Science My Science Fiction: The Future of the Deaf and Blind? by Adam Callaway


One of my favorite things about the nonstop progress of technology is how it assists the less fortunate to interact with the world on a more complete level. A lot of these technologies -- DARPA's advanced carbon-fiber limbs, implantable retinas, brain-computer interfaces -- try to correct disabilities so these people can live a "normal" live. But is this the best way?

This article is about a new way for deaf-blind people to communicate, and also to use the internet in a way that will only be native to them. It allows them to interact with non-disabled people using
a method that only users of this technology will understand. In essence, they have passed a type of singularity and have become true transhumans. Users of the TacTic will be able to communicate with each other more easily than with non-users. These users will have a constant, tactile link to the internet; something beyond even those with smartphones can experience.
And the thing is: TacTic is just an input device; a translator. It can be used for things beyond surfing the internet. It could issue commands to a vehicle or a house; service animals can become that much more useful.

More than anything, though, TacTic will allow people with disabilities to communicate more effectively with everybody around them, and that will create a higher standard of living. But is technology getting to the point where instead of creating compensation devices, scientists begin to tailor devices to the specific disability where, with regular use, the disabled may exceed "normal human" levels of interaction with the environment? If that did arise, would people chose to maim themselves to get access to the technology.

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Adam Callaway is an SF/F writer.  His work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flurb, and AE.  You can find out more about him on his website or twitter.

Science Our Science Fiction: Vegetarians on Mars

According to RT, Elon Musk of Paypal / SpaceX fame wants to put a colony on Mars.  Musk's proposed city will help re-settle 80,000 people, run on sustainable technology (at least in part), and contain a population of -- you guessed it -- vegetarians.  I'm intrigued by this idea because it makes me wonder about the motives and possibilities of such a city.  What would compel Musk to narrow his focus only to vegetarians (or people willing to convert)?  What advantages would that provide a space-faring society?
Salad alien only eats saladses. Meats is gross.
If we lived in 1960, one might easily argue in favor of a vegetarian diet.  Presumably, Mars contains all the required components to maintain basic farming -- with a little work.  Maintaining
an animal stockyard, however, would put too much strain on a growing colony, requiring a lot of resources both in terms of land and "set-up costs."  We didn't have the means to grow animals from petri dishes back then (though we're closer to such technology today).  Imagine trying to lift a herd of goats into space, take care of them for 6-8 months, and then get them safely on the Martian soil.  Then imagine trying to stop them from eating through the hull of your mini community...

But we don't live in 1960.  We live in 2012, and Musk intends to begin building said city as early as 2022.  I'll assume for the sake of argument that 2022 is a reasonable date for the foundations of a Martian city of vegetarians.  But do the advantages remain?  I'm not convinced.  Considering that recent technological advances (such as those by the company, Modern Meadows) have opened up new possibilities for lab-grown meat, I think the argument in favor of a purely vegetarian colony is impractical.  If we are able to produce such products now, imagine what another ten years of advances will do.  Perhaps we'll learn how to reproduce the animal cells from smaller colonies of cells (current technologies require us to get cells from an animal; I assume stem cell research opens up opportunities here, though I'm not a cell biologist).  We already have growth stimulants for hospital patients, so it's not beyond reason to assume we can do the same for lab-grown meat without creating an inferior product.  This means that, in theory, we can reduce the required resources to maintain an omnivore culture.  The only concern is one that already exists for any Martian colony -- resources.  To grow crops, lab-burgers, and so on, we need access to good soil, good nutrients, and so on.  Presumably we can get that from Mars, but there's another area in which I am not an expert.
Apparently this is what vegan Mr. Rogers looks like...on Mars.
Of course, I could be wrong.  Maybe there is a good reason to avoid meat altogether.  Maybe vegetarianism is sustainable and rational when severe conditions are involved.  In fact, I don't even have a problem with a vegetarian culture.  It sounds cool.  But I have this odd notion in my head that lab meat is easier to produce than an enormous farm.  Then again, if we can make meat in a lab, wouldn't it follow that we could do the same for produce?  I wonder what that would look like...

What does everyone else think about this idea?

