Relaunching an Idea: Genome!

GenomeIn recent months, I did what I often do when I find myself in the midst of a few projects, where none of them are occupying my attenti0n completely. I went back to an old idea that never got finished, but which I felt pretty passionate about at the time. This idea was one a friend and I came up with while we chatted about human nature and genetic engineering.

Specifically, we talked about how people in the future might try to tailor their children to weed out self-doubt and the self-directed critical tendencies we all seem to have. That got the ball rolling, and in short order, I began writing the full-length concept into a story I called Genome. Unfortunately, this project, like so many others, lost my interest part way through and got stock in the Incomplete folder.

Luckily, writing for China Daily Mail got me interested in it again. You see, the story takes place in one of my favorite environments: the Northeaster Megapolitan region known as BosWash – aka. the Boston-Washington D.C. metropolitan axis. In the story, I decided to add a little symbolic feature known as the BWHM, or BosWash Health Monitor, which rates the cities pollution based on the Air Toxicity Factor (or ATF).

The scale was out of 100 and during the course of the story, it kept getting higher. Well after reading about China’s air pollution and the AQI (Air Quality Index) which has a maximum ranking of 500, but which needs to be revised to account for Beijing’s 700 plus ratings of late, I began to think I had stumbled onto something golden!

Or, I had simply stolen something without knowing it and ought to pursue it since it’s relevant. But of course, to make the reference accurate and work for readers, I had to since revise it to make the BWHM out of 1000 so people would know exactly how toxic and polluted this future, dystopic megacity really was!

In addition, I also began thinking I should do with Genome what I did with Whiskey Delta and begin sharing it here, chapter by chapter. And so here it is, the first-ever installment of Genome, which is the prologue chapter entitled “The Big Sink”. As you can probably tell, I was going for a real urban noire feeling, with some cyberpunk elements thrown in for good measure. This, you will find, is offset by some dry humor down the road…

Enjoy, and feel free to let me know if it’s any good, in need of a full-scale rewrite, or a short trip to the Recycle Bin! 🙂

*                    *                    *

It was an evening like any other. The sky was ashen grey, rain clouds and thunderclaps flashing over the urban landscapes. Outside of the establishment, a few people lingered in the rain, taking in their carcinogenic fixes and staring with blank faces.

In the distance, the sound of thunderclaps and sirens set the nighttime scene. And the rain, it fell hard. So hard it could almost wash the scum off the sidewalk for another night. But even if it could, the scum would return tomorrow. It came in endless supplies, and the fight to keep it at bay was always constant.

Bastion stepped out of the twenty-four café and made a quick appraisal of the evening. The prospects were grim, much like the weather. No one to go home to, few women adequate enough to invite home, and a whole lot of pain and misfortunate to look forward to tomorrow. Another day of bills, alimony and hard-luck stories from perps, policemen and unaffiliated scumbags, nothing but the bottle and takeout meals to keep him company in the one bedroom flat that passed for a home.

Just another day in the life of a Detective working the Big Sink.

Sparking up his torch, Bastion lit up the stubby green tube between his lips and inhaled deeply. Everyone who stood out in the rain with him was taking their daily smoke break, sucking in the terrible tasting shit that was supposed to ward off the tumors and slow death that city living brought on.

It was a constant feature in the news, the build-up of toxins that was forcing everyone to ingest one kind of poison to offset the others, and every day the count got higher, bringing the city closer to the brink.

Last he checked, the experts said it was at a robust eight-hundred eighty-five on a scale that reached to one thousand, though that could be updated in the near future, as it had in the past. No one in his immediate surroundings could say with any certitude what would happen once they reached the top of that index, but all indications said it would be bad.

He looked around and gauged the people next to him by the tired, sunken looks in their eyes. Already he could tell how long they had been on the medication just by the look of them.

Sandra, the head waitress, the one with the yellowing skin and eyes to match: five years.

The gentleman in the nice linen suit with the bowler cap on: three or so.

The server boy with the terrible nostalgic get-up that was supposed to be the theme of the restaurant, red suspenders and a white collared shirt. A year tops. And then there was the old Manchu fella with the white hair and the terrible wrinkles, his skin the color of leather and just as tough: ten years!

Of course, he himself wasn’t too enthused about taking up this particular dirty habit. But the nice doc had summarized it for him thusly: Smoke it, and live to the ripe old age of sixty-five, then proceed steadily downhill. Don’t, and die of melanoma or an inoperable tumor at fifty-five. Twenty years was what he was buying with this terrible, stinking stick that was smoldering in the corner in his mouth then. It smelt awful and tasted a hell of a lot worse!

One could fit a lot of living in the space of twenty years, consuming one poison to kill another. And they learned a valuable lesson from it too. Just another gift the Big Sink provided for anyone lucky enough to be born into her. Just like life, it was a gift nobody asked for and was unreturnable, so you enjoyed it while you could.

If only, he thought, bringing him smoke to a quick conclusion and then stubbing it out on the ground. He checked his right side to make sure his piece was still there. On the way home, he might just get lucky tonight and have someone try to kill him. Then he knew he’d get the added excitement of a life or death struggle, a nice trip to the emergency room, and maybe a new lease on life. They always said you had to have a brush with death to find the value in living. Bastion was eager to find out.

