Friday, July 29, 2016

Is Painless

Suicide is a good thing. If you're sitting there hypocritically looking down on me for saying so, try just for one second admitting to yourself the path your thoughts truly trod. No need to even picture your worst enemies. Wouldn't your world be so much better if random worthless trash like me who say things like this just... went away?
We wish we could. Just need a little moral support here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

My Banished Are All Goths

"Well I live with snakes and lizards
And other things that go bump in the night"

Ministry - Everyday is Halloween

Well, I mean, I guess if I name my Banished village Nyctimus it might attract a certain breed of settler. Still nearly did a Mountain Dew spit-take when glancing through the game manual description of the cemetery.

Happiness boost? No, I get reducing the unhappiness upon a family member's death, that's fine, but a happiness boost for proximity? You people wanna phone up a real estate agent and maybe ask whether "location location location" includes rotting corpses? I've moved a few times in my life. I've seen apartment complexes and housing developments advertise nearby schools, mass transit, parking lots, entertainment and amenities within walking distance, etc. Though not actively avoided as much as waste treatment plants or paper mills, I don't think I've ever heard anyone anywhere, ever, proudly advertise a place as "graveyard adjacent."

Wait, no, there was that one guy:

"I got a good vibe from this place. Nice, long dinner table; quiet, well behaved spiders; graveyard adjacent"
- Bender the robot

Thursday, July 21, 2016

ST:TNG - Presenting the Klingons

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 1.20
Heart of Glory

Lt. Worf is a fierce Klingon warrior. Lt. Worf works for peaceable Hu-mons. Oh, the drama! Oooh, the tension! Oh, the dramaaaaaaatic tension!
Don't take my word for it. Michael Dorn's tonsils just registered 0.9 Shatners on the ham-o-stat.

Albeit still exhibiting a good deal of first season fumbling, this first viewer meet'n'greet with the Klingon race actually turned out quite bearable. The Ferengi's introduction painted them as much too buffoonish to stand as antagonists of the Federation and the Romulans' first appearance got lost in the episode's utterly unrelated subplot, but on the whole, TNG did better by its foils than its villains. Yes, foil.
Foil. It's one of 'em litter-airy terms, look it up.
In this case, Klingon aggression stands in contrast to the quiet, stoic sense of duty of the Starfleet officer. Klingons aren't evil. They're just kinda... jocks. Which is evil enough in my book, and I'll address the odd Trekkie fascination with Klingons some other time. So, Worf must choose between a couple of renegades from his own people who promise him honor in combat and remaining true to his Starfleet vows. Hmmmm, can you kids at home tell Worf what to choice to make?
Yeah, it's a telegraphed morality play. Plus, they overplayed the roaring Klingon death ritual scene, putting everything on hold for it so we get the point that this is really, really significant!!! Until making us sit through the second Klingon death roar because this is really really, really significant!!! !! !
We're so multicultural here in the future.

Then again, these are meant to be overly dramatic, chest-thumping macho men anyway. Not too far from the mark, these first Klingons rather closely approach their fully-baked personae, and the episode at least manages to present the main conflict they're supposed to embody: the difference between bravado and cruelty, or at least between bravado and sticking your head in a blender.


Seriesdate: 2.08
A Matter of Honor

Riker becomes an honorary Klingon.

Look now, I think cultural exchange programs are ludicrous enough in real life so I'll admit a certain bias against the basic plot here. Cultural exchange should grow organically out of true opportunities for cooperation, not through forced, officious bureaucratic kabuki.
I'll grant making an episode showcasing Klingon culture into one of the main characters' own exploration of Klingon customs has a certain classical "Everyman visits Utopia" kind of appeal. The Federation is engaged in an officer exchange program. The Enterprise gets itself a placid, obnoxious Benzite ensign while a Klingon ship gets Riker as acting first in command for the duration and... and...

Wait, what did I just hear? The two ships are being attacked by subatomic bacteria? Sub. Atomic. Bacteria.
Oy vey.
Words have meanings, people! "Bacteria" doesn't just mean "tiny thing" but is a classification of cellular life. That's life made of at least one cell, made of molecules, made of atoms. I just... aaaargh! The mangled technobabble, it huuuurts uussss my preciousss!
Also, Data, you of all wooden boys should know the singular of bacteria is bacterium. Seriously, who wrote this damn scene?

