal as the Space Opera will be a thing. Until then I guess I'll settle for the metaphor.
Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon, Captain Picard, and Luke Skywalker all have one thing in common. If you guessed handsome caucasians will I guess that'd be acceptable, but more importantly they are staples of THE SPACE OPERA. No they don't sing, but they do preform on stages set for spectacle and drama on a wide scale.
Let us begin not in space but on earth, when there was still wonder and adventure to be had in unknown territories. The Odyssey involves a king on a perilous journey to get home by traversing a Mediterranean sea made up of gods and monsters. Along the way, there are pitfalls and victory. A seemingly endless display of fantastical creatures and characters, each one even more compelling than the last. So what happens when we've finally chartered those waters and the rest of the world around us? Where do we go when we've realized the world isn't nearly as fantastical as those myths claimed? We once again point to the unknown. In this case we pointed up to the stars.
Jules Verne's A Trip to the Moon was just the stepping stone to the space opera. A simple rocket adventure around the moon with a good dose of victorian scientific principles may seem a bit boring to today's readers but back then it was a rush of adrenaline comparable to the small crew whose vessel was shot out of the cannon.
What followed was a boom of fiction in the 20th century. Film and Literature went hand in hand traversing the galaxies and exploring strange new worlds. It was in Television and Film that two modern mythologies were born and continue to influence the world today. Star Trek and Star Wars. Trek was exploration, adventure, uncertainty of where the journey would take us next. Surprises lurked around every corner of this vast frontier.
Star Wars was a different kind of beast, one that suggested there is a galaxy out there with human characters experiencing human problems but on a scale unimaginable on our pallid earth. The drama was with space vessels dodging lasers, and mystical knights dueling with swords of light. High fantasy amongst the stars that we have yet to visit.
But thats what makes Space Opera so compelling, it's the final frontier. An endless stream of galaxies and universes to be explored. If that doesn't spark the imagination then I don't know what will.

Myths are hip now, yo!

Neil Gaiman's American Gods is not a light read, and for good reason. An entire history of cultures and mythologies are reinvented in the image of contemporary western culture. If anyone suspected this was a light read there in for a rude awakening.
Within the novel, Gaiman points out that humanity must worship and that they will always worship. Its practically in our genetics. But it's what we worship that remains in a constant state of change. No longer do we worship gods of harvest but we worship cell phones. It is how all those gods that we brought with us over ships and colonies must now keep up with humanity's shifting priorities. The premise alone brings promise.
How often do we get to see the world through the eyes of a god, let alone an old god living with the harsh realities of their obsolescence in a world that followed them without question. Just by this slight diversion, a dynamic collection of stories and characters seemingly writes itself.
This is how myth has transformed in contemporary society. No longer is it satisfactory for an all powerful being to to just...well, do stuff. What is on this being's mind? What are it's faults, it's desires, it's needs? It is by asking WHY that myth has been able to grow with the contemporary world even if it's gods and goddesses of hold haven't.

We Dont Need No Education

I haven't had a good excuse to read Harry Potter in god knows how long. I had started the Night Circus, but perhaps it wasn't the right time for me for the novel's resonance was more or less existent. But there was my old copy of sorcerer's stone in my closet and I thought, what the hell. I'm glad I thought that.
Teaching children right and wrong is not nearly as easy as it sounds. We spend a great deal of our adulthood trying to convince children that the world is black and white, and that there is a yes and no to every question. We ought to give ourselves a time out for spreading such BS. Children are smarter than that. Thankfully a series like Harry Potter knew that.
Under the guise of a cute children's book to pass the time, the series took on a life of its own throwing it's readers into the middle of some pretty heavy shit. One book we're all cute and sneaking through corridors, then the next few books in, we're thrust into the middle of a life and death war. People we love are gone, the world shatters, and tragedy strikes without any warning. The world is no longer black and white. The films themselves practically become grayer sequel by sequel.
But as dark and depressing as the world of Harry Potter becomes, it is not without it's optimism. Dumbledore's Army is nothing but a few students breaking the rules yet look at what they accomplish. A being whose very name is feared is publicly destroyed by a child. Sticking with the darkness does prompt it's rewards.
Above all the series not only enforces the fact that the world is an unsafe place, but it two-fold enforces the fact that it doesn't mean we cannot overcome it's darkness. Hang in there kitty!

We Do Need Another Hero

For this foray into fantasy, I went back once more to my good friend Mr. Barker. We've already discussed his influence on bizarre horror. But lately there has been a novel of late that has struck me less of a Horror novel and more akin to a high epic fantasy with all the trappings of Joseph Campbell's wisdom. This is a novel called The Scarlet Gospels.
Much of the fame for Gospels will come from the fact that this is the much awaited return to the famous horror icon Pinhead of Hellraiser fame. To see the old master back at work with one of his most cherished creations is an adventure not to be taken for granted. Returning too is Harry D'amour of Lord of Illusions fame. Though not nearly as famous as Pinhead, this classic neo-noir creation of Barker's has enough of a following to make this showdown of literary giants worth reading.
What makes the story so compelling is that there are two journeys being taken, one by Pinhead, the other by D'amour and both contain variations on Campbell's formula. Harry is the traditional alcoholic detective who refuses the call but ends up following through with it, that sort of thing. Pinhead however is the (Anti) hero who is constantly at odds with the world he inhabits and rises to a level never before imagined when falling to his lowest point.
Both characters encounter pitfalls and victories within the fantastical vision of Hell that Barker has constructed. Many of the creatures and obstacles could easily go against the most spectacular of Tolkein, had Tolkein not been such a clean christian. The Hero's Journey is universal, and moments when the journey goes beyond an epic quest in a world derived of old european mythology is when it can be most rewarding.