Fears of a Police-Drone State

UAVsIn a decision which has been decried by countless community activists and civil rights leaders, the Alameda  County Sheriff’s Department announced plans last month to deploy up to two small, lightweight drones to assist in police surveillance. Despite resistance from the community, the town seems poised to join many other cities in using UAV’s for domestic security, effectively steam-rolling over concerns over privacy and “Big Brother” government.

As it stands, several police agencies across the US are currently using drones, including the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Until recently, the Seattle Police Department also employed a two-drone fleet, but grounded them amidst growing concerns over privacy and a recent government report, which warned that drone use could become even more commonplace.

california_dronesBefore anyone gets too worried, rest assured that the drones in question are a far cry from the UAV’s currently conducting armed missions overseas. Unlike the Predator and Reaper drones that carry multiple Hellfire missiles and can level entire villages, these drones are relatively benign, weighing only a few pounds and relying on a series of propellers to keep them aloft. But of course, the potential for harm resides in their ability to monitor, not to kill…

UAV_scoutConcerns over domestic drone surveillance reached a sort of climax  last February after federal lawmakers signed the Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 into law. Among other things, the act required the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to accelerate drone flights in U.S. airspace. In response, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that the act would allow drone use to become commonplace in the US.

In accordance with that law, drones, known in the report as “unmanned aerial systems,” are currently limited in the United States to law enforcement activities, search and rescue, forensic photography, monitoring or fighting forest fires, border security, weather research, scientific data collection and even hobbies. However, the law calls for expansion so drones can be used for commercial, utility and public  uses.

UAV_dom1Naturally, the FAA feels that the new law doesn’t take into account several key problems – notably concerns surrounding privacy, security and even GPS jamming and spoofing. In short, they pointed out that despite drone’s on-board navigation and detection system that allow them to avoid crashes, said systems could cause complications if and when drones share airspace with private aircraft.

Among other things, the FAA recommended that drone GPS systems undergo encryption so they would be resistant to jamming and hacking, which is apparently a danger in non-military unencrypted drones. They also advised that the government set up secure operation centers for unmanned drones, and recommended that the government formulate privacy protections to head off potential “abuses”.

UAV_domObviously, the FAA’s report and public concern struck a note. Just last month, federal lawmakers introduced legislation regulating state and federal government use of unmanned drones in the United States. This legislation prohibits drones from being armed, and would demand that agencies register drones and adopt privacy polices. What’s more, the proposal would allow drones to be used only in criminal matters, in which warrants would be required.

Once again, it appears that the Obama administration is willing to step in where public concerns over developing technology are concerned. Recall the instruction signed by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter back in December of last year designed to limit the development of autonomous aerial drones? Well here too, instructions have been given, but the general sense of worry is far from alleviated.

X-47BIt puts me in mind of a prediction Arthur C. Clarke made shortly before he died in 2008. He predicted that despite concerns over “Big Brother”-type monitoring, that digital surveillance would be adopted by every city within the civilized world, until such time that crime was virtually eliminated. Much like many predictions he made, this one proved a little optimistic and futurist for some of his fans (including this one!).

As it stands, the use of remote machines to monitor our world is an ongoing and growing concern, and the debate will hardly be decided so easily. In the end, we all just have to ask if we really want to live in a post-privacy state, what the costs of living in that kind of world will be, and whether or not it will truly mean the emergence of dystopian scenarios, as envisioned by George Orwell and others.

Source: Wired.com, (2)

The Future is Here: Brain to Brain Interfaces!

?????????????????And I thought the month of February was an already exciting time for technological breakthroughs! But if a recent report from Nature.com is any indication, February will go down in history as the biggest month for breakthroughs ever! Why just last week, researchers in Natal, Brazil created the first ever electronic link between the brains of two living creatures.

The creatures in question were rats, and the link between their brains enabled one to help the other solve basic puzzles in real time — even though the animals were separated by thousands of kilometers of distance. The experiment was led by Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, a pioneer in the field of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), and a team of neurobiologists who’ve been working in the field for some time.

BMIHere’s how it works: An “encoder” rat in Natal, Brazil, trained in a specific behavioral task, presses a lever in its cage which it knows will result in a reward. A brain implant records activity from the rat’s motor cortex and converts it into an electrical signal that is delivered via neural link to the brain implant of a second “decoder” rat. The second rat’s motor cortex processes the signal from rat number one and – despite being thousands of km away and unfamiliar with what rat one is up to — uses that information to press the same lever.

MMIBack in 2011, Nicolelis and his colleagues unveiled the first such interface capable of a bi-directional link between a brain and a virtual body, allowing a monkey to not only mentally control a simulated arm, but receive and process sensory feedback about tactile properties like texture. And earlier this month, his team unveiled a BMI that enables rats to detect normally invisible infrared light via their sense of touch.

However, this latest experiment really takes the cake. Whereas brain-machine interfaces have long been the subject of research, generally for the sake of prostheses, a brain-to-brain interface between two living creatures in something entirely new, especially one that enables realtime sharing of sensorimotor information. And while it’s not telepathy, per se, it’s certainly something close, what Nicolelis calls “a new central nervous system made of two brains.”

