Diverse Position Science Fiction

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For this week, I read Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild with the rest of the class and I found it to be quite interesting and a bit weird. Octavia Butler really changes the game with this work and shows us a different kind of future where it’s the men (like seahorses) who are bearing nonhuman children- not just how advanced technology has become. Sometimes just hearing about technology can become a bit boring. Our class discussion was similar to an in-class experiment due to the nature of men bearing children because some of the guys seemed appalled and uncomfortable talking about it. They just couldn’t wrap their heads around it. Octavia Butler addresses love, gender roles, stereotypes, and even though she may not have meant to- slavery came up in the class discussion for a reason. Humans/Terrans are at the Tlic’s personal and physical mercy and kept on preserves, which has many direct ties to slavery and politics. However, it’s not about slavery, it’s about symbiosis. The aliens, Tlic, lay their eggs inside the human men because they are good carriers. Human women are not being used for this process because they are used to reproduce humans, not Tlic. It was a really odd story, a giant, alien insect loving a human and carefully placing their eggs inside a man. We are so accustomed to aliens wanting to kill us, like how the Tlic and humans/Terrans used to be at war. Gan, one of the main characters, sees some humans/Terrans being killed by the Tlic and becomes terrified. I didn’t feel like there was much resolution in this story. We were all kind of left sitting there like…. what just happened?

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I had never seen Attack the Block (2012) before and it was on the fence for me until it started making me laugh. The way humor is incorporated is a real game changer, because it still had me jumping. Some parts of the movie are really suspenseful and there was a moment where I felt like I levitated out of my seat in class because of a scene. The basic plot is that London-based gang of adolescent boys and a young woman attempt to protect their community from an alien invasion. The alliance between them in unlikely, especially after they terrorize her on the street and mug her. When something falls from the sky the boys are distracted and she is able to escape. She is terrified of them until they all realize that they need each other for one reason or another. Of course the gang goes to see what it was and kill the creature so they can make some money off of it. Eventually larger, more dangerous aliens fall from the sky and begin attacking the community. Their mouths glow an electric turquoise color and their bodies are deep black. Cops and gangsters are at war with the aliens, making quite a mess. I was pleased that it didn’t end with an unnecessary love scene, like most action movies. The movie does a great job of talking about marginal social issues, the future and possibilities, while still making us laugh and jump.

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Cyberpunk and Steampunk

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I enjoy the analog nature of the Steampunk genre and have a lot of friends who do as well. Steampunk is a sub-genre/derivative of Cyberpunk. Steampunk is not only a genre but has become so popular within certain circles that it even has it’s own code of lifestyle: fashion, music, decoration, craftmanship, etc. It is not so much concerned with computer-based settings, but is still a distinct relative of Cyberpunk. It’s dark, retro, and nostalgic, blending the past and future. Steampunk is more industrial, although Victorian-inspired, with steam-based technology, hence the name. It has been said that Steampunk is more of an aesthetic-genre whereas Cyberpunk is a concept-genre. In class we discussed the similarities and differences between these genres, pointing out the fact that there were generally megacorporations involved. Cyberpunk is generally a mix between high-tech and lowlife, like Blade Runner (1982). Blade Runner is a also a good example where the megacorporation controls the world, and the human replicants are being hunted. The Matrix is an example of hackers in a virtual cityscape, clearly representing the high-tech life. I like both genres but prefer the element of surprise with Steampunk. It takes current or future technology and combines it with the charm of an antique. Steampunk society generally deals with low-tech and high morals.

We began watching Blade Runner in class so I really wanted to finish it when I got home. It is definitely a Cyberpunk film, where man has developed technology to create replicants (human clones) used to serve in the colonies outside Earth. They have fixed life spans. Dickered is a Blade Runner, cop who specializes in terminating replicants. The film begins with him going into retirement. There are four replicants on the loose and he decides to go back to work. In a cyberpunk vision of the future, man has developed the technology to create replicants, human clones used to serve in the colonies outside Earth but with fixed lifespans. In Los Angeles, 2019, Deckard is a Blade Runner, a cop who specializes in terminating replicants. Originally in retirement, he is forced to re-enter the force when four replicants escape from an off-world colony to Earth.

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Fiction of Ideas

Accelerando is a very complicated piece of work, at least it is for me. It is packed with details to the point where I begin to get lost in the actual story. Perhaps the complex style of writing in combination with the title, which means “speeding up,” represents more than what meets the eye. The material is described in such an advanced technological way that I have to reread it several times to digest it; the technological singularity is overwhelming. Humanity is literally speeding up, becoming posthuman. Many of the characters are nonhuman, which makes it difficult to understand their social structure. The story follows a character named Manfred Macx, his daughter, Amber, and later her son, Sirhan, through three stages of the technological singularity, which I find interesting because it’s basically three generations of experience of one event. This was the most difficult of all genres for me to dive into. I wasn’t a fan of the movies either. This is definitely a story for those who can’t wait to upload themselves to a server and live in a super-techie world. It doesn’t seem to be a happy ending, how could it really? How much is too much? How far will technology go to impact the economy? I suppose I’m a firm believer in “everything in moderation.”