Aside from that, though, the episode actually flows quite well. Amusing buildup prior to Riker's visit aboard the Klingon ship, and good scene in the mess hall, though I don't know why exactly Frakes seems to be getting stuck eating bugs and worms all the time. The whole thing does a good job of establishing Klingons as slightly more than just blindly hyperaggressive muscleheads bragging about punching things. Kudos on also portraying Klingon females from the start as every bit the swaggering, overcompensating match for their swaggering, overcompensating warrior mates.

Gotta say, though, the best scene here really is the climax, not because the hero saves the day (surprise, surprise) but for Riker getting bitchslapped into next Tuesday.
I don't mean that just because violence is funny (though it is) but because it manages to move the show's definition of ethics past the morality of niceness, the morality of convenience, of platitudes and soft language and brown-nosing and manipulative concessions and condescension. Riker stands his ground. He knows he has to stand there and take the hit for what he did to restore a sense of order to the scene, despite his decision having been the right one.

Klingons likely remained so memorable from among Star Trek's various races for benefiting from a much more coherent introduction than others. They're strong, they're tough, they're mean and can be a bitch and a half to be around... and instead of trying to soften these features, to make them play with dollies in their spare time to display their softer side, they were developed around the core principles of warrior cultures. They're moral absolutists, they work hard and play hard, they don't do things half way.
Despite the incessant insistence of modern pop culture, these are not bad things in themselves, and their alternatives are not inherently good. Klingons may be an exaggerated stereotype, but in their de facto role as foils for clean-cut, polite Federation Utopianism, they expand it rather than oppose it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

TSW's Lilith, Incompetent to Stand Trial?

"Hare, Hare Krishna, was that your sister, a cover girl?
A wasted primadonna, she lost her way here, she disappeared"

Garbage - Subhuman

As this post concerns developments during later stages of The Secret World's main storyline, I suppose a good old-fashioned spoilert's in order, just in case anyone glancing at this might want to waste some money on TSW before it goes belly-up. So yeah, don't blame me if the revelations prove unbearable.

A long time ago I delved into a few verses of the Gest of Robyn Hode regarding class-consciousness and preconceptions of men's role vis-a-vis the unfairer sex. At the time, I glossed over a rather glaring recurring theme in the expectation of the female role: the lack of accountability. See, despite his various feats, skill and achievement unlocks, Robin Hood ultimately gets assassinated
"Through a wycked woman,
  The pryoresse of Kyrk sly,
  That nye was of hys kynne"

Yet it's also accepted as central to the event that she did so

"For the loue of a knyght,
  Syr Roger of Donkesly"

Though this particular version's rather brief on the topic, other versions make sure to mention that the prioress, while treating the aging Robin by bloodletting for whatever disease, merely let out a lot more blood than necessary, in order to weaken him. She did not actually kill him. It falls to this Roger of Doncaster to strike the death-blow, to assume ultimate guilt for such a heinous act.
See, she can't actually be guilty. She's female. She was at most an accomplice, and more importantly did it all for the love of a man, you see. "Wycked" woman she may be, but as woman her wickedness is couched in the actions of a male. Note Syr Roger benefits from no such moral umbrella.

Oh, and no I'm not going to worry about spoiling the legend of Robyn Hode. Whatever the statute of limitations of spoilers might be, a millennium or more should cover it.

We've all gotten used to hearing feminists bemoan the negative depictions of women in literature, yet in most examples we find these negative female characters hiding behind the greater villainy of some man. Picture every cartoon / action flick second-in-command villainess who's only doing wrong because she's fallen in with the evil, evil (male) mad scientist. On closer inspection we find that Lady Macbeth repents and is driven mad by her conscience while Macbeth himself has lost all humanity, that though Eve tempts Adam, the primordial tempter Satan looms unimpeachably male in our subconscious, that Miss Havisham's actions in Great Expectations stem from a male crime against herself, that the only reason the few negative female characters stand out is not their exceedingly negative depiction but their very scarcity! Lady Macbeth may seem bad but compare her to the grandiloquently sadistic Aaron the Moor or other (male) Shakespearean villains like Dickie Tres, utterly unrepentant and beholden only to themselves.