Obviously, this kind of breakthrough is impressive in its own right, but according to Nicolelis, the most groundbreaking application of this brain-net (or n-mind) is yet to come:

These experiments demonstrated the ability to establish a sophisticated, direct communication linkage between rat brains, so basically, we are creating an organic computer that solves a puzzle. We cannot predict what kinds of emergent properties would appear when animals begin interacting as part of a brain-net. In theory, you could imagine that a combination of brains could provide solutions that individual brains cannot achieve by themselves.

neural-networksNaturally, there are some flaws in the process, which were made evident by the less-than-perfect results. For starters, the untrained decoder rats receiving input from a trained encoder only chose the correct lever around two-thirds of the time. Those results could not be the result of random odds, but they are also a far cry from the 95% accuracy where the signals were reversed, going from the untrained decoder to the trained encoder. As any student of science knows, one-way results are not the basis of a sound process.

And I imagine the people who are lobbying to make biosoldiers illegal and limit the use of autonomous drones will be on this like white on rice! Hence why we can probably look forward to many years of research and development before anything akin to human trials or commercial applications of this technology seem realizable.

And of course, there is a video demonstrated the mind link at work. a word of warning first though. If you’re an animal lover, like me, the video might be a little difficult to take. You be the judge:


Source:
IO9, nature.com

Relaunching an Idea: Apocrypha!

future-city-1Recently, I began to seriously contemplate revisiting an old idea. Not just any old idea, mind you. This was an idea that went back to 2008, to the point where I first decided I wanted to move away from far-reaching, distant future speculative writing. It was also my first real stab at social commentary, predating Data Miners by several months, and which called for a lot of research.

The name I had in mind for it was Apocrypha. Basically, the two threads that came together to form this idea for me were the ideas of Demarchy and Apocalypticism. At the time, the idea that digital technology and wireless communication might one day lead to direct democracy, while religious fervor might actually spike within the current century due to climate change and the social impacts thereof.

singularity.specrepHowever, after a lot of tinkering and writing the story halfway, I found I couldn’t really make the idea work. It was my first attempt to write something contemporary and it really didn’t go so well. I’ve since tried to reboot it at least once and found I could only get a few chapters out of myself. But I couldn’t dispose of it entirely, not after all the work I put into it and all the bits of wheat I felt were buried in the chaff. And so, its lingered in my files for years.

And now, years later and after all the tech research I’ve done, I find myself coming back to the idea. This is due in part to to trends which I’ve been researching in the last few months. The way I see it, by the middle of this century, two trends will be coming together, and its anybody’s guess which will come to determine our future. The one is technological growth and change – culminating in a future of post-scarcity – and the other is Climate Change, which will lead to a future of nothing but!

Megalopolis'And that’s where this story opens up. The year is 2030, and the world is a fast-changing place. On the one hand, mega-cities have taken root in several places, such as the Nanjing Peninsula, the Gangetic Plain, Cascadia, the Northeast Megalopolis, the “Blue Banana”, and the west coast of Japan. Life in these megalopolis’ is increasingly characterized by violence, poverty, unemployment, bigotry, and an ever increasing fast-pace of life due to increasingly advanced technologies trickling down to the street.

Meanwhile, the wealthy and privileged continue to buy up property and move to higher altitudes and latitudes in order to avoid the coming difficulties. It is widely accepted that within the next few decades, waves of immigration and refugees will pour into the coastal and border regions of the developed parts of the world (those that exist outside the equatorial regions that is) and life is likely to get more difficult.

In the midst of all this, a new group is taking to the streets, a group of quasi-apocalyptics who claim that the End of Days is coming. Their message is code-named Apocrypha, since it is really a cover for their more deeply laid plans to usher about something far more sinister. As they say, some spend their lives waiting for the apocalypse, while others are determined to make it happen in their lifetime.

Crashland.ebookThis story was actually the basis for my short Hunluan, which is part of the proposed Grim5Next anthology known as World’s Undone. It’s also the basis for the serial novel Crashland that I began posting over Story Time.me back when 2012 first started. Funny thing, the year 0f 2012 was marked by a lot of dystopian and apocalyptic lit. Maybe that’s why I want to revisit it now, seeing as how we’re in the clear for the time being!

In any case, as soon as Yuva is complete, Pappa Zulu is all wrapped up, and I’m done editing and releasing Data Miners (one of these days I’ll get that damn book finished!), I plan to return to this concept and give it my full attention. There’s plenty of potential to make some predictions about the future and that’s something I can’t pass up! In addition, it was my first attempt at something truly speculative and relevant and I definitely want to pursue that again.

It is my dream, after all, to produce something that capture the spirit of this age, and since Climate Change, break-neck progress, and fears for the future seem to be the dominant trends as I see them, this might just be the book to do it with! Look for it soon, I hope it will please the discerning reader!

climatewars

700th Post!

fireworks1Yes, I know its a bit of an odd number. But I was still pleased and kind of blown away to find out that I was nearing this landmark recently. And I thought, what better excuse for a little retrospective and a chance to say thanks for the support? My my, where to begin? Well, how about the beginning? Since just the other day I was looking back at the first posts I’d made with this site, I think I’ll start there. Seems as good a place as any…

The very first thing I ever wrote on this site was a simple Hello World message. Nothing too flamboyant or special about that one, just the obligatory “how do you do?” It was my second post where I said the things that I wanted to say and really took the time to state what my mission was:

sci_fi“I love science fiction, always have, always will.  But it’s the kind of science fiction that I love which I think is an important distinction. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that sci-fi comes in two varieties: classic and commercial.  The classical kind is the traditional variety that people take seriously… Commercial sci-fi, by contrast, is your basic stuff that owes much to the original masters but really didn’t follow in their footsteps.”

