"No less a critic than C. S. Lewis has described the ravenous addiction that these magazines inspired; the same phenomenon has led me to call science fiction the only genuine consciousness-expanding drug." Arthur C. Clarke

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Zamyatin’s WE

I have just finished reading Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s We, one of the forerunners of the satirical dystopian genre best known for novels such as Brave New World or 1984.  It was written in 1921 in response to Zamyatin’s experiences with the revolutions in Russia in 1905 and 1917 as well as working at the Tyne shipyards where he witnessed the collectivization of labor.

Having read Orwell and Huxley, I certainly saw the influence We had, admitted or otherwise.  Zamyatin’s secret police simply see everything because all walls are made of glass and sex is state-controlled along with every other part of life, including labor along the lines of the ideas of F.W. Taylor.  Emotion and imagination are considered the enemies of happiness and are considered illegal.  The novel is one of the first examples of a post-apocalyptic landscape with the cause implied as weapons of mass destruction; clearly atomic weapons did not exist in 1921, but having experienced the Great War, Zamyatin couldn’t fail to see the growth in size of bombs and other weapons.

WE

WE (Photo credit: Père Ubu)

Zamyatin’s primary judgment regarding the State of the novel (and the early Soviet Union of Lenin) is that state-controlled, emotionless, beauty-less life works against human nature.  His viewpoint character, named D-503, believes himself mad because he has night dreams, feels attracted to a very rebellious woman (I-330), and can’t bring himself to report her and her revolutionary organization (Mephi).  Even as he smuggles his lover and her unborn child out of the city illegally, his mind shifts irrationally between his basic human instincts and his “love” for the United State.  One of the most impressive ways in which the author illustrates this is through the use of numbers: D-503, as a scientist/mathematician, thinks of everything in terms of numbers.  The spaceship he is building is called the Integral and thinks of unknowns as variables and love and death as functions.  What sets off his paranoia regarding his mental health is the concept of “imaginary numbers,” i.e. the square root of -1.  He knows such a number must exist, because all integers have square roots, but it is entirely unknown.  This is the first inkling he gets of “imagination.”  While these mathematical concepts aren’t exactly kosher to mathematicians, when thought of abstractly they are very artistic, and help to visualize Zamyatin’s idea that life cannot be made entirely rational, by any higher power.

I won’t give away the ending (though it is remarkably similar to 1984), but seeing it as a precursor to it’s more famous genre comrades gave a much more impressive light.  It certainly has it’s shortcomings (it breaks nearly all the writing rules I was taught in my PW classes), but as a pure work of art it is still one of the most important pieces of fiction of the twentieth century.

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Returning Soon…

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the Earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

UNIQUE PICTURE: Earth as seen from the outer S...

UNIQUE PICTURE: Earth as seen from the outer Solar System (Photo credit: Icarus Kuwait)

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What I’m Watching: FRINGE Season One

I have just become acquainted with the science-fiction television show Fringe, which is currently in its fifth and final season on Fox.  After watching the pilot episode, it seems to be exactly the type of science-fiction storytelling that I am interested in, so I want to share what I think of it.

Fringe deals with fringe science, scientific pursuits that are not real but are based on real scientific ideas, much like many ideas in hard science fiction.  The three primary characters of the show are Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Walter Bishop (John Noble), and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson).

In the pilot episode, Dunham’s FBI partner (Agent Scott) is exposed to a chemical which crystallizes his flesh and sends him into a coma.  Dunham recruits Dr. Bishop, a scientist living in a mental institution, to help her save him.  Dr. Bishop’s son Peter is needed to get him out of the institution, bringing the three characters together for the first time.  They send Dunham into drug-induced unconsciousness and syncs her brainwaves with her partners, letting her see into his memory and identify his attacker.  The chemicals are linked to a company called Massive Dynamic, founded by Dr. Bishop’s former lab partner.  Once Scott is cured using the information, Dunham discovers that Scott was involved with Massive Dynamic and these chemicals, but before she can get to him he kills his original attacker before he can give any more information away.  Scott is killed in a car accident in his attempt to get away from Dunham.  The competition between Dr. Bishop and the Fringe group and Massive Dynamic is an integral part of the series.

Once I have time to watch the rest of the first season I will post what I think.  Let me know your opinion on Fringe if you’re already a fan.