Confession: I freakin' loved that speech by Aaron the Moor. I loved it in the play and in that movie adaptation and can only wish our imaginary landscapes acknowledged more such consummate, transhuman villains, just as I wish they contained more posthuman heroes motivated by more than reproductive instinct or tribal loyalties.

So I loved Lilith's first appearance in TSW. Foreshadowed for a third of the game's original length before she tricks, captures and tortures you in a red-lit Soviet bunker in the best damn mission in the entire game, Lilith struts onto the scene with all the spitting, hissing, ringing, island-unto-herself, unabashed hubris befitting a true law-breaker. Here was, at last, a personality to sweep aside all pretense and weakness, an individual for better or worse.

That she was female made very little difference. She incorporates her sexuality, an Echidna to match any Typhon, sure, but the mother of monsters of Funcom's first showing was above all a Villain writ large, shameless because no others' rules may rule her, vicious and unrelenting, entitled to the gills and full of herself to near bursting. It's the sort of character we get all too little of even as regards males, thanks to our modern obsession with justifying every villain through the cheap pathos of childhood trauma, and practically never see portrayed as female. Lilith was rather unique.

For a couple of patches.

Because of course our safe, polite, technophilic, neurophobic modern society must pay constant tribute to the moral absolutism of feminism, so at the same time we repeat the mantra of female ability (always greater than that of men) we can never be caught to find within such ability the ability for evil as great as that of men. To uphold the taboo propping up female moral superiority, the negative actions of any woman must somehow be portrayed as the fault of a man. The Patriarchy made her do it.

Cue Lilith 2.0
A couple of chapters of the main storyline later, you run into good ole Lil again in Tokyo only to have her declare she was just having a bad day last time, that she's a multifaceted person with a diverse range of interests and shouldn't be judged by her actions at any one time and above all you see, there was this angel. She did it all for love. The whole destroying the world thing, that was his plan all along not hers. Then of course by the end of the whole tirade, poor innocent beguiled Lilly falls prey to conveniently gravelly-voiced male fallen angels.

Some hint of this was given through the line "Samael chose [Gaia]" at the end of the brilliant "I Walk Into Empty" mission yet that as well could have been handled as Lilith's indignation at being slighted, at having her primacy challenged in any way. She could easily have remained a grandiose villainess unto herself, an individual.

You see this bullshit played out with endless female characters, for fear of a career-ending feminist backlash or just the vague notion of male original sin and constant displays of male penitence we've all been indoctrinated into. Ironically though, this drive to make any negative female character's plot dependent on a male influence? That's what's ruining these chicks' independence and personal agency. This regressive backsliding into the medieval chivalry which feminism exploits diminishes such a character more than anything else that happens to them.

I've been waiting to write this post ever since I played through the Tokyo chapters of TSW because I've been curious how they retcon Lil's character further. However, three motivations pushed me to just go ahead and do it now:
1) TSW's circling the drain and there's no telling if there even will be further chapters.
2) The game's writing has begun to decline after Ragnar Tornquist's departure so further installments will likely be less specifically bad in their political correctness as simply... bad, overall.
3) It doesn't matter anyway.

Whatever Lilith does next, she's been written into partial irrelevance. Her story largely becomes the story of Samael taking the blame for her actions. R.I.P. oh proud mother of monsters.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Insult to Injury

To paraphrase a joke from an old children's book:

A very poor peasant once died from hunger. He worked and worked but his grain went to the lord of the land and to the granaries of the churches and monasteries until all he could do was stuff himself more and more with whatever leeks, fennel, thistle, nettles or other plants he could scrounge from around the fields, and ate and ate, never getting enough to sustain himself, until his stomach split.
At his funeral, the priest began to sing him up to Heaven:
"Oh Lord, rest ye this poor soul your faithful son, in fields of green where sorrow is not known-"
At which someone from those assembled who had actually known the deceased spoke up:
"Ah, leave the man be, Father, of greenery he perished in this life, don't condemn him to it in the next one to boot!"