Science Fiction Parody and Satire

I’m listening to “I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus” and my dogs are going crazy, hearing the howling noises, squeaks and people singing. It’s a nice added touch, ha.

“The future is fun! The future is fair! You may have already won! .. You may already be there!”

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This audio piece is incredibly disorienting for me because it’s so overwhelming, obscure and multi-layered. It was difficult for me to appreciate but nevertheless I stayed with it until the end. It’s very political, using former President Richard Nixon’s voice (or similar), which ends up shutting down the computer because it can’t answer Clem’s questions. An overlay of voices (bozos) begin addressing “The President” and when he is asked about “Dr. Memory” he begins stuttering and rambling, unable to string together a sentence or phrase without the words scattering like a broken necklace, falling apart piece by piece. The robot voices begin taking over, talking about defying gravity and taking advantage of the future. When I read a review about this audio piece someone had stated that Clem’s character is one of the first “computer hackers” mentioned in pop culture, which I found rather fascinating. I thought back to when this was made, 1971, a few years after William Mathews from MIT found a vulnerability running on an IBM 7094. Hackers weren’t widely known of. Today, hackers are stealing hundreds of millions of dollars, identities, passwords, and other confidential information. That certainly didn’t take long– which brings me to my next point– that was only 43 years ago! The audio piece really made me think about the future of science, politics, and pop culture. I enjoyed the humor in certain parts (ex: around 15:00 when the narrator is reading something and keeps making errors, ex: tit, oops opps that’s a “p”..tip).

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I decided to try a few audio clips from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” while I cooked dinner. I found these clips much more accessible (for me). Humanity-related humor in a British accent.. perfect. To explain the image above (“Don’t panic and carry a towel”)- it simply means that if you have your towel, you are in control. Basically, if you can struggle and endure the rocky road across the galaxy on your own, still in possession of your towel- you are in control.

“Do you really think the world is going to end?”

“Yes. In 1 minute and 35 seconds.”

“Is there anything we can do?

“No, nothing.”

“What if we put a paper bag over our heads or something?”

“If you’d like, yes.”

“Oh, will that help?”

“No.”

Mythic Fiction

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I have always loved Coraline for the ‘life lessons’ that happen to be packed into the parallel-reality adventure. I’ve been really crunched for time due to personal family troubles, so I had to opt out of Ananzi Boys but I plan on reading it over Thanksgiving break. So, Coraline it is! I always find something new in it every time I read it or watch it. Coraline is a young girl who moves with her parents to an old house with very quirky neighbors. She feels entirely neglected from her parents and finds herself and her imagination on these little adventures, exploring and fantasizing. “Be careful what you wish for” is a huge message in this story. The house has it’s own secrets, luring Coraline into an idealized world where her “perfect parents” have buttons for eyes and let her do as she pleases. The games never end and her imagination never settles. Caroline truly loves her family, despite their flaws and faults but she isn’t aware of that affection until she’s about to lose them. When her fake parents try to trick her into staying in this alternate world, asking her to sew in her own button eyes, she realizes who she would rather be with. She always dreamed of finding a better, more exciting world but once her “Other Mother” kidnaps her real parents she knows it’s too good to be true. Coraline saves her parents and the three ghost children from the “Other World.” When she escapes, she slams her fake mother’s hand in the door. Her parents have no memory of the events but Coraline is warned that the “Other Mother” is still after her for the key to open the door between the two worlds. She tricks the “Other Mother’s” severed hand and it falls down a well. The book and movie are pretty close to being in tune with each other, although in the animated film Coraline has blue hair and the character, Wybie is added. I can relate to this story because I was once a teenager and wanted a different family. I ended up leaving home when I was only 16 and moved across the country. I supported myself and graduated high school but never fully understood or appreciated certain aspects of my family until they were out of my everyday life. Today my mother is my best friend and my latest photography projects revolves around trying to heal the relationship with my brother (www.kathryneharrison.com, if you’d like to look). Coraline is every teenager or young person struggling with their own identity, feeling out of place and wanting attention- someone to be there and want them. The simple desire to be wanted but not realizing that you already are. Like Coraline, I had to untangle myself from the web of confusion about what I truly wanted and needed in order to fight for it.