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"Science in Our Science Fiction" is a new feature on WISB.  It will feature real science news and my thoughts about how it might apply in the future or might make for interesting SF stories, etc.

Question: What happens when laser pistols are everywhere?

The question is actually more complicated than the title suggests.  It reads as follows:
In a science fiction world where guns can be made of deadly lasers, pew pew pew, that you'd have to move at the speed of light to avoid, would there be a need for guns? I mean, if you got mad at someone and whipped out your laser gun, they could be dead before they heard the gun go off, sonic boom style. So... why guns?
I take as the underlying assumption here that such guns use realistic laser technology and not the sort of thing we see in science fiction from practically everything written in the 30s, 40s, and 50s to Star Wars to even the absolutely gorgeous trailer for the film adaptation of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.  In other words, lasers that likely make less noise than contemporary guns, have
beams that shoot at the speed of light (or close to it), and so on.

Real laser weapons would actually present a lot of challenges for humankind.  Here I must express minor disagreement with Kathlyn Hawley about the impacts of such technology.  Laser technology would be limited by a number of factors, the most important of which are:  1) power supply, and 2) beam strength.  It is unlikely, for example, that we will have developed a power source capable of making beam weapons with the strength to blast through ship hulls and so on.  People certainly wouldn't be a problem, but I find it hard to believe that we will have solved the power gap in the next 100 years (though I could be wrong).

From that perspective alone, we likely won't use beam weapons.  They will cost too much money and take up too much space and power.  It's easier to detonate a bunch of modified explosives against the hull of an enemy ship or over enemy personal than it is to charge and maintain lasers with the same general effect.

The same will likely remain true for hand held weaponry, such as rifles and pistols.  In a far future setting, it's possible we could make the weapons light enough to warrant using as assault weapons, but even then, you're dealing with a weapon that will run out of charge mighty fast.  Even if you loaded up a mechanically augmented soldier (in a kind of exoskeleton), you'd have encumbered that soldier with a power supply that could be just as dangerous as the weapon itself.  There's a reason why we still don't load up soldiers with excessive amounts of protective gear:  they become slow and easy targets.  Tanks and other kinds of vehicles serve the function of massive fire power, yet here we run into the same problem as before:  where do you put the power supply and is it worth it when you can solve the problem with modified nuclear shells that leave no radiation behind (we'll probably figure out how to suck the radiation out or neutralize it, thus making nuclear warfare a standard model).

For me, lasers are just another of those science fiction concepts that you either accept or reject.  Like FTL.  Like millions of species of aliens that look vaguely human.  Like so many tropes of the genre that violate all manner of scientific "rules."  Because if we're going to be realistic about future weaponry, I doubt lasers are going to be useful for much more than stopping other weapons from doing their job.  We might see lasers used to take down planes, but since combat ships in space will have considerable amounts of shielding to combat radiation, I don't see these as being applicable except to take down missiles and other explosive devices.  We should be more concerned about the kinds of weapons we already have.  Future advances will make such things more deadly and easier to use.  And that will make for an interesting future.

Now it's your turn.  What do you think?  Do you disagree with me or Kathryn?  If so, why?  The comments are yours!

(Question suggested by Kathlyn Hawley on Google+.)

Top 8 Most Ridiculous Moments in Science Fiction and Fantasy Film in the 21st Century

Science fiction and fantasy have had a great first decade in the 21st century. Some of the best films and television shows in the history of the genre have appeared during this time, making sure that fans can fondly remember this decade as one of the best.

But the 21st century has also brought us some downright awful stuff. From The Matrix Reloaded to the Star Wars prequels, the 21st century is responsible for some of the worst SF/F moments ever. Here are eight of the most ridiculous of those moments (after the fold):

8. Durza's Gurgling Spell Yell -- Eragon
Think back to when you saw this movie. Remember the scene where Durza (Robert Carlyle) gurgles a long string of ridiculous words? These words: Anori Draumr abr Sundablaka it ator Virliger. Possibly the worst part of that entire movie, and that's saying a lot, because Eragon is terrible. Carlyle tries so hard to make it work, but you can see that at some point he gave up trying to take the movie seriously and immediately went for camp.