So I was flipping through reports on the latest fundie mass-murder and one particular line caught mine angry eye:
"The hashtag #PrayForNice is trending worldwide"

You degenerate, demented, despicable, sadistic, self-serving, self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing pricks and cunts, no! You do not get to do that. Shut your retarded fucking brainwashed mouths! Eighty-four people were murdered in one of the bastions of freedom, in the land of liberte, fraternite, egalite, eighty-four more were murdered in addition to the hundreds upon hundreds murdered in mass murders in the past years, by prayer! Your prayers, your idiotic kow-towing before moronic antiquated superstitions, your weak-minded simpering legitimization of religious indoctrination murdered these people.

They died of prayer. The least you could do is have the decency to shut your cretinous mouths and not insult their memories by condemning their memories to prayer as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Man from Earth

Think Highlander except instead of swashbuckling, lightning-storm acrobatics set to a rousing Queen chorus you've got half a dozen eggheads sitting around sipping whiskey, stroking their chins and acting incredulous.

Okay, so any similarity between the two movies may on closer inspection prove exceedingly tenuous. Still, The Man from Earth does indeed feature an immortal, and though this one has not inherited any blood of kings, he's very likely fathered a few in his 14,000-year lifespan.

I'll bet you'd take no notice of the writer Jerome Bixby (as would I not have before now) yet if his name never seems to have made the big time it's still safe to say he left his mark on pop culture with a few memorable Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes and the movies Fantastic Voyage and It! The Terror from Beyond Space. In light of this, the making of The Man from Earth gains a certain operatic charm in itself, as paraphrased off Wikipedia. After a lifetime of moderate success scribbling B-series scripts for Hollywood, a moribund SF writer who could have done better pens, on his deathbed, a final script in the thoughtful, provocative tone reminiscent of the masters of the genre. After his death, his son, brow raised defiantly against the status quo, secures production for his father's legacy under the direction of an obscure but experienced B-movie director likely aching for a legitimate project after a career of softcore porn and buddy flicks. Thus, the legend is born... or rather stillborn, but revived through the heroic efforts of its few fans who keep the dream alive through the techno-wizardry of peer-to-peer filesharing.

Well, I may be embellishing a bit but still, it reads like a libretto if I've ever heard one. Wait, have I ever heard one?

As for The Man from Earth in itself, it's worth watching. In all fairness, it lacks the kick of a true classic but nonetheless manages to bring to life the sense of wonder so crucial to SciFi, to treat with due respect the topic of intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth. If a trusted friend and coworker confessed to you that he's a 14,000-year-old caveman, how would you react?

As I've remarked many times before, many a good SF story tends to revolve around a single dramatic speech, by convention thunderously pedantic, outlining the grand question to be addressed. Sometimes the writer will forego action scenes altogether and merely pose the speculative proposition as a polite drawing-room discussion. A nerd's definition of action. So The Man from Earth, devoid of special effects or car chases (seventy years ago when Bixby began his career it would've been a radio drama) depends heavily on its actors' ability to convey subtle shifts in curiousity, derision, indignation, incredulity or shock. The lead does well enough but is outshone by the anthropologist and biologist supporting roles playing off his incredible statements to keep the viewer's attention from drifting.

The script's weakest point is its lingering on the question of religion, on the crisis of faith (complete with swooning, I believe) which serves as the dramatic climax of the whole soiree. Instead of dedicating so much air-time to a question which should've warranted no more than a dismissive scoff at human credulity, we should've delved more into the wonders of past worlds. It feels weird saying this, as I'm normally all for giving the fundies a slap in the face, but an ideological pamphlet is not what I wanted from this story. Its basic premise promised so much more. I wanted to hear more speculation about glaciers and clay tablets and biremes and the silk road, not just the tired old fable of the preacher without a license getting nailed to a post.

Well, here's hoping whatever comes of the Kickstarteredrededed series based on the movie might actually live up to that potential. Although, if it's nothing but mealy-mouthed, conciliatory kumbayodelling in the direction of those who still doubt that myths are created by human minds, then it likely won't be worth mentioning.

Monday, July 11, 2016

TF2 - sans Team or Fortress

So, Team Fortress 2 has a new patch out, and I must confess it brings a tear to an old TFC pyro's eye to see Valve still trying to keep it going after nine years. Team Fortress Classic was one of the first games I played online, along with Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries, Diablo, Warcraft 2 and Starcraft. Memory Lane's a cozy neighbourhood.