That’s still true of me. I still subscribe to the idea that the real science fiction is the kind that really makes you think and chooses to appeal to the highest possible standard. Might sound elitist, but given the sheer amount of pulp out there that does little more than entertain, I’d say I’m more of a hopeful optimist. I think people are capable of great genius when you give them a chance, and would like nothing better than to create something myself that appeals to the best in us – be it intellectual, moral, or metaphysical.

My first few reviews were really quite simple. I spoke of Frank Herbert – arguably my biggest inspiration – William Gibson, 1984 and Brave New World. I spoke of my own writing and posted some podcasts of Source’s earliest chapters (no longer available), and pasted some reviews my work had received. However, I was nowhere near as prolific as I am today. It was actually quite surprising to see that the first year of my site being operational could be summed up in just over a dozen posts. Especially when I am now at 700 and just over two and a half years into it!

In any case, I began doing movie reviews shortly thereafter, tackling such sci-fi greats as Blade Runner and the Alien franchise, and such guilty pleasures like Independence Day and Starship Troopers. This went on for some time, with me going back and forth between reviewing movies and great books, and once in a while dropping something in about a favorite miniseries, TV show, or something I happened to find inspiring.

brazil53And then something happened. Something which, I gotta admit, I didn’t even know was possible until it happened to me. I got freshly pressed. At the time, I was minding my own business, doing a post about Dystopian Literature, in honor of the fact that I just joined Writer’s Worth and our first project was an anthology of original, dystopian narratives. Feeling inspired by the fact that I was getting a chance to write within my favorite genre, I compiled a list of the most historically relevant and renowned examples I could think of.

That opened the floodgates! Having never exceeded a few dozen views in one day, you can imagine my surprised when I came home for lunch that day and discovered my views numbered in the high hundreds! I checked back as the afternoon progressed, only to see that it had reached into the thousands. By afternoon the following day, the torrent stopped and I was able to take stock of all that had happened. Roughly half my subscribership began following me in that one twenty-four hour period. I got more comments than I knew what to do with and more likes in that one day than the previous year! It felt nice, and I certainly learned something about how this thing called WordPress works!

Since that time, I won’t lie, I’ve been hoping to snag a second FP! No luck yet, but what can you do? Once was nice enough, and since it’s led to my current circulation amongst my fellow bloggers and the general internet-surfing public, I really can’t complain! Besides, several milestones have happened since then, so I shall not linger on this one event. Suffice it to say, as the days and weeks continued to pass, I found my traffic had increased exponentially from my pre-FP days. Not to the point of thousands, but higher than a hundred. That too was nice…

After finishing up the series of Dystopian posts, mainly to address examples other people poitned out and to cover examples of dystopic movies, I began to move onto other ideas. For instance, I had decided it was time to tackle themed-posts, like Cool Guns, Cool Ships, Giant Robots, and the like. These were mighty fun to do and provided endless suggestions from people who knew and liked the same franchises I did, and also saw these lists as an opportunity to stroll down memory lane.

apocalypse-04I also got into serial novel work, as attested to by Crashlands over at Story Time, and posts dealing with futuristic concepts and news. I guess I’d grown a bit tired just talking concepts, books and movies at this point and really wanted to delve into the everday stuff that drives science fiction and the creative imagination that guides people’s writing. At the same time, I continued to pimp any and all work that I was doing with Writer’s Worth, which at this point had morphed into its current group name of Grim5Next, in honor of our first project!

Then came two significant developments, back to back. In June of 2012, I began working with a select group of members from Grim5Next on a new project idea. With the passing of Ray Bradbury and Venus’ transit in front of the sun, it seemed that some of us were bit by the inspiration bug. I can still remember how it all began, in the form of a conversation between my friend and fellow writer, Khaalidah, and myself:

Khaalidah: Four nerds verging on geeks live in my house, of which I am one. One of our nerdiest but fun conversations centered around the question “Would you rather go to space or the bottom of the ocean?” Hands down the answer was space.
I once dreamed that my son, now 21, would one day go to space and walk on Mars. He is no longer a child who dreams of space, although it still intrigues, and space seems a distant childhood dream of his. But even for myself, at the ripe old age of 41, the idea of going to space is a bright hope, even though I know it is unattainable and unrealistic. But, given the chance, I would go.
This post reminds me of the awesomeness of our great universe, of the chaotic randomness, of the beauty of this world and the things we have to be grateful for, and of how utterly minuscule we people really are in the grand scheme of things

Me: Okay, you need to write this down. I foresee you doing a story where a family does go into space. Ho boy, I smell another anthology here!

Khaalidah: An anthology about space, going to space or anything related sounds awesome. I vote for you to be the editor. What do we need to do to get started?”