7. In the Name of the King -- In the Name of the King
Yes, I mean the entire movie. Why? Flying ninja sword lunges. Burt Reynolds as King. Matthew Lillard doing a really horrible British accent. The main character's name is Farmer, who...farms. Most importantly, however, this film single-handedly destroyed any respect I had for John Rhys Davies and every other serious actor in the cast. I'd love the movie more if the cast were made of pathetic has-beens from the 80s, all desperate to re-ignite their old careers, but In the Name of the King pretty much works in the opposite direction. This movie isn't even bad to the point of being funny. It's just bad. Vulcan bad. (I'd love to show you all a video of just how bad this movie is, but unfortunately all I could find were the trailers, which hardly demonstrate how ridiculous In the Name of the King is.)

6. Underground Nude Acid Rave -- The Matrix Reloaded
I'm not the only one to take issue with this scene from The Matrix Reloaded (I can't embed the video, unfortunately). That said, I have an entirely different take on why this scene is absolutely absurd. If humanity has been living underground in an attempt to hide from the machines, then wouldn't it make sense to make as little noise as possible so as not to be found? Why are any of the characters shocked that the machines found out where they live? You're running around banging huge drums and dancing around in a giant cavern. Sound resonates, and you'd have to assume the machines are smart enough to listen to vibrations in the ground. Maybe there's a reason why we ended up being enslaved by the machines: we're stupid as hell.

(Note: A number of people have questioned this one, and so I want to answer to it. While this particular scene is explained in the movie as an attempt to show that they're not afraid, one has to assume that they've always had those drums, because they don't explain where they came from. If you take that assumption to heart, then it's only logical that they use the drums, otherwise there's no reason to make them. So, the moment might be explained, but not the apparatus itself.)

5. Hayden Christensen in Any SF/F Production -- Star Wars, Jumper, etc.
Watch Attack of the Clones again. Now watch Jumper. See the same problems? So do I. Either someone in the editing room phoned it in, or somebody let Christensen have a seizure on camera for kicks. Any time this guy has shown up in an SF/F film, it's been an acting disaster. The thing is, all of these films have moments where you can see his actual ability shining through, but such moments are quickly glossed over by Haydenseizures.

4. Creepy Romance (and basically everything else in The Attack of the Clones except the end with the lightsabers and Yoda) -- Star Wars, Episode Two: The Attack of the Clones
I don't need to explain. These videos can do that for me.



3. Starbuck is an Angel -- Battlestar Galactica (New)
I didn't hate the finale as much as everyone else, but the one thing I didn't like was the mysterious disappearance of Starbuck. So much of what made Starbuck appealing as a character was lost in that moment. Starbuck is an angel sent to the colonies to destroy most of mankind (edit: not directly, as in the Cylons, but indirectly through the divine necessity of her entire purpose for existing) and then lead them to Earth, where she'll go "poof" and leave Apollo wondering what the hell happened? The audience saw that and started screaming "wtf." Too many questions unanswered, and a whole lot of questions reduced to weird religious mumbo jumbo that makes about as much sense as the Midichlorians in Star Wars. Maybe they'll get it right when they pull out that ridiculous movie reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

2. Future Spock -- J. J. Abrams' Star Trek
I don't even need to say anything. You just need to read this, this, and this.

1. The Name Change (like a sex change, but less acceptable) -- SyFy
Let's be frank: SyFy hasn't exactly been the bastion of science fiction television in the last ten years. They've consistently cut the science fiction out of their programming in exchange for crappy reality shows about BS...I mean ghosts, and they've produced more crappy TV movies than any other network in existence, without being smart enough to just stick Bruce Campbell in them all to save face. To give you an idea of how the programming has changed, I filched this comparison from Something Awful:
SciFi Channel Sunday schedule circa 1998
9:00 AM - 10:00 AM Dark Shadows - Count Darcy cries about a dead pigeon.
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM The Incredible Hulk - Bruce Banner fights a racist sheriff.
11:00 AM - NOON Automan - Automan goes on a date with an air hockey table.
NOON - 1:00 PM Earth 2 - The survivors find a pickle in the desert, but it's evil.
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Star Trek The Motion Picture - Kirk and Spock fight the Voyager probe.
3:00 PM - 4:00 PM Forever Knight - A vampire pharaoh pleads not guilty to racketeering.
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM Sightings - An excitable white guy sees a UFO shaped like a helicopter.
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM Mystery Science Theater 3000 - The gang watches Planet of the Hate Hutch. 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM Highlander - A greasy Frenchman may be more than he seems.
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM The Prisoner - Number Six thinks he escaped, but it's part of a charity pageant for an ailing evil balloon.