Wait, what? TF2's new "competitive" game mode is restricted to a 6v6 player game size? Well, there goes the neighbourhood.
Come on... I haven't wanted to play FPS games in anything less than 10v10 modes since before Team Fortress was "Classic", since I was watching some other kid play Quake. I'm not that nostalgic for the days of 28.8 modems when we couldn't cram more than ten people into a server without rubberbanding all over the place. I remember the old catchphrase "real men snipe with 400 lag !" but that is no longer the case. We can get larger game sizes. Hell, even TFC's class system was designed for larger game sizes.

Backtrack. Two years ago I rather vocally supported TF2, largely because the online game scene has been utterly ruined by legitimized cheating, Hollywood envy, a lack of meaningful arbitration by GMs and endless achievement farming, and while Valve has led the pack in instituting the sickening idiocy of achievement chasing, TF2 still provided a valid alternative to newer titles. It remained competitive by dint of lack of meaningful competition. Hurray for low standards?

A couple of weeks ago I tried firing up TF2 again for a change of pace and found the game had been entirely destroyed by the aforementioned lack of arbitration. The official servers (the only place you can get to play the game itself without some braindead server admin altering the gravity or giving everyone infinite ammo or some other bullshit) had degenerated so badly that it was impossible to get an honest match going. AFKs abound, and instead of actually attempting to attack/defend team objectives everyone preferred to sit back and try to farm kills.

Valve's latest patch does absolutely nothing to address these problems. What was needed was harsh, draconian banning of any degenerate little mouthbreathing piece of shit who didn't play for the team. Splitting the game into "casual" and "competitive" modes does nothing to help promote a sense of the game's true objectives. As for six-player teams... what subhuman, thirty-IQ drooling imbecile actually thought this was a good idea? TF2 was blatantly NOT designed for such a small game size. It utterly invalidates any gameplay oriented around controlling the map, any prediction. It renders the Engineer and Sniper classes utterly superfluous, as well as any other defensive options (the Demoman's Scottish Resistance weapon for instance) as well, of course, as the options designed to counter those defensive options, like the soldier's "direct hit" launcher. Spies remain the worthless parasites they always were so let's call that a draw in itself.

The other major change the patch brought was a heavy reduction in the amount of time it takes to capture an objective and win (both in "casual" and "competitive" game modes) and when I say a heavy reduction I mean I can end a match in two seconds. Together with some other minor changes, it's obvious Valve's trying to advertise a faster, more action-packed game style to draw in the sub-sentient l33t-kiddie filth. No need to predict enemy movements, no need to plan ahead, no need to coordinate, no need to think in terms of shifting battle lines, of a greater conflict beyond what you're doing this second. Just hit a few targets and you're golden. You're a winner. You're a hero. You're amazing. Pats on backs all around.

What it comes across though is a gamebreaking truncation of what TF2 should have been. What knuckledragging marketing cretin came up with "hey, let's try to convince everyone that invalidating half our own product is a selling point!"

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Three Censures of Philip's Transcendence

(Aforethought: spoiler alert, for those of you who care about that sort of thing. I'll be discussing a novel and two short stories, so you may want to find - if you can - and read Faith of our Fathers and The Turning Wheel if you're too lazy for the long one.)
So let's talk about ten-foot poles. Philip K. Dick, as I commented in my last post, has been adapted to undeath. As most Hollywood attempts to cash in on a popular author or work yield unholy abominations unfit for showing even as punishments, it's no surprise most PKD adaptations have also strayed far, far from their source material. Nevertheless, movie studios push ever onward, vying for the chance to slap his name on their promotional posters.

Yet still, some of his stories remain as socially uncomfortable or politically incorrect as to send entire marketing departments into hysterics at their mere mention. While thinking of this post I've thought of two more examples, but for starters let's focus on my original notion, Palmer Eldritch... which, just to get this out of the way, is if nothing else just a freaking stellar character name!