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G.I. JOE: RETALIATION Release Delayed

I had included G.I. JOE: RETALIATION in my list of Top Ten Science Fiction Films of 2012, based on the original release date of June 29.  Despite the first trailer being released with Super Bowl XLVI last February, Paramount announced that they would be pushing back the release until March 29, 2013.

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION

Based on reports, the primary two reasons were to add 3D and to reshoot scenes with Channing Tatum.  The producers have apparently written out Tatum’s character’s early death and had to reshoot scenes with Dwayne Johnson, because in test screenings their relationship was praised.

I agree with the decision to make that rewrite.  Keeping Tatum’s character would strengthen the connection between the first and second movies, as opposed to having two movies based on the same premise but with different characters/stars.  I think this will make this upcoming movie better, and to be honest, this franchise needs all the help it can get.  If this movie tanks like the first G.I. JOE film did, the franchise might be done.

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Reboot Coming 12/5/2012

The last six months have been extremely busy and I pretty much abandoned blogging altogether.   Now, however, since I am about to be done with classes, I plan on rebooting the blog over the break and onward.  Stay tuned for new posts, ideas, and news beginning December 5th.

What I’m Reading: Philip K. Dick’s THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

The Man in the High Castle, 2001 Penguin Class...

A few days ago I began reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.  The novel was written in 1962 in an alternate history centered around a Axis victory in World War II, the alternation beginning with the assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.  The novel centers around life in the former United States under the oppression of the Fascist states of Germany and Japan who have divided the North American continent between them.

While I am not very far into the book (and will not read the entire Wikipedia plot summary, to forgo spoilers) I do know that the interesting thing about The Man in the High Castle is Dick’s use of a book-inside-a-book, called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.  This novel is, like The Man in the High Castle, an alternate history inside Dick’s alternate history in which the Allied Powers won the war (albeit not exactly the same as true fact), defeating the Nazis and the Japanese.

Alternate history world map of Philip K. Dick'...

As soon as I finish the book I will put up a post of what I think, full of my own spoilers for those of you who don’t want to bother reading it yourselves.  You’re welcome.

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Top Science Fiction Films of 2012 #1: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Number One on my list of films (as well as many other people’s) for the remainder of 2012 is the final Christopher Nolan Batman film The Dark Knight Rises.  It only makes sense that this film would have an even greater level of anticipation than it’s predecessor in the series, The Dark Knight, which was especially fueled by the tragic saga of Heath Ledger, who overdosed on prescription drugs just a few months before the film’s theatrical release.  The film grossed just over $1 billion at the box office, which is the twelfth-highest mark of any film in worldwide sales to date.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Dark Knight Rises begins with Batman on the run from Gotham City Police after taking responsibility for the crimes of the late Harvey Dent to protect Dent’s reputation.  It is eight years later when Bruce Wayne/Batman returns to Gotham.  Now, the villains taking over the city are revealed to be Bane and Selina Kyle (Catwoman).

The film, directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer, returns Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, and Morgan Freeman as Lucious Fox.  Bane is played by Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle.  Secondary characters include Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, and Matthew Modine.  Many members of the Pittsburgh Steelers have cameo roles as the Gotham Rogues football team.  I would like to point out (as a side note) that this cast includes four (4) Oscar winners (Bale, Caine, Cotillard, and Freeman), an impressive feat for a big-budget action film.

One clue to at least a secondary plotline is the revelation that Liam Neeson has a cameo role, and while it is unclear whether it is in flashbacks or not, the importance to the plot remains.

English: Image of the Batwing filming in Pitts...

English: Image of the Batwing filming in Pittsburgh in the The Dark Knight Rises.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There has been some speculation among fans as to if Bruce Wayne will even survive this final film.  This theory comes about from a short conversation in the trailer between Batman and Selina Kyle:

Kyle: “You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.”

Wayne: “Not everything.  Not yet.”

Nolan was reluctant to return for this third film and killing off Batman would put an end to the series and alleviate any pressure on him to return for a fourth.  As well, Bale has said that this is his last film as Batman, and he is becoming typecast in the role, which is never good for an actor.  Nolan has said: “The key thing that makes the third film a great possibility for us is that we want to finish our story…rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story…Unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever…”  That sounds like not only the end for the story but the end of Bruce Wayne.

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