SciFi Channel Sunday schedule circa 2006
9:00 AM - 10:00 AM Ghost Hunters - The team drops a camera when they hear a sound.
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM Ghost Hunters - Kip's Infrared finds a cold spot on a wall.
11:00 AM - NOON Scare Tactics - Paid actors react to a man with a chainsaw at a restaurant.
NOON - 1:00 PM Extreme Championship Wrestling - Guys hugging on the floor.
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Rage of the Python - A giant python escapes in a Manhattan high rise.
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM Dragon Blast - Survivors of a dragon apocalypse struggle to retake earth..
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM Python Fighter - Dean Cain must battle in the post python-apocalypse.
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM Terror Turtle - Scientists mate a turtle with a dragon and release a trained giant python to hunt it down. Bruce Boxleitner must stop them both.
But to add insult to injury, the station changed its name from SciFi to SyFy. You all know this and you all probably hated it as much as every legitimate science fiction fan should. We don't hate the name simply because we want a station for science fiction. We hate the name because SyFy is like some sort of dyslexic nonsense you'd expect from a three-year-old or a mentally handicapped baboon, not from the only network for science fiction film. The sad thing is that our bitching and whining amounted to almost nothing. SyFy hasn't listened to the fans in years and they're not going to start now.

And that's it. So, what do you think are some of the most ridiculous moments in science fiction and fantasy film? Let me know in the comments!

38 Reasons Why Darth Vader is Better (and Cooler) Than Iron Man

io9 recently posted a list of 38 reasons why Iron Man is better than Vader. As a Star Wars fan, I am horribly offended. Tony Stark? Better than Vader? Pah! That's a load of crap, and here's why (more after the fold; click the read more):
  1. Vader practically rules the entire frakking Galaxy. Stark can barely hang on to his own damned company.
  2. Vader has the Force. Iron Man has...a pretty kickass suit that, but it wouldn't stand up against Force lightning or a Vader temper tantrum.
  3. John frakking Williams. Yeah.
  4. Vader doesn't have any STDs. Stark? Probably a few dozen. Maybe even some we haven't heard of yet.
  5. Vader has a lightsaber.
  6. And a spaceship.
  7. And an army.
  8. And cool bounty hunters like Boba freaking Fett.
  9. And a frakking space station for a house.
  10. And enough capital to build a second frakking space station when the first one gets blown up.
  11. Vader doesn't have the U.S. government trying to take his shit.
  12. Vader has a son who turns out to be kind of a badass Jedi. Stark has a few dozen illegitimate children who'll eventually come begging for college tuition.
  13. Vader also has a daughter who also turns out to be kind of a badass. Read the books.
  14. Vader says cool things like "the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force."
  15. When Vader says stuff like #14, he's not bullshitting. And we know it. Stark is pretty much 95% bullshit. It's cute, but that 5% doesn't do much for his credibility.
  16. Vader has a whole fleet of frakking chauffeurs. Hello? Did you see all the times he was ferried around by Imperial dudes in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi?
  17. Vader builds complicated, advanced machines and computers at the tender age of 10.
  18. Star Wars. Six movies. And the first film made double what Iron Man brought in after being adjusted for inflation. All that without having a pre-established brand. Yeah.
  19. When Vader designs an artificial intelligence, it's actually useful. Remember that arm droid thingy in Stark's garage? Now that's annoying as shit...
  20. And Vader's artificial intelligences are insanely complex. C-3PO? Speaks just about every language ever invented. Yeah, what do you say to that, Stark?
  21. Vader doesn't need a stupid super suit to jump 100 feet. He can just Force jump that shit.
  22. And Vader can sense danger and emotions and loads of other crazy things that you didn't think could be read. Why? Because he has the frakking Force. Magic, fools. Magic.
  23. James Earl Jones.
  24. Vader has his own theme song.
  25. Vader flies around in Star Destroyers. Stark has a private jet, which is cool, until you realize that it can't go into space, can't go into hyperspace, and is basically cannon fodder for anything with guns...
  26. Vader can stop laser beams with his hands.
  27. Vader's enemies are actually quite competent, which means he actually has to do some real work. Stark's first enemies in the first Iron Man movie are so stupid they don't even realize he's building a freaking super suit in their cave...
  28. When people fail Vader, he chokes them to death. None of that goofing off crap with him.
  29. Vader owns the military. He doesn't have to impress them to get their money.
  30. Vader chops off his son's hand, knowing it's his son, all to prove a point.
  31. Vader has no qualms about striking down his old man mentor. Why? Because Vader is a badass and doesn't take crap from nobody.
  32. As far as we know, Vader doesn't have goo inside his chest.
  33. On top of that, Vader's chest also isn't a damned Operation board game.
  34. Vader can rap.
  35. Vader is one of the most quoted fictional characters ever. "Luke, I am your father..." That's right.
  36. When he dies, he gets to become a cool ghost thing, where he'll spend eternity hanging out with his friends. Stark will just be dead in a ditch somewhere. Maybe he'll go to Heaven, but probably not.
  37. Vader can dance. No speculation. He can dance.
  38. He's Darth freaking Vader. Why do you need 38 reasons to understand this?
There. Problem solved.

