Sunday, May 7, 2017

Week 14: Satire & Science Fiction

For out last blog post I chose to revisit the infamous Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams by listening to the first installation of the Radio Show. This format, with its amazing voice actors and thourghly immersive sounds design, certainly adds a new dimensions to the experience last with just the text. Even though the Hitchhickers Guide Radio Show #1 was only 28 minutes and some change long it still manages to very obviously explore and criticize present day issues in this fictional context. One of the most relevant problems highlighted was corporate greed and corruption as witnessed by the obsessive need to build a bypass. When questioned even the workers didn't know why the bypass was so necessary but corporate had made it clear that it must be done (most like for efficiency and money) at any cost to the small town. The threat of being bulldozed over very clearly illustrates the prioritization of money and material expansion over human life. this can be witnessed in our society today in just about every industry. Examples include, but are not limited to, our extortive medical and pharmaceutical industries. Most notably in recent times the inflation of the Epi-pens to save people suffering from anaphylaxis. Our oil industry sabotaging the green energy movement and perpetuating global warming at an alarming rate for money despite having the green energy technology since the early 2000s. Even our fast food industry using meat fillers, addictive additives, and relying too heavily on processed corns to preying upon the lower socioeconomic circles, who can't afford better and healthier food causing obesity and other health problems that then shovel money back into big pharma.

Week 13: Literally Speculation

For this week I read the first story from Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics series about the evolution of the universe called  All at One Point. This work was particularly interesting because it personified all the elements of the big bang and expansion of the universe to create a character driven retelling of scientific fact. While undeniably science as well as undeniably fiction, (Ph(i)NK₀ is not in fact a wife kneading dough for noodles) I find it hard to confidently proclaim this as a work of the science fiction genre. True the short story does take place in space but it fails to meet any of the other genre markers such as; alternate time setting, aliens or mutants or even androids, futuristic tech, new science, new political systems like a dystopia, ESP, or even AUs. There is a little bit of suspension of disbelief and arguably some speculations but even then its missing enough genre markers that were you to market it a a science fiction genre piece people, coming into it with pretty concrete expectations, would most likely be confused or disappointed. That being said, it doesn't necessarily have the more serious speculative or even academic tone a lot of literary writing has seemed to embrace because, despite the rather science heavy subject matter, the personifications gives the words a whimsical flare. All at One Point certainly finds itself in a gray area that, in my opinion, leans a bit more towards the literary end of the spectrum.

Week 12: Diverse Position Science Fiction

The short story I read for week 12, investigating the diversification of science fiction as a genre, was I Live with You by Carol Emshwiller. This story was particularly interesting because its rather difficult for me to see where it actually falls into the science fiction genre. The writing is beautiful and the nuanced changes in language slowly transforming from the use of "I" to "We" to "You" as a reflection of how the main character views her relationship with Nora was extremely well done, however, the overall plot felt much more like a psychological thriller to me. The whole 'someone's hiding in your house without you knowing' seems like a rerun of a Criminal Minds episode as opposed to something like say Star Trek that is classic science fiction. (Though I could concede that the general eeriness of the idea could fit well something like the Twilight Zone.)

That being said, I do think it can be argued that it does pertain to the diverse position science fiction in a rather round about way. Nora's imposter and Nora are in completely different socio-economic spheres though the language used is equalizing and the imposter identifies with her so strongly that she blurs the line between their two selves almost completely in some parts of the text. It can be argued that this is some bastardized parody of the "we're all the same inside" line of thinking though it is a bit or a grasping at straws argument and less of a concrete lesson depicted in the text.

Week 11: Cyberpunk and Steampunk

For this week's reading about science fiction sub genres cyberpunk and steam punk I read the short story Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson. For an eleven page short story Gibson managed to pack a whole lot of world building into the story. The idea of trafficking important data encrypted in a storage system inside someones brain, the futuristic equivalent of cocaine balloons in the abdomen, is genius. In the future, and even now, data is knowledge and knowledge is power. Creating a high stakes transaction for all parties involved. Also, as a side note, though some may find it a bit heavy handed the fact that the main character, one such data trafficker, is named Mnemonic is a clever detail that makes me satisfied.

This short story is pretty classically cyberpunk, from the cybernetic body enhancements to the general seedy punk aesthetic, but perhaps the most stand out feature is the badass cyberpunk chick Molly who comes sweeping in out of nowhere with her scalpel nails and becomes Johnny's dynamic duo. She embodies the classic punk alpha female though on a personal level I found their first meeting a bit cliche. It is a bit hard for me to accept her decision to insert herself into the middle of this fight for no other reason than she "enjoys mystery." While the cryptic line is use many of the cyberpunk main ladies to make them seem mysterious, alluring, and in general an abnormal force of nature I still view it as a bit of a cop out to avoid having to write dynamic female characters.

Week 10: The Fiction of Ideas

For this week I read the short story,  "Repent, Harlequin" Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison. The story, true to the fiction of ideas movement, is certainly less about the adventure earlier science fiction works embraced and more about speculation and a dystopian future. Though it was written in a rather disjointed manner that, in my opinion, not even short stories can pull of with much success, the ten page short did bring up rather important ideas regarding our culture and how technology has been increasingly speeding life up and creating more order while removing any flexibility and individuality.
In this short story time is the most precious commodity and wasting even a minute or two of it results in punishments from the Ticktockman. The job of the Harlequin character was to expose the horrors of this reality and show the need for moderation. While punctuality and structure are not inherently bad, this is an extreme future that reminds us of the importance of balance and to slow down once in a while. Advice that is definitely still needed today, maybe even more so.

Week 9: Space Opera

The Star by Arthur C. Clarke is a short story that I read for this week's space opera lesson. While only four pages this introspective story offers up enough information for me to confidently agree with its space opera classification. The first and fore most criteria in this science fiction sub genre would be the fact that it is located in or pertaining to space. In this story a group of human explorers proceed to investigate a small nebula slowly expanding from a supernova star. The story doesn't shy away from exploring the more technical aspects of space and space travel associated with science fiction but also contains the melodrama necessary to be an Opera.

This operatic drama is provided in a rather unique way, using ideas like alien civilizations to examine and age old and forever relevant quandary of how can God allow bad things to happen if he exists. This story is told by a Father who finds himself questioning his own faith and unable to keep up that of the crew after discovering the last remnants of a beautiful civilization, much like humanity,  which had been slowly preparing for their mass extinction due to the degradation of their star. Whether fiction or reality, mass deaths like these always invoke the feeling of divine abandonment and leave humans wondering 'why?'.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Week 8: Contemporary Urban Fantasy

Prompt: How was myth reinvented within the context of the story you read for this wee? In what ways were the myth made relevant to the contemporary world?

For this week, while we did have recommended reading, the general rule of thumb was anything by Neil Gaiman's was a prime example for Contemporary Urban Fantasy. Keeping that in mind the book I chose to read for this week was one of Neil Gaiman's children's fantasy novels called The Graveyard Book. This contemporary urban fantasy about a lost boy on the run being adopted by creatures can be hailed all the way back to Romulus and Remus though maybe a bit of a better fit is The Jungle Book. Bod is hunted by Jack just like Mowgli is hunted by Shere Khan, both boys are raise and protected by various ghosts or animals until a the end fight and victory. But sadly both Bod and Mowgli have to leave the graveyard and jungle and return home in the end.