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Literary Speculation

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The most obvious symbols I found in the story relate to rites of passage, the differences between generations, stereotyping, personal transformation/self-realization, life lessons, and a few philosophical metaphors (ex: “But don’t you know it’s always better to hunt on the bottom and not on the surface?..”) Sometimes I have a hard time getting into stories and always searching for some other meaning behind what is written or the story being told. In the example I just listed, I was reading and immediately stopped in thought. To me it relates to searching within yourself and not attaching oneself too much to the surface or material world. In the story the great-uncle is answering a question that he has no idea about due to his position of being a fish while the main character is on land and hunts on shore. The great-uncle is always arguing that living the ancient and aquatic life he does is far superior. He rejects change.

I connected with this story in several ways, from fearing my significant other would judge me based off my family or heritage, to how I want to live my life and knowing what I want. I’m not an aquatic creature or have paws so I had to take those out of the equation. “I went on my way, in the midst of the world’s transformations, I transformed myself.” Perhaps I’m finding these connections due to my own baggage of being in my mid-twenties and let’s face it, almost everything is subjective. I am seeing what I am expecting, seeking a connection. This quote in the story really hit home for me because we are always in a state of flux, of evolution- physically, mentally, emotionally. The world doesn’t stop spinning because we don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, or because our fiancee ran off with our great-fish-uncle in the lagoon. The main character seems to be “ok” about the love of his life leaving him and not so worried about what to do now even though he didn’t want to introduce her to him because of a social class issue (her family was more evolved, more sophisticated). Talk about a backfire- she wanted to learn how to breathe underwater and bring more fish into the world.

I could definitely see this story being an animation or adapted into a trailer-length-film or short film and adapt the characters to actual people, like of like the Once Upon a Time television series.

When it comes down to writing for a genre, I would think that it’s possible to incorporate several elements, similar to how all of these subgenres are emerging. I think it should be free to open up the mind to new avenues, even if I have a hard time understanding. Sometimes I feel like we are running out of material and stories to tell because everything has been done so far. Sometimes a new spin or twist on a story will come around and we are begging for more. Deciding what goes where in the genre world these days can be quite complicated, I’m sure. We have come to accept that certain elements will automatically define a genre and that’s where I see trouble. We expect what we get, forgetting what we are experiencing through the work.

 

Space Opera

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Space Opera is definitely one of those genres that I didn’t know much about before this class. My entire immediate family is obsessed with films and books in this category of entertainment, which is perhaps why I avoided it. It never really seemed believable to me and I couldn’t let go of trying to understand how any of it was possible, from spaceships and super-advanced technology, to robots and aliens- I wanted proof. But of course I had no trouble believing in fairytales or princesses, or even animals that could talk. To be honest I’m not sure what kept me away from this genre all my life, but now that I’m required to investigate it I have found a way to break to down- romance and adventure in outer space. Having never watched any of the Star Wars or Star Trek series, I decided  to indulge. My mom was terribly obsessed with Star Trek and I just remember how many times I would wander into the living room or her bedroom to cuddle up and watch a movie with her and I would have to leave because it was always on! Ha.. So, I gave Star Wars (the original from 1977) a chance and this is what I think…

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Luke Skywalker is the protagonist and if he and his uncle never bought the escaped/missing droids R2D2 and C3P0 the story would never have escalated or began. Once those droids were in possession,  the plot evolves, the tension heightens and the characters begin to develop. The droid R2D2 escapes in search of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is when Luke saves the droids and actually meets his mentor. Then his aunt and uncle, the people who have raised him and looked after him, were killed. This heartbreak threw Luke into a rage to destroy the Death Star and return the droids to Princess Leia, although they are not aware that she is being held prisoner. At first Luke didn’t want to get involved in any adventure because he feared the wrath of his uncle and wanted to obey, but once he and his aunt were killed and home destroyed, Luke became engaged. He had stumbled upon viewing Princess Leia in a virtual file stored in R2D2. His desire to destroy the Empire grows and he wants to leave the planet. He battles forces and droids but eventually leaves in charter, guided by Han Solo, finding out that the rebel headquarters they were going to has been blown up. They are brought on board the Death Star and form a plan to rescue Princess Leia and give the information to the rebel forces.

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Luke counts on Obi-Wan Kenobi to mentor him and guide him through this quest, but when Obi-Wan battles Darth Vader he is killed. There is a huge, epic space battle and eventually rescue the Princess and escape. They arrive at the rebel base and deliver the information. Luke and his flaky friend Han Solo drop a bomb on the air conditioning duct which blows up the Death Star. Boom. Mission accomplished.

The main conflict I see in this is between a good force and an evil force. Even when you’re stuck between making a tough decision and an easy choice (doing something right or wrong), it’s best to sacrifice and be honest. Truth and loyalty always prevail, and we aren’t given clear, direct paths in life. Sometimes we have to untangle the pieces to the puzzle to figure out what is the answer to sticky situations and in return we become more grateful for the journey we encountered and endured.