Yuva_coverThat was the beginning of Yuva. In the days that followed, we two enlisted the help of many people: Goran, Jenna, William, and Melanie. Through much conversation, back and forth and debate, we determined the location of our story (Gliese 581g), the tone, the structure, and even began producing the first few installments. As time progressed, we were joined by more writers – Charles, Danielle and Cara – who wanted to contribute and began scooping up the later installments in the series.

The second development was the rash of face-eating and zombie-like behavior which seemed to break out throughout that summer. Feeling compelled to comment on the sort of hysteria which had set in, I wrote a post called “Bath Salts and the Zombie Apocalypse”. Much like my post on Dystopia, that one earned me quite a few views, thought it was not Freshly Pressed. I am thankful it wasn’t, as I began to feel a bit iffy about getting lots of traffic over a series of rather sick and tragic events. But I knew I had to comment since it was a relevant issue and I had something to say about it. I also swore I’d never publicize the names of the psychos responsible ever again, since I didn’t want to contribute to the buzz that so often surrounds twisted criminals.

Since that times, its been more of the same. Every day, I do my best to maintain the pace I’ve now set for myself, and am happy when plenty of people come by to see what I’ve written and tell me they are thankful that I post what I do. Naturally, I often complain that I should be getting paid to do this, but that’s just talk. No, this is something I’d gladly do for free, though ideally I would love it if it was a source of income so I could write indefinitely and not have to worry about money. My hope is one day that all of this culminates and I can write something truly meaninful and influential. That way, this site will represent a beginning to something truly big, and I’ll be able to share that with everyone who’s been here from the beginning.

Okay, that got a little mushy there towards the end. Suffice it to say, I’m very thankful for all that I’ve been able to do with this site thus far, and for being able to connect with all the people that I have. I hope very much to be able to write as many or more posts before I use up my allotted memory and either have to pay for an upgrade or move to another web address. Hopefully, the whole “getting paid to do this” thing will work itself out before then so I have the option of throwing money at the problem 😉

Rest assured, I aint going nowhere anytime soon. So expect to see plenty of me around these parts. Peace out, and thanks to everyone for stopping by, then and now. Bless you all!

fireworks

ROSA: A Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Short

Just came across this on Wired.com, a sci-fi short about a futuristic cyborg assassin that is tasked with restoring the world’s ecosystems. That’s the basic premise of ROSA, the brain child of resident Jesús Orellana, an amateur director based in Barcelona who released this movie to the world last year. After premiering at the Seattle International Film Festival, the shortplayed at Screamfest, Toronto After Dark, Anima Mund and Sitges International Film Festival.

The story follows the exploits of Rosa, a beautiful cyborg whose appearance calls to mind such archetypes as Trinity, Cortana and a little Halle Berry thrown in for good measure. After waking from her cryochamber, she finds a world that is stark and lifeless, and sets out to accomplish her mission. As part of the “Kernel Project”, she was designed to help restore the Earth’s to its former glory. But soon, she discovers that she is not the only one awakened to the horror of the modern world…

Needless to say, the video is both eye-popping and downright impressive, especially when you consider one mind created it from the comfort of his basement. In addition to the kick-ass fight scenes, detailed environments and rich subtext, the video has some great production value going on! After making the rounds in 2011, the video came to the attention of the Raymond Brothers and Scott Glassgold, three Los Angeles based producers who are now developing it into a full-length live-action movie. No word yet on when it will be out, but if the source material is any indication, it ought to be great!

The Hunger Games You Didn’t See

You know how Hollywood will announce an upcoming movie, and will usually precede any trailers by releasing special info like who’s attached to direct and who will be starring in it? Believe it or not, there’s actually an interesting selection process that leads up to this. Yeah, I was surprised too. Given what I’ve learned from Entourage and Hollywood’s many movies about itself, I would have thought that the whole process was done behind closed doors, and involved a bunch of sleazy executives, some martinis and many, many lines of coke!

But according to a recent article from Blastr, the process is a bit more complicated. It seems that prospective directors are also expected to make pitches to the producers, and often do so in the form of videos. When The Hunger Games was first being conceived, that’s precisely what prospective director Kevin Tancharoen did. Tancharoen is relatively new to Hollywood, the man behind the 2009 remake of Fame and the guy who has been on the radar of the sci-fi fan universe ever since he released a test film for the proposed Mortal Kombat: Rebirth film.

The trailer featured below is the mashup he created to show to the producers. It features footage from numerous movies, including Harry Potter, Serenity, Gladiator, Ultra Violet, X-Men, 300, Lord of the Rings, and a slew of other science fiction and action films. In the background you hear key lines of dialogue featured from the original novel, giving a sense of context and direction to the montage. Having watched it, I can tell you that it’s not bad, provided you don’t mind that not a single scene is original! Of course, Tanchareon didn’t get the job. But there’s still the sequel to think of…

Which reminds me, I’m due to review the movie they did make. I finally got around to watching it, and I think it would be nice to do a blow by blow comparison between it and the original novel. Expect it soon!