Science Fiction and Fantasy in Airports

As promised, I do have something interesting to point out about the presence of science fiction and fantasy in airports, and something that might be a good indicator of the power of books among travelers.

First things first, I can honestly say that I've seen a significant increase in the number of book-specific shops in airports. I don't know if this is national or international, but I've traveled a little bit over the last few years and I have noticed two things: 1) that there are more book-specific shops springing up all over the place, and 2) that some areas are insanely more book-friendly than others (St. Louis and Atlanta, for example, have a lot of book shops and places that carry books).

But what is more interesting than this is how strong of a presence science fiction and fantasy have. When you walk into a book-specific shop, there is almost always a section specific to science fiction and fantasy (and a section for YA, which is usually loaded to the teeth with fantasy titles). Sometimes the section is quite small, and other times it's about the same size as all of the other sections (non-fiction, general fiction, and so on).

The only downside to this is that these shops have a tendency to carry very little in terms of new work, which means that many of these SF/F sections are more like the classic literature section that most of these places have. It's unfortunate, but there must be a reason for it; you don't carry old SF/F (as in classic SF/F) if you're not selling it. This isn't to say that these stores don't carry newer titles; they do, but they typically only carry the more prominent new titles, such as works from various high-profile urban fantasy authors or big names in SF literature. But, what's to complain about? They have SF/F in the bookstores in airports!

Now that I've pointed out the more obvious aspects of SF/F's presence in airports, I think it's worth noting the much more hidden and telling presence: book sections within non-book-specific shops.

While I was in St. Louis a few weeks back, I decided to check out this little tech shop (headphones, phones, DVDs, games, things like that--InMotion Entertainment, I think) in the airport and was surprised to discover that they had a book section that was not only SF/F friendly, but possibly one of the best SF/F book sections I have seen for the size (four shelves no more than three feet wide). What was so special about it? The titles they carried represented a wide range of unique titles you might not find in your local bookstore, and all of the books had gorgeous covers. They had, for example, Paul McAuley's Gardens of the Sun:
They had loads of other titles too, many of which I hadn't heard of until then and most of which looked fascinating (yes, I've heard of McAuley's work, but I didn't write down the titles of all the others, and I've since forgotten them). I might have bought a book or two if I hadn't already spent over $100 on books during the PCA/ACA conference. The selection was simply fantastic. If you wanted something new and a little less popcorn-y, then you'd have to go to this shop.

