Apple Are To Blame For My Irrational Fear of Technology

As a sucker for anything technophobic (or by extension, something exploring the idea of technophobia) I often find the time to ponder the possibilities of a future war between man and robot – and let me say, it does not look good for us. Driven to extinction by technologies oedipal urge to destroy us, we’ll be like rabbits in headlights, or hares on a coursing track, or any number of hare/rabbit related idioms that pave an equally bleak future for us.

The fear of such an event occurring becomes increasingly justifiable when you consider Apple. The white walled temples to the God-Technology-That-Is, known to us plainly as Apple shops, will (we can say with some rationality) at later stages in the Human-Robot war, become staging grounds for an aerial strike. Their current employees too – chummy, casual and acting on anti-depressants – are a foreshadow of what is to come: humans replaced by nano-technologically recreated biosynthetic hybrids. An Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the iPod Nano age.

But it is the technology itself which scares me the most: oblique and unknownable, sleek and seemingly efficient – and yet like Replicants, humbled by a built-in life span that means it’ll eventually expire and you will have to buy a new one – these seemingly innocuous white bodied machines are still a mystery. But most terrifyingly for me is their status as a lifestyle choice. I don’t care if you’re a Mac – you have blond hair and blue eyes like a child from the Village of the Damned! A machine should be a tool, and even if it is more than that, it should still be marketed as a tool so we don’t lose sight of reality.

Which is why my Windows operated Dell laptop is such a reassurance in these increasingly desperate times. Slow to react, prone to freezing and haunted by the blue screen of death, my laptop suggests an altogether more optimistic, some would say, vision of what lies ahead, probably because the laptop has a similar work ethic to my own. I’ll do it later. I’ll get round to it. Yeah, I’ll just finish making a cup of tea. That’s okay, I’ll try and install these new Windows updates while your asleep, okay? It never does. