Featured Guest Post: “Realistic Sci-Fi – The Best Films That Accurately Portray the Modern World” by Maria Ramos

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Please welcome back to the site, Maria Ramos. You may recall her last contribution, which dealt with Contemporary Dystopian Novels that are worth reading and not part of the current, overplayed YA fad. Well she’s back, this time with contemporary science fiction movies that are definitely worth watching. Enjoy!

The world of science fiction is full of fantastical tales that have no place in reality. Some of the best stories could never happen in real life. Still, the ones that really capture our imagination are those that contain a hint of truth. These five films are fascinating examples of realistic sci-fi films that may provide a glimpse into our future.

Many films of the past have been able to accurately predict things like tablet computers, home security and automation, cell phones and wearable tech. It’s a strange thought that these objects, when shown for the first time on the silver screen, seemed so far fetched and borderline ridiculous, but today are as commonplace as a coffee maker. Let’s take a look at some of the films that have gotten it disturbingly right in their predictions.

Metropolis (1927):
This film from the 1920s is set in a seemingly perfect city filled with wealthy people living a charmed life, with no idea that a vast population of oppressed workers are forced to stay underground, operating the machines that keep life going for the upper class. Although created decades before the advent of computers or even television, Metropolis predicted video calls through programs like Skype with its “television phone,” which characters in the movie use to communicate.

The Andromeda Strain (1971):
This film based on the novel by Michael Crichton tells the story of an alien virus that comes into contact with humans, mutating as it goes, almost destroying civilization. From biological warfare to satellites and laser weaponry, a lot of what is used throughout The Andromeda Strain mirrors the technology we have available to us today. Even the premise of the movie in general is not completely outlandish; microbiologists believe that it is possible that we may one day contract an extraterrestrial disease. If that were to happen, it’s unclear whether we would have the tools to combat it.

Gattaca (1997):
The premise of this 1997 flick may seem completely impossible: society is structured based on genetic sequencing, which reveals everyone’s genetic makeup. Clear lines are drawn, giving those who are genetically superior special privileges over everyone else. The discrimination the main character faces for his inferior dreams isn’t yet a reality, but as we work towards sequencing complete genomes, we will find ourselves closer to uncovering the secrets of our genes, and the consequences of this knowledge may not all be good. The film’s basic premise echos the recent controversy surrounding genetic testing to detect cancer.

Interstellar (2014):
In this movie, the world has become uninhabitable due to drought brought on by global warming, forcing mankind to search for somewhere to live. Although we haven’t reached this point, scientists stress the very real possibility of climate change ending life on Earth. If this were to happen now, humanity would be doomed, since we haven’t quite mastered the art of long-distance space travel yet. Still, scientists say that a trek on the scale of the one taken in Interstellar is possible. Ideas for how to accomplish this are still being explored, but thermonuclear fusion, light sails and gravitational slingshots are all potential solutions.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015):
One of this year’s most popular films is also one of the most noteworthy as far as realism in science fiction goes. While apocalyptic settings aren’t uncommon in sci-fi, the psychology of the characters in Mad Max: Fury Road is unique. Instead of the stereotypical hero who beats the villain and gets the girl, Max shows the kind of psychological damage you might expect in a harsh environment like the apocalypse. The other people in the movie also show the influence of this trauma through their behaviors, making for a realistic portrayal of what the end of the world might really be like.

Scientifically accurate sci-fi can both educate and inspire its viewers. Films like the ones listed above offer a window to the future, letting us see what might happen if we continue on the path that we are on. These predictions are sometimes an encouragement to innovate, but also sometimes a warning to change course before it’s too late. Either way, realism in science fiction makes for quality films that can be enjoyed for decades to come.

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Featured Guest Post: “Contemporary Dystopian Novels Worth the Read” by Maria Ramos

dystopiaGood afternoon folks! Today, I have the honor of featuring a guest writer, something that I have never done before. Her name is Mario Ramos, a fellow writer that has been following storiesbywilliams and asked to add her thoughts about this contemporary dystopian literature craze. Take it away, Ramos!

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The teenage wastelands of The Hunger Games and Divergent have made their way to the big screen and people can’t seem to get enough of it. However, many others seem to think science fiction isn’t what it used to be. Despite the glut of novels and films catering to young adults today, there is still plenty of well-written dystopian novels (without teenaged love triangles). Although they do not fall into the same particular category of classics such as Brave New World, there are still worthy examples written in the past few years. Check out some of them below:

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood:

Christian fundamentalists stage a terrorist attack in America, allowing them to suspend the Constitution and install a patriarchal theocracy. This story follows Offred, a concubine for the elite class who undergoes a sexual awakening and joins a resistance movement against the fundamentalists. This critique of repressive religious fundamentalism has taken on added significance since the 9/11 attacks, showing us how a crisis can lead to authoritarianism. Because it speaks to these important issues, the novel remains relevant today. The book was adapted into a film in 1990 starring Natasha Richardson and Robert Duvall.