The point of all of this is that airports are incredibly SF/F friendly. While the selection is not always the greatest (depending on the airport), there are almost always SF/F titles somewhere. I'm not sure what this says about our culture. These stores don't carry SF/F if it doesn't sell, so people must be requesting and buying the stuff. Do SF/F books make great travel reads in the same way that others genres have been for decades? Perhaps.

What do you think?

J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek: An Addendum (to my review)

Some time ago I posted a scathing review of the new Star Trek movie. That post has since become one of biggest traffic and comment drivers on this blog. Thinking back, I do have some additional thoughts on the movie, and one thought in particular that I think may explain more about why I really dislike the newest film.

I am fully aware that time travel has been a staple within the Star Trek universe, what with the fifth movie having a plot centered entirely around that subject (the one with the whales is the fifth, right?). But what concerns me most about the newest Star Trek movie is that its use of time travel is essentially a non-starter. What do I mean by that? The problem with the newest movie is precisely that its time travel narrative essentially makes the entire movie pointless. If it is that easy to manipulate the course of time, then what is the point of telling a story in this universe? Some new writer could come along and rewrite the entire universe again just so we have something "fresh" and "new" to work with. And in another ten, the same thing (or maybe forty would be the more appropriate number, since that's sort of how long it took to get this reboot).

What about the characters? They become meaningless too, because nothing they do actually matters. It can simply be rewritten. Some characters might not exist at all and some will be replaced. This is the problem with time travel narratives as a whole. Back to the Future only works because it makes fun of itself; the series is centered around a purely comical farce and doesn't take itself too seriously because of that. But Star Trek is not a comedy, nor based in a universe centered on a farce (at least, it's not supposed to be). Star Trek takes itself fairly serious, because it should be a serious endeavor; the shows and movies try to address a possible future, not a farcical one (can you really take seriously a time machine built into a DeLorean or, dare I say, a hot tub?).

This fact is what bothers me the most about the newest Star Trek. It is too easy and simple to rewrite the course of history, to rewrite characters and plots and entire populations of people (you can now destroy planets, never mind that the very concept of one ship taking out an entire advanced civilization is so mind-bogglingly idiotic it hurts to think about). If Abrams wanted to rewrite Star Trek, he should have ignored time altogether. Just rewrite it. Take the old, update it, make it flashier, stronger, more character driven, and so on. Don't establish a precedent for the pointless.

Or, perhaps the better idea would be to ignore the standard cast of characters and start something completely new. It's yet to be done. Nobody has started a Star Trek movie with an unknown group of characters (or at least a group that hasn't been talked much about within the various series) and spawned a series of films about them. What a better way to reboot a franchise than to start clean!

But maybe that's why I don't make movies. Originality and logic seem to have fallen to the wayside in Hollywood.

Thoughts? Opinions?

The West, Science Fiction, and No Future

Over at Genreville (on the Publisher Weekly's blog), Josh Jasper asks a very intriguing question:
Perhaps the future really belongs to people who’re hungry for it, not the ones who take it for granted. Does western culture take the future for granted these days, whereas rising cultures don’t?
I think this really depends on who you talk to. Scientists, by and large, would likely take the future very seriously, and many geeks and technology-oriented individuals consistently display their love of the present and the future of the industry (in technology, of course, thinking about the future in logical terms is quite impossible, since the industry is shifting so rapidly that one can't be expected to keep up).

But scientists, geeks, and technology-oriented people are not the majority of the population in the West. They're a minority; a fairly vocal minority (at least it seems so in the 21st century), but a minority nonetheless. Most of America (and other Western countries, I would assume) is fairly introverted, and I don't mean that in a negative way. Most of us have to be, particularly now in this difficult recession. The future of things like space travel (kind of a thing of the past, really) holds no weight in a culture struggling to keep jobs, find jobs, pay bills, survive, and be happy (whatever that might entail).