Ever since finally reading it a couple of years ago I thought The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch would make a great movie, revolving, as it does, on visually striking changes in perception laced with a fair bit of body horror. Plus it comes pre-packaged with sex and a smidge of violence, which would save whichever penny-dreadful screenwriter landed the contract a bit of work. Discovering that characters achieve their altered states of consciousness through massive psychotropic drug use should clue you in as to large entertainment corporations' reluctance to go anywhere near the book though. It conflicts with the censorship imposed by the upper crust's facetious "war on drugs." This hurdle may be overcome (read: sanitized into an innocuously castrated script demonizing -illegal- drugs) for the love of PKD name-brand recognition and the profits it brings, were it not for the inescapable religious commentary in the novel's second half.

If even Dogma, which as far as I'm concerned pandered much too much to the mindlessness of faith, caused such an uproar with its light jabs at a slightly silly but otherwise still all-good, all-powerful deity, books like Palmer Eldritch or Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice stand no chance at being adapted in any movie market controlled by those who have an interest in maintaining the social control apparatus. Which is to say any movie market.

Yet Palmer Eldritch the parvenu almighty can still only be characterized (as with Heinlein's Yahweh) as flawed, inept, slightly capricious or power-mad and not outright evil. What if we were instead to pose that theological bugaboo: is God a bugaboo? How tragically laughable is the notion of a movie adaptation of Faith of our Fathers, which confronts us with a bloodthirsty predatory divinity inimical to the life it husbands for its own use? Could this rather more plausible interpretation of the Biblical view of God as a "shepherd" or a wolf tending his own flock ever make it to the big screen? Am I asking rhetorical questions?

Consider for just a second though the cinematic potential of an implacable, well-spoken but merciless Lovecraftian monstrosity controlling the world government and devouring lives behind a veil of hallucination in the midst of polite upper-class dinner parties. Would you watch that? Did you ever lie in bed at night as a child feeling the universe stretch into darkness in all directions from you?

Equally unmarketable if for different reasons, The Turning Wheel attacks our preconceptions of race relations and civilized thought. It dwells on the vision of that very probable future which sometimes springs up in science fiction and is quickly hushed up for political reasons: the rise of the Chinese world state in the 21st or 22nd century. Though not specifically Chinese, Dick's version of a world dominated by Asians, in which Europeans are derided and marginalized as dirty hairy "caucs" and likened to Neanderthals behind their faces could be transposed to any human social hierarchy. Specifics removed, it would merely portray humans' inter-tribal abuse and dares to fly in the face of politically correct Orientalism portraying all but Europeans as noble savages by attributing savagery and not just nobility to a non-white dominant social group.

This last story, I'm afraid really could get turned into a movie. Containing as it does a stab at Dianetics, and with Scientology coming apart at the seams lately The Turning Wheel may find traction with certain segments of the population. I fear an adaptation may get funded by Christian interests eager to hit their fellow con artists while they're down. More specifically I'm afraid it would be degraded to mere single-minded paranoid anti-Asian propaganda while ignoring its more relevant point about the fragility of human intellectual and social progress. Dick's oriental-flavored world state controls its populace through religious means, through vague mysticism and a proposition of rebirth lent a new-age feel by the adoption of a modern fad in metaphysics, to wit Hubbard's idiotic fables about soul-cleansing. It has abandoned the primacy of reason.

While tribalism may be a human universal inevitably tainting soi-disant advanced societies, the ideas of the Enlightenment and its intellectual successors, of science and rationalism, of a resistance to superstition and a reliance on evidence, are a mere historical aberration, a singular accident which may very well fade out of popular knowledge. Having swept these intellectual gains under the rug along with the now-despised race which happened to stumble upon them, the world of The Turning Wheel is collapsing upon itself, settling once again into the blind thaumaturgical groping which has ruled it since the first witch-doctors mumbled gibberish.

A world in which a capsule of antibiotics must be passed off as a magical amulet. Now that is a dangerous vision and I should hope there are enough Science Fiction fans around with the intellectual integrity to discuss as sharp and poignant a story as The Turning Wheel with the self-critical honesty it deserves. The myriad pitfalls an adaptation would need to overcome, while daunting, are nothing compared to the dire need for such visions in the current regressive political climate.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

PKD at the Movies

Hollywood loves Dick!