 

 

 

 

“Revolution” to premiere in 2012

A new show will be premiering this year, directed by Jon Favreau (who directed Iron Man 1 and 2) and executive producer JJ Abrams (who brought us the relaunch of Star Trek). Apparently, this show asks the question of what would happen if one day, all the electricity and electrical equipment in the world just shut off. In essence, this new show, named “Revolution” is all about the struggle to rebuild once civilization as we know it crashes and all our modern technology is rendered useless.

Hmmm. A show about a dystopian world where everything goes down and people are forced to survive by their wits? I call plagiarism on NBC! Anyone who’s been following my site or Story Time knows that this is the EXACT premise of Crashland. But whereas my story was all about infopocalypse and cyberwarfare, Abrams show seems to center on the idea of solar flares, EMPs being set off, or some such thing. Because God knows if he’s doing the whole “viruses crashed everything because everything was networked” concept like I did, I’m really gonna sue his ass!

But then again I imagine the producers of Battlestar Galactica might come knocking on my door… Damn! Can’t a man sue for plagiarism without falling prey to the whole “people in glass houses” thing? In any case, the real focus of the show is about what happens 15 years later when a group of people begin going about the process of rebuilding. This is predictably complicated due to the rise of warlords and criminals who have profited from the chaos.

A pretty straightforward premise, and not exactly new either. In fact, ever since the rise of industrialization and electricity, their have been no shortages of satirists and critics who have wondered what would happen if it all broke down. It was from this point onward that human beings became truly dependent on technologies that could be described as “prescriptive”, in the sense that they seemed to create needs and dependencies rather than address them. But this is why the concept of it all going down has remained relevant.

And if anything, its only increased in relevance as our dependence on electricity, electronic devices, and industrial products has grown by leasp and bounds. Today, it could even be said we have reached a stupefying level of dependence! Ah, but what can you do about it? Can’t imagine what I’d do without my gadgets. Probably pick up a gun and force people to bend to my will! Let’s keep those grids working people, you wouldn’t like me when I’m deprived and armed 😉

The Hunger Games, a review (finally!)

It finally happened, I read the Hunger Games. Not that this should come as much of a surprise, I did promise I would after all. But it took me quite a while! Months back when I was doing a review of Dystopian Science Fiction – which earned me most of my current followers, thank you! – one of the biggest questions I was asked was “what about the Hunger Games?”

Yes, person after person wanted to know how this recent piece of YA dystopian fiction fit into the historical record. At the time, I really had no intention of reading it or doing a review. Not because I had anything against Collins or this book, but because I had not heard of it prior to the movie’s release. And I have this thing where I become resistant towards anything that becomes a big commercial deal. Maybe its a desire not to follow the trends, I don’t know.

However, as I began to look into the concept of this book, the desire began to grow to check it out. And though I did my best to avoid spoilers, I couldn’t help but check out some reviews of the phenomena and what is said about our culture. Here is an excerpt from one such article, entitled “‘The Hunger Games’: your kids are angrier than you think”, by Brian Bethune (Maclean’s Magazine):

“Imagine a life where possibilities are opening at a speed that veers unpredictably between exhilarating and terrifying. The familiar, precisely because it’s familiar and safe, still tugs at you, but even so, you want out because your old life constricts as much as it comforts. Besides, your social milieu, which often feels like an endless struggle to achieve, or resist being slotted into some arbitrary niche—pretty, ugly, smart, dumb, athlete, klutz—is changing fast. You feel driven—by inner need and outside pressure—to make choices. Meanwhile, the manipulative, often harsh, powers that be, who created the larger world they’re busy shoving you into, have clearly not done a bang-up job of it, either in their personal lives or as part of society. And they want you to get out there and fix their mistakes—just at a moment when worry over the imminent demise of their entire socio-economic structure is never far from the surface. It can be cruel and scary out there. Dystopian, even.

Chances are, anyone not imagining this life, but actually living it, is a teenager. And living it in an era of economic uncertainty, conspiracy theories and fear of environmental collapse. Western civilization used to produce literary utopias, but in the past century of world wars, financial panics, murderous totalitarian regimes and nuclear threat, dystopias have outnumbered sunny projections by several orders of magnitude. Pessimistic depictions of the future are now everywhere in popular culture. Teens and teen books are not immune to larger trends in society.”

What a perfect synopsis really. Not only is this book a look at a future where apocalyptic events have led to the creation of an oppressive, abusive state that controls people through scarcity and force. Not only is it a commentary on mankind’s fascination with reality tv and endless appetite for distraction. No, this book has the added dimension of capturing the angst and confusion of being a teenager, thrust into the world of adults and forced to work hard and compete for their apparent amusement, all the while reflecting on how it’s basically the older generation that have made the world what it is.

Plot Synopsis:
Not that it’s necessary since so many people have now read the book or seen the movie, but I shall give a bare bones summary anyway just to recap the selling points. The story opens on the nation of Panem, which is a play on the name Pan-America, a post-apocalyptic nation set in the not too distant future. Though it is never specified exactly what happened, what is clear is that what is left of North America is now organized into 12 Districts ruled from a central city known only as “The Capitol”.