I think the issue here isn't that we take the future for granted, but that most of us (obviously not myself) see no value in much of what Jasper is talking about. Yes, it has value. Absolutely. I would be a lying scumbag if I said that the future of space travel (near future) has no value, or that people aren't excited about the futures of medical technology. The problem seems to be that, in the west, so much of our daily lives don't feel as though they are influenced by the things that used to be the future or by what will eventually be our future. We don't make an A to B connection between, say, the guy who predicted the cell phone in a science fiction novel or movie to the product itself. We benefit, most certainly, but the connection is not made explicit in our daily lives. This is a particular problem with space travel, as mentioned earlier, because as much as space travel is wonderful and has taught us so much about the universe, our planet, and even ourselves and our fellow critters, most people down on the ground and outside of the scientific and technology-oriented communities don't see the benefit.

And, countries that are now getting into the technology world seem more excited because, in that initial boom, it is exciting. When the Internet first started exploding in households, that was a big deal in the United States. Same with the car, the cell phone, and so on. But normality eventually reduces that to, well, normality. We take for granted such things because the value decreases with the increase of acceptance in culture.

How does this translate into written science fiction (something Jasper brings up as clear separation between the West--who seems more focused on near future dystopia and far future impossibilities--and the non-West--with a focus on the excitement of the technological revolution)? Well, you could argue that all the problems I've discussed above have led to a public disinterest in that excitement. Space travel isn't exciting to most. It's mundane at best, and worthless at the worst (I disagree, but that's me, and I'm not in that community of naysayers and for-granted-takers). The technological revolution is, in a way, over for us, and thinking about a future where we're doing basically what has already been done, just on a grander scale, isn't necessarily appealing or exciting. The future is, perhaps, mundane in the West for those who fail to see its value in their daily lives (not because they're stupid, but because we have done a piss poor job of instilling that love and excitement one needs to make light of the present).

So, certainly we take the future for granted (I'm intentionally conflating the future and the present here). In some ways, that's a bad thing. How do we get that back into our culture and our science fiction (it's there, just marginalized)? I don't know. I'm not sure we can, at least not on the scale that would make for meaningful change. The inevitable future of cultural consciousness, at least as I see it, is that every country eventually reaches the point of mundanity about the future. For now, the non-West is booming with excitement because, well, to finally get your own space ship in space or to do all these new, futuristic technological wonders that you've yet to do (even though others have) is exciting. Wouldn't it be exciting if tomorrow was the first time the United States put a man into space, or that someone had thought of the idea in a book and it was the first time for us, ever? Of course! But that's not us. We've done it already, and the future/present isn't offering something tangible for the masses to demonstrate that there's still something to be that excited about.

But, enough about what I think. What about you?

How (Really) Thinking About Star Wars Can Make You Feel Uncomfortable (i.e. Terrorists!)

How do you feel about terrorism? You don't like it very much, do you? Most of us don't, and for good reason. It's bad, right? No matter what! Damn those evil terrorists!

On the opposite end of things, there's Star Wars. Most of us like that, right? Well, at least the originals. The prequels have really divided us Star Wars geeks...