The Children of Men (1992) by P.D. James:

A global disease has made all men infertile, leaving the human race unable to reproduce. Without any hope for the future, English society collapses and falls under the control of a ruthless dictator. Criminals are dumped into prisons to kill or be killed and the elderly are compulsorily euthanized. This book is an admonition against the cynicism of our times. If we lose hope, we accept all kinds of callousness and oppression and lose sight of the human life’s value. In 2006, a film adaptation starring Julianne Moore and Clive Owen was released.

The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy:

A man and his son brave an ashy lifeless landscape populated by cannibals in the hopes of escaping the harsh black winter. Through their actions and words, the man and the boy constantly emphasize love’s power. No matter how bleak things get, the father always looks out for his son and encourages him to maintain hope no matter what. This powerful message resonates with many families, making this novel a contemporary classic. The 2009 film adaptation received critical acclaim with Viggo Mortensen’s excellent portrayal of The Man.

 The Windup Girl (2009) by Paulo Bacigalupi:

In 23rd century Thailand, a genetically engineered humanoid organism, an economic hitman and representative of a biotech mega-corporation, a crooked Chinese refugee, and a leader of an armed environmental enforcement agency cross paths in The Windup Girl. This novel tells a tale of intrigue that critiques environmental exploitation, reckless genetic engineering, the international sex trade, unfettered capitalism, and globalization. The Windup Girl combines a compelling story with dense thematic material, making it a quality science fiction read on par with the classics.

Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline:

In 2044, people spend most of their free time in Oasis — a globally networked virtual reality that transports users to any world they can imagine — as a way of escaping a scrappy existence on an impoverished and depleted planet. The story follows Wade Watts, a high school student that embarks on a digital Easter egg hunt designed by the deceased creator of Oasis in order to inherit his vast estate. Ready Player One shows a world in which people alienate themselves through video games, instead of trying to solve the world’s problems.

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Despite recent films focusing on romance and teenaged angst, there are still many novels that generate conversation over our concerns about the world today. This subgenre of science fiction showcases our anxieties about the future and has raised questions surrounding the concepts of totalitarian governments, environmental catastrophes, and technological overreach. Many have become aware of these concerns and have been trying to positively change the way we impact our Earth. From companies making direct energy more accessible to NASA using advanced technology to help the environment, these dystopian fictions are helping save the world — one novel at a time.dystopian list

NBC’s Community and Subtle References to Dystopia

Community-Poster-630x336You know me, I’m not really in the habit of reviewing television shows that don’t involve a science fiction plot or zombies. But Community is one of my favorite shows currently on TV, and this past week they did an episode that I found absolutely brilliant. Starting with the premise of a new social utility app that let’s people rank others, it then got into some serious dystopian lit territory!

To break it down, the setting of the show – Greendale Community College – becomes the beta testing ground for an app called MeowMeow Beenz. This gives people the chance to rate each other the same way they would a movie or product online, and it becomes a big hit on the campus. Quickly, people realize that ratings made by people with five beenz (five kitty faces) carry more weight, and a social hierarchy is formed!

Community - Season 5That’s when all the dystopian imagery comes into play. The school is then rezoned based on people’s rating and everyone is forced to dress accordingly. The fives live in pastel covered room, wear white robes and futuristic looking devices, and are waited on hand and foot. Four’s dress like something out of Logan’s Run and live in the halls adjacent to them, where they aspire to become fives.

Threes and Two live in the “common area” where things are darkly lit, everyone dresses in grey coveralls, and the voice of dean informs them over the PA that “tranquility is advancement… a happy three is a future four”. And one’s are banished to the “outland”, which is the campus grounds that have now been redecorated with barbed wire, search lights, and fires in metal drums.

community_app2Eventually, the Fives try to appease the masses by holding a talent contest where the winner will receive Five status. Jeff and Britta, two of the show’s MCs plot to bring it down by getting Jeff to win and then denounce the rating system. But after he wins the contest – which is a clear allusion to American Idol and so many other reality TV tropes – he joins the Fives and tries to become its new leader.

Meanwhile, Britta – disillusioned by his betrayal – goes amongst the Twos and Threes and foments a revolution,  replacing the rule of the Fives with a system of revolutionary justice where the Ones run things. As the leader, she is called “the Mother of Ones”, and judges all the fives by “reducing them to Oneness” – i.e. reducing their status to make them the same as everyone else.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????But in the end, Jeff points out the cruel irony that the app developers have played on them. It asks people to rate each other, but the beta test ended days ago and the app itself is already available and rated FIVE STARS. He tells everyone that they must rate this “unregistered Five” by erasing it, and they all do. Realizing it’s Saturday, everyone then leaves school and goes home to sleep.

I tell ya, it was brilliant! Not only did it capture the essence of so many 20th century dystopian epics – showing how a hierarchical system based on fear, greed, the promise of advancement and propaganda can so easily take over. It also captured the very dangers of a revolutionary movement which seeks to replace such a system with one of forced equality, led by a tyrannical mother/father figure.

we_zamyatinIt also managed to provide some fitting satire on reality TV, the very way it conforms to some of our earlier dystopian predictions, and how the drive to be popular and famous is responsible for a great deal of angst in America and the world. Top all that off with some stabs at Zuckerberg, Facebook, and social utility apps in general, and you’ve got yourself a kickass episode!

And at one point, there’s was even a subtle reference to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s WE, the classic novel that inspired Orwell to write 1984 and presumably, Huxley to write Brave New World (though he denied it). At one point, two of the show’s characters are hiding in an office, and label that reads D-503 is on the door. This just happens to be the designation of the main character in WE, as no one in the One State has actual names anymore.

This is the reason I love this show. Dan Harmon, the show’s producer, knows great television, has great writers, and loves being all meta! In fact, that’s something they repeatedly say in the show: “that’s meta!” If you haven’t caught this show yet, then do so. It stars Chevy Chase (until the most recent season), is on Netflix (Canada, but not in the US), and makes hundreds of clever movie and television references.

New Movie Trailer: Divergent

DivergentCame across this trailer recently, for the upcoming movie adaptation of the 2011 novel Divergent. And while the trailer does look like impressive, this does seem like a really predictable move on Hollywood’s part. With the recent adaptation of the Hunger Games and Ender’s Game, it was only a matter of time before producers began looking farther afield to find more examples of YA dystopian literature.

In fact, that’s been a subject which I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately. In terms of sci-fi trends, the past decade has seen a revival of dystopian literature, and the majority of it seems to be aimed at young readers. Not surprising really, seeing as how issues like the “war on terror”, domestic surveillance and NSA data mining have led to a resurgence of fears that humanity could still be living in Big Brother state in the near future.

divergent-iron-on-patches-summit-boothAnd with the rise in publications that appeal to young adult readers – with everything from Twilight to Harry Potter – writer’s began to see just how accessible dystopian tales would be to young readers. And Divergent is certainly no exception to this rule. And just like the Hunger Games, a dystopian society is used as a metaphor to address the issues of teen angst and the struggle to belong.

Basically, the story takes place in a Chicago of the future, where live in a society that is divided into castes and membership is determined when people turn 16. Enter into this Beatrice “Pris” Prior, a young woman with a special mind who undergoes the test designed to determine what caste she belongs to, only to find out that the test failed and she has been declared “Divergent”.

divergent-movie-set-reportThe rest of the movie, as is made clear from the trailer, consists of her joining the resistance – a group composed of “casteless” people (aka. other Divergents) – and waging war against the state. So, a society where people are forced into specialized roles, where those who are different must live in secret or face persecution, and a heroine who rises up to bring down the system… sound like the teenage experience to you?

Yeah, me too. And while some criticize Divergent for being a Hunger Games ripoff, people who actually know their dystopian lit are quick to point out that that book was probably a ripoff of Battle Royale. And in reality, all these books are eating crumbs off the table of Zamyatin, Huxley and Orwell, and the YA angle with all its wish fulfillment is nothing that hasn’t been seen a hundred times before.

Anyhoo, the movie is set for release on March 21st, 2014. Enjoy the trailer!

New Movie Trailers: Catching Fire and Riddick

It’s been a boon week for movie news and previews, and I’ve found myself quite behind on a few things. Good thing it’s not my job to stay current, otherwise I would have been fired a long time ago! But as a genre fan, I feel the need to keep up with sci-fi news and pass it on whenever possible. And lately, the big news items have had to do with upcoming adaptations, sequels, relaunches, or all of the above.

catching-fire-movie-posterSo to save some time I thought I’d do a two-fer trailer post today and feature the newest trailers for Catching Fire and Riddick. Though I’m sure the former needs no explanation, for those who haven’t read or seen The Hunger Games, this would be the much-anticipated sequel. Still trying to finish this book myself, mainly because I promised I’d review the whole trilogy. Still, the plot for this one is really quite clear.