Heheh... yeah, couldn't pass that one up. Anyhoo, I wanted to suggest a Philip K. Dick story for film adaptation, but before I do, have you ever noticed his (name's) ungodly popularity? Most authors, even if quite successful in print (or e-print nowadays) should count themselves lucky if their work is ever even staged as a high school play, much less adapted with a Hollywood budget. As far as science fiction goes, even the biggest names like Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke find precious little footing on modern walks of fame.

Movie companies love Dick, though. His blatant, haunting paranoia littered his stories with spies, traitors, doppelgangers and impostors of every stripe. This lends them an uncommonly high appeal as thrillers, consistently delivering that minute-75 plot twist or dramatic unveiling to keep audiences gasping for more. Of course there's more to it than that. Anyone can tell you that movie adaptations almost never do their source material justice, so most authors or their estates may be reluctant to let their names get discredited by some Hollywood hacks' lowest-common-denominator treatment. This goes double for most good Science Fiction stories, as their social commentary tends toward the mercilessly avant-garde, stuff movie companies won't touch with the proverbial ten feet.

Philip K. Dick's accumulated a whopping thirteen movie credits to his name, and the number keeps rising. Does this mean the public is actually getting PKD stories on screen? Hell no. In most cases, the rights seem to have been bought for sheer name recognition, and little or nothing after the opening credits resembles even remotely the story it should represent. Do any of them manage to do justice to their inspiration? I'm familiar with most of these so let me go through the parts of the list which I recognize.

1) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Blade Runner
Hells yeah.
Ridley Scott built up a couple lifetimes' worth of karmic credit for giving us one of the few good SF movie adaptations, and in an era when good speculative movies were almost unheard of. Not entirely faithful to the book (I forget, did they even include the passage of the spider trying to bite the hero's hand?) but largely true to the book's spirit.

2) We Can Remember It for You Wholesale
Total Recall
Haven't seen the new version so won't comment on it except to wonder how you can put Kurt Wimmer and Kate Beckinsale together and still get something I've never heard anyone praise.
The 1990 version caught me at about 8-9 years old, slightly too young to fully enjoy the chick with three knockers but utterly fascinating me with the string of grotesque mutants. It was actually a pretty damn good flick, but someone at some point will have to explain what it had to do with PKD's original story, whose material dries up about fifteen minutes into the movie, after which we're treated to a largely unrelated Martian acid trip.
I've got nothing against watching Schwarzy wallop mutants to death with heavy mining equipment, but there was no real reason to append Philip K. Dick's name to this. What's more, the original story actually ends in a pretty scathing condemnation of this sort of heroic escapist fantasy, and the last word matters.

3) Second Variety
I've commented on this at length before, as it's actually my favorite PKD story... and very much not one of my favorite movies. Though a half-passable post-apocalyptic film by summer movie standards, it definitely betrayed the original story. Read Second Variety.

4) The Minority Report
Minority Report
Social commentary on power-mad control freak bureaucrats sanitized to protect the viewers' delusions. See what I mean about the ten foot pole?

5) Impostor
Can't remember the short story, though I believe I did read it. Movie was mildly acceptable in itself.

6) A Scanner Darkly
In fact, I'd rank this as even more faithful an adaptation than Blade Runner, albeit slightly lacking some of the book's gut-punch pathos. Unfortunately it's not one of PKD's most memorable works even if the "drug war" sadly remains quite relevant. Linklater is capable of beautiful work and I was going to suggest he'd be perfect to adapt Ubik... until reading just now that he'd originally planned to do Ubik instead of this. Well, get on it, man!

Last, and also decidedly least.
7) The Golden Man
Yeah, "next!" is exactly what I thought as soon as I saw the theatrical poster for this movie. I've never watched it and so help me Pan the goat-footed god, I never will. At various points in my life, I've had to eat some serious crow for sometimes jumping the gun and, say for example criticizing Cloud Atlas before actually watching it. In this case though? All I needed to see was Nick Cage's dramatically posed mug as a heroic, dashing prophet fighting against the forces of anarchy for (insert heroic motivations here) God, country and the love of a good woman. It's crap. I don't need to watch it to know it's crap. Because it's crap!