Now, what if I was to tell you that your hatred of terrorists is directly contradicted by your love of Star Wars? Stay with me. You see, Star Wars (the movies only) is basically a giant high five to domestic terrorism. You'd never know it if you didn't dig in and think deep (the show, after all, does such a fine job painting the Rebels as the good guys). Think of Star Wars in terms of its internal biases:
  • The Rebels are the focus characters. With the exception of Darth Vader, there are few, if any, Imperial focal points throughout the series. Figures like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, etc. are our heroes, and unabashedly so -- watch the first movie again and tell me they're not unreserved heroes.
  • The Light Side of the Force is pitted against the Dark Side, and, thus, the good side is pitted against the evil side.
  • We're told that the Empire is evil. Sometimes we see it commit evil, but the assumption left to be made by us is that they are only capable of evil. What isn't shown is actually quite shocking: infrastructure, culture, etc. The Imperial culture is militaristic, with an Emperor at the head giving all the major orders. But what about the normal folks living in the Empire? Again, we're left with a biased view, because those planets we are shown tend to be outer world, low-resource, or near-inhospitable places where outlaws have lived pre- and post-Empire, and where we see the failures of colonialism most pronounced. What of the inner planets like Coruscant, etc.? In the prequels we have a good idea that these places are technologically advanced, culturally driven, and prosperous. If you really think about what is shown to us, you have to wonder how much of that is truly the mark of an evil "nation" or "empire," and how much of it is simply an "empire" gone somewhat awry, but still a few shades short of the extreme evil that we are told it represents.
Inevitably, as I briefly touched on above, there is a lot left out of Star Wars in terms of what it doesn't tell us or intentional leads us to avoid thinking about. Such as:
  • The Rebels are terrorists. They periodically infiltrate the Empire with spies, attack convoys, invade Imperial prisons to liberate criminals against the Empire (yes, Princess Leia is a criminal), etc. The fact that the Rebels almost immediately resort to violence (albeit in a seemingly toxic political environment) is rather telling here. Am I suggesting that violence against the Empire is inherently bad? No, but the problem is that the visual given to us doesn't provide context to understand the motivations, at least not on a comprehensive level (superficially we are conditioned to hate the Empire).
  • As I mentioned above, and what is relevant to the point preceded this one, the complete lack of Imperial culture within the films essentially leaves an entire side of the coin unseen. This leads us to the following point.
  • Because we only see the militaristic sides of both the Rebels and the Empire (the prequels only show us a pre-Empire galaxy), we have no idea how these two groups are seen in the context of society. Are the Rebels viewed as a good thing, even secretly, among the citizens of the Empire? What about the Empire?
While it is certainly relevant to recognize the impetus behind the Rebels' actions, it doesn't hide the fact that whatever good intentions there may be, they are still engaging in what we would call terrorism today. Think of it this way: to the people who support Al Qaeda, they are doing a good thing; likewise, to the people who support the Rebels, they are also doing a good thing. It comes down to perspective, and when you are on the outside, as we are, you can think objectively about the reality that Star Wars proposes. That reality is one where terrorism is something to root for, where good and evil are clearly defined, and where, inevitably, the folks we think are the good guys always win. While the Al Qaeda analogy might not hold up for most, it functions well enough to demonstrate how good and evil are defined by both context and perspective, both of which we cannot ignore here, even if the movies want us to for the sake of its internal logic.

But ask yourself this the next time you watch the original Star Wars movies: are the militaristic and "evil" elements of the Empire the only things severely damaged by the end of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi? Or is it possible that the collateral damage from everything the Rebels have done is in fact far more devastating than leaving the Empire in control in the first place?

Scifi Squad’s Top Scifi Rapist

Last month, Scifi Squad posted a top ten list of scifi couples. The usual suspects show up there (Han and Leia from Star Wars), with a few modern additions (Zoe and Wash from Firefly and WALL-E and Eve from WALL-E). But then there's #3: Rick and Rachael from Blade Runner.

I wasn't aware that being a rapist made you one half of an awesome scifi couple. But maybe the Scifi Squad folks don't remember the scene where Rick Deckard throws Rachael against the wall after she tries to leave, and then forces himself upon her (she cries in that scene, by the way) while terrifying her into telling him "she wants it." It wasn't hidden. The scene is pretty damned clear: at best, Deckard is an abusive son of a bitch; at worst, he's the worst kind of rapist you'd expect to see in a Lifetime movie.

They're reasoning?
Between filming two parts of his memorable Star Wars romance, Harrison Ford fell in love with a replicant. That's the last thing you'd expect from the world-weary Rick Deckard, who specializes in terminating "skin jobs," but the heart wants what the heart wants, and the cool, classic beauty of Rachael (Sean Young) sneaks through his defenses, until he's doing everything within his power to keep her alive.
Did they see the same movie I did? He hardly does anything for Rachael. Yes, at the end of the movie he takes her away, but that's the only moment where Deckard really does anything for her (rather than for himself). Throughout most of the movie he is either screwing with her mind (i.e. telling her she's a replicant and that all her memories, which she thinks, at that point, are hers, are in fact fabrications), killing her kind, or forcing himself upon her. One shouldn't forget that the world Deckard has come to know pretty much allows him to get away with doing whatever he wants to the so called "skin jobs." I wonder if a little of that has rubbed off into the real world...

Two thumbs up for rapists, I suppose.