We then see the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, a resident of District 12 located in the coal-rich areas of Appalachia. Her and her friend Gale are hunting, which is necessary to ensure their families eat well and supplement their meager incomes. We quickly learn that the Hunger Games are upon the 12 District for another year, that the names of two “tributes” are about to be drawn from each district, whereupon they will be sent to the Capitol to compete. When District 12’s names are drawn, Katniss is terrified to learn that her younger sister’s Priss, who is barely a tween, has been selected. She does the unthinkable and volunteers in her stead.

Her partner/competitor for the games is a baker’s boy named Peeta, a boy who apparently has always fancied her. The two of them are put aboard the special rail car for transport to and from the Capitol where they meet their “coach”, their design team, and the frumpy lady who acts as their PR and etiquette consultant. As they travel in style, these people take turns prepping them, which mainly consists of cleaning them up and making them look presentable since the lead up to the games involves all kinds of televised appearances and interviews.

Their coach, a man named Haymich Abernathy, who was the last person from D12 to win, is a horrendous drunk who doesn’t seem to care what happens to them. This changes when an altercation aboard the train makes him realize that Katniss and Peeta have some fight in them. From then on, he curbs his drinking so he can advise them properly. When they arrive, they witness even more style and opulence, being placed in a private hotel, treated to lavish meals, and made to take part in a presentation ceremony where all districts ride out in a public arena.

Quickly, and with Haymich’s help, Katniss and Peeta distinguish themselves as the team to beat. On many occasions, hints are given that there is a bubbling romance between the two, one which may very well be real. Katniss also impresses her judges when she demonstrates her archery skills, something she’s spent years honing from hunting. By the time the games roll around, she is considered the contestant to beat, and Peeta quietly shares with her that he wishes there was a way to strike back at the people who are forcing them to compete.

The games begin shortly thereafter and half the tribute die within the first day. Bonds form as the kids from the more privileged districts, known as the Career Tributes, come together to eliminate other contestants, which is typical of the games. As the best equipped, best sponsored and best trained contestants – who, as the name suggests, spend much of their time preparing for this at home – a tribute from one of their districts is usually the winner. Their leader is a large, temperamental boy named Cato, who to her dismay, Peeta seems to have joined in order to hunt her.

Luckily, Katniss forms a bond of her own with a young girl named Rue, a young girl from District 11 who reminds her of her sister. Small, fast, and adept at climbing and hiding, the two become fast friends and assist each other. They even manage to take out a few of the privileged kids and manage to destroy their supply cache, a move which evens the odds considerable. Peeta also risks his own life to save Katniss at one point, a move which confounds her since she was convinced he turned on her. However, the move saves her life and causes Peeta to be several injured by Cato himself.

Shortly thereafter, Rue is killed by one of the boys. Katniss manages to take this boy out with an arrow, and sings to Rue until she dies. This is something she promised she’d do, as Rue was a lovely singer who sang regularly during her long hours picking orchard fruit. Remembering what Peeta said about getting back at the Capitol, she also moves Rue’s body to a more dignified spot and covers it with flowers, knowing that everyone in the Capitol is watching. She is given heart when she realizes that Peeta’s has not been declared dead yet and goes off in search for him.

She finds him camouflaged in an embankment and digs him up. He is mortally wounded, and Katniss spends the next few days trying to heal him. Due to their growing popularity as “star-crossed lovers” the Capitol announces a rule change, couples from a district can win together! Once he’s healed enough, Katniss and Peeta begin to enact a final plan to draw the last of their enemies out and kill them. When Rue’s fellow tribute dies and the girl named “Foxface” is accidentally poisoned by some berries Peeta picks, Cato is now alone. However, when they find him, the Capitol throws in another game changer.

All the previous tributes, now dead and taken away, have been bred into muttations – bio-engineered dogs that can stand on their hind legs, and that are smarter and more aggressive than your average hound. These dogs pursue the three tributes to the Cornucopia, the starting point of the games, where they trap them on top of the structure. There, Cato tries to take Peeta hostage, but Katniss takes him down with an arrow to the hand. He falls and is set upon by the mutts, and Katniss mercifully fires and arrow into his head to end his suffering.

In the end, the Capitol declares that the two of them must kill each other again, but Katniss and Peeta pull a fast one. Grabbing their store of poisonous berries, they resolve to eat a lethal handful together and force the issue. Seeing this, the Capitol backs down and declares them both winners! A hovercraft arrives shortly thereafter and brings them back to the Capitol for medical treatment and rest. When Katniss wakes up, she learns that Peeta is alive and well despite his many injuries, and she appears to be completely made over.

However, all accounts are not settled. Haymich warns her before the final interviews take place that her stunt with Peeta embarrassed the rulers of Panem and they are planning on retribution against them. There only hope is to make it look as if they did it for love, playing up the popular lovers angle and thus ensuring that the Capitol can’t touch them. This, they do, but Peeta is heart-broken when he learns that to Katniss, this was just a ploy to help them win. However, she privately reflects that she doesn’t know if her feelings for Peeta are genuine or not, and fears what will happen when they are separated upon their return to D12.

Overall Impressions:
Let me start with the criticisms first, since that is by far a shorter list. To begin, I felt that things were conveyed a little quickly and easily vis a vis the whole power structure of Panem. It’s in the first chapter when the Games are being discussed that Katniss conveys all the relevant details about the 12 districts, how their used to be a 13th, and how the games are used to control them and prevent further rebellion. In fact, I felt that the tone of the book was being pitched at a bit of a basic level.