After winning the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta are called upon to do the Victory Tour, an event which occurs between games and showcases the winners. During the tour, Katniss is made aware of how their victory has inspired dissent, which puts her in a compromising position. Between fulfilling her role as a symbol of resistance and keeping up appearances, there’s plenty of high drama to be had!

riddick_posterAs for the latter, this would the latest installment in that particular Vin Diesel antihero engine known as the Riddick franchise. It began with Pitch Black, a movie who’s script was originally proposed for Alien 3 but rejected in favor of the whole prison planet plot. It went on to become a cult classic, spawning the much higher-budget Chronicles of Riddick.

In this third installment, its clear the movie makers have decided to recycle the plot from the first movie and have once again put Riddick on some remote planet where he is being pursued by Bounty Hunters and Necromongers. No sooner is he captured that hostile aliens show up and they all have to work together to survive. As he said in first movie, “It ain’t me you gotta worry about now.” At least Karl Urban is back, and Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from BSG) is part of the cast!

Catching Fire is set to be released on  November 22, 2013, while Riddick will be premiering on September 6th. Enjoy!


New Trailer: Elysium!

elysium_posterLast weekend, while the wife, our friend and I were all watching the new Star Trek movie, a number of trailers came on that made us antsy for other “coming attractions”! One of them was one I instantly recognized and began saying the title of long before they flashed it across the screen. Months back, when this movie was first announced, I posted the trailer here because it looked to have all the things I love in sci-fi story. And they have since come out with a longer, more detailed trailer which I share now…

Elysium tells the story of a dystopian future, set in 2154, where the wealthy and privileged live in an orbital colony that is peaceful, serene, idyllic, and sees to all their needs (and looks a lot like the station from Space Odyssey). Meanwhile, the remaining 99% of humanity live planetside, where pollution, environmental collapse and economic ruin have made Earth into a veritable hellhole.

elysium_stationEnter into this Max De Costa (played by a cueballed Matt Damon), a man who is near death who comes to learn of a secret that could topple the whole system and achieve a degree of social justice. In order to do this, he has to break into Elysium, a facility that is heavily guarded and run by Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster), and undergoes a radical surgery to get an exoskeleton and some powerful weaponry permanently attached.

Directed by Neil Blomkamp – the South-African director who brought us District 9 and provided visual effects for such shows as Star Gate: SG-1, Smallville and Dark Angel – this movie clearly boasts the same kind of gritty, realistic texture he has come to be known for. And after the 2008 Financial Crisis and the subsequent Occupy Movement, it’s message is pretty timely and likely to be well-received.

elysium-1As for me? You can keep your social commentary and comparisons to other movie franchises, I wanna see me some exoskeleton battles! Enjoy the trailer:

Video Breakdown of Fahrenheit 451

fahrenheit_451Hello all, and welcome to another glorious Friday! I feel fortunate today, due largely to the fact that yet another person who is dedicated to media literacy, science fiction, books and issues has chosen to get in contact with me and asked to be featured on this site. It’s always good to hear from people and know that what you are doing is garnering attention. But when they ask permission to share their message in your forum, well that’s just the bee’s knees!

F451Apparently. it was my tribute to Ray Bradbury which got this particular gentleman’s attention, and for good reason too. Through a site known as Academic Earth, where one can create and post educational videos on a variety of subject, Mr. Jack Collins created a video breakdown of Fahrenheit 451 that was both educational and insightful. In his brief but poignant segment, he takes a look at the major plot points, themes and motifs of Bradbury’s enduring classic.

To quote from his description of the video:

Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 at the height of McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia. In the novel, Guy Montag is employed as a fireman who burns books. The whole of American society has descended into a zombie-like stupor of instant gratification, and books are seen as challenging and disruptive relics, which must be destroyed at any cost.

Today, with the increasing proliferation of surveillance equipment in American cities, the spread of digital books and the decline of attention spans the world over, Fahrenheit 451 remains a startlingly relevant work of fiction today. Watch this video and be instantly gratified (irony alert) with your knowledge of Bradbury’s most famous novel.

Trust me when I say it’s a fine educational short, one which I would definitely use if and when I got the chance to teach this novel. And after watching it, I couldn’t help but reflect upon a certain irony. More and more today, educators find themselves taking advantage of new media and video breakdowns in order to help students make sense of complex subject matter and lengthy texts. A few decades ago, they would simply be expected to read it, internalize it, and report on what they read.

One could easily argue that all this sort of trend really is a part of our society’s growing preoccupation with sound bites and easy accessibility. But then again, in our quest to maintain attention spans and promote thoughtfulness, we’d be fools to not take advantage of the very technology that is making it quicker and easier for people to do the opposite in the first place.

Enjoy the video! As you can tell, it got me thinking, and that’s not always the easiest thing for someone else to do 😉 Check out the video by following the link below, and be sure to comment!

academicearth.org/electives/tldr-fahrenheit-451/