Which is sad, because like Second Variety, The Golden Man ranks as one of those truly classic hard-hitting Science Fiction short stories which cram a total head-trip in a few brief pages. Without giving too much away (read it!) I will say that it absolutely hinges on the title character being not only a statuesque, physically imposing and even beautiful figure, not only inhuman but also distinctively subhuman. Nicholas Cage the boy next door discoursing with his star-crossed lady love in perfectly facile vernacular strays as far from the story's purpose as Hamlet would by cheerfully riding around in a clown-car at the World Cup. May you rot, Gary Goldman.

Anyway, more Dickishness tomorrow.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ever wonder who's handing out the flags?

"A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: 'I, the state, am the people.'"

Friedrich Nietzsche - Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Well, damnit, I wanted to talk up some Dick today but I just heard a firecracker outside my window so I guess it must be that time of year again. 4th of July, the day when Americans celebrate their independence from... a five-cent tax on tea... or something like that. Now, instead of launching into my usual sort of long-winded tirade, I'd just like to remind the world (I hold a highly optimistic view of my readership) that the concept of nations with which we've all grown up dates back to around 1848. The notion of an internal, bottom-up coherence to territorial, taxing, warring entities beyond the size of a city is about 170 years old. Before that, the over-arching structure was pretty much all kings and emperors. Your great-grandparents' great-grandparents would remember that time. History is appallingly short from biological terms.

Of course it took almost no time flat for the new nations to show their true colors as mere facades for autocratic powermongering, but the real point here is that nationalism is a passing fad. There is such a thing as instinctive tribalism, the in/out-group dynamic which guides most of our simian shit-slinging, but the particular cover under which the rich exploit the tribalism of the poor in order to convince the poor to support the various pyramid schemes of power varies from century to century. No reason to think nationalism will last any longer than the hey-day of the Hanseatic League or sacrificing bulls to Mithra. Your grandchildren may very well end up swearing their daily allegiance to Real Madrid or the Green Bay Packers.

Hell, a lot already do, right before their nightly prayer to holy JayZus.

Nationalism and patriotism are fabrications. Tools of control. You're waving flags around to celebrate no more material a commonality than... well, being handed the same color flags to wave around.
Woo. Go team us!

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Unshifting Night of Unreason

"The beautiful people, the beautiful people
It's all relative to the size of your steeple"

Marilyn Manson - The Beautiful People

As I sometimes like to brag, I don't own a TV (really I just play so many damn computer games that I can easily numb my mind without minding the numbskulls on cable) but I do end up ingesting bits and pieces of what's hot and not these days when visiting people who're still into that sort of thing. So, late this spring I caught a few scenes of one of the many, many hospital dramas out there "The Night Shift."

One scene in particular from the season 3 opener episode amused me to no end. I love to hate this sort of facetious political correctness, especially when it's so artlessly, blatantly shoved down viewers' throats. The episode featured American doctors treating a teenage bride in the Middle-East, with all the flamboyant rhetoric this implies. Male and female white doctors admit the girl in her burqa and begin examining her, which generally involves actually looking at her and not just several square meters of black wool. Her husband bursts in spewing all the entitlement and moustachiod fury of a '70s children's cartoon sheikh stereotype. He demands the male doctor leave immediately, shouting him out of the room because no man but he should see his wife, because cultural relativism trumps reason or even the girl's right to decent care.

The female doctor of course rather curtly and without compunctions orders the male doctor to leave. 'Cuz relativity. Only then does the female doctor also order the husband off. Suddenly shifting from a hurricane of moral righteousness to fuming obedience, he now exits, stage whiplash. Then we get the inevitable scene of the politically aware American woman liberating the poor downtrodden local girl.

I love that scene. It convinced me never to bother watching that show again, but I still love how decisively it displays left-wing fundamentalists' strict pecking order based on birthright. The Western male's function is to absorb abuse from everyone else involved. Being male but a noble savage trumps being a white male oppressor but still relegates you to the status of a brutish oppressor of innocent, angelic womanhood. Presiding over the whole affair reigns the properly indoctrinated upper middle class matriarch dispensing the wisdom of identity politics unto the lower orders of being.

I swear, it could only have gotten better if a black lesbian single mother Buddhist, bearing the last silmaril upon her brow and waving a crucifix of Andrea Dworkin, then descended upon the scene to, in turn, kick the white girl out of the room and set this whole cosmic hierarchy to rights.