But then of course, I remembered that it’s YA fiction. Of course it’s going to say these things up front, the intended audience is not yet familiar with dystopian fiction and its many subtleties. Slapping myself on the forehead and saying “A-doi!” I continued reading with a more open and less snobbish mind. And the book only got better from there, weaving a young adults appraisal of the world quite seamlessly with dystopian themes.

Because in the end, the real genius of the book comes through amidst all the entertaining and well-paced format of the story. Between Katniss’ confusion, angst, anger and the ongoing struggle to stay alive, the dystopian flavor of the whole affair really shines through. We see that there are very clear and obvious distinctions between the Capitol and the outlying districts, that these become more evident and appalling the further one ventures out, and that disparities between districts are exploited for the sake of entertainment and control.

This is especially true when it comes to the Career Tributes, who have it better than the others and stick together as a way of guarding their shared sense of privilege. The way the outlying districts, as personified by Rue and Katniss, form similar bonds is held up as the flip-side to this, where a shared sense of deprivation and abuse push them together to resist their common enemies. And what I found brilliant about this was how it demonstrated that for the dispossessed, it’s not just the oppressors who they must fight against, but also those they have bought off with scraps from their own table.

But even more brilliant was the way this was so relatable to young adult readers. In their own way, teenagers experience dystopia every day by simply having to endure the unfair and privileged environment known as high school. With its cliques, ruthless sense of social judgment, bullying and constant pressure to perform, always at the behest of a system dominated by adults, it must seem like an arena in which their very lives are at stake. Many people speak of “teen-age” drama and how silly it seems to them, but I challenge those people to look back at what being a teenager was like and to tell me drama isn’t precisely what every moment of every day is charged with.

I can now see why this book resonates with young people and adults everywhere. Not only was it a good dystopian themed story, combining several classical elements in a way that hasn’t really be done before; it is also a perfect allegory for growing up and being forced to step into a world not of your own making; all the while feeling like everyone’s against you. Between those forcing you into the game and those of your own age trying to kill you, adolescence is very much like living in a totalitarian state and fighting your own for the entertainment of others.

I get it, people. I see why this book is a big deal now. However, I often wonder if others really see its for its inherent value. Sure it’s entertaining, relatable, and chock full of stuff that young people love – empathy, romance, pain and angst. But it’s allegorical depth is what I think makes it truly valuable as a science fiction and dystopian read, especially to the young. By describing a dark world from the point of view of teenagers, it basically captures what all teenagers know already. Life can be totally unfair, oppressive, aggravating, and just generally suck!

Personal Note:
Feel free to skip this part if you don’t feel like a heavy read. But I assure you, it’s relatable…

In my work, I’ve often been subjected to the drama of the young and find myself sympathizing one moment and wanting to pull my hair out the next. But always, I enjoy the moments when I’m able to talk to a young man or woman and feel like I’m getting through to them. There’s nothing more rewarding when you see that glimmer in their eyes that says “they get it!” It’s little wonder then why my worst job experience was in an environment where the words “f*ck off”, “you suck”, and “I hate you” were so common.

It made me angry, it made me sad. But more than anything, it made me feel powerless. How do you help when the disparity of your positions makes it impossible? But of course, after I left, I kept hearing how the new teacher was constantly being told “Mr. Williams was WAY better than you!” Funny, they kept comparing me to the last guy too 😉 But I think it made me appreciate how much life can suck for young people, especially kids growing up in poverty, broken homes, and living with the legacy of abuse, defeat and blatant racism. As if these kids don’t have enough problems without a dark legacy hanging over their heads.

Under the circumstances, it’s amazing any of us make it out of our teen years, let alone the majority of us. That was another thing that happened regularly in my old job posting, teen-age suicide. With all the problems and complications of life and their age, some kids truly feel like there’s no way out. In addition to thinking life sucks, they become convinced that it isn’t worth living. But what seems to do them in is the fact that they feel so alone, and can’t express their feelings and lighten their load. If more kids understood just how un-alone they are, far more would make it to adulthood. I think we should all take a moment for those who didn’t…

Crashland – Chapter 12 Now Appearing at Story Time!

The votes are in and chapter 12 of Crashland is now available at Story Time. Last time around, the protagonist William Holden was being introduced to the final member of the crew. This, he discovered, was a cybernetic being known as Simon, a breed of human being designed to monitor cyberspace at all times. He also deduced what Jacobs plan was… unfortunately he didn’t tell the rest of us what it was. Yeah, I know, but I aint telling neither!

In any case, their discussion was interrupted when one of Jacobs men came to announce that they had a problem. When he learned what it was, he conveyed to Holden that they did indeed have a problem! The only question was, what was the nature of it? I asked audiences to decide. Was it: a. a rival gang attacking their hideout, b. an unruly mob that was threatening their friends who are camped out near the entrance, or c. the tube collapsing?

Well, the votes are in and audiences have once again decided. It’s C! The tube is collapsing, and now Holden, Jacobs, and his little band of agents will have to evacuate quickly! Come and by and see what happens, then stick around to vote on the next chapter! It’s all happening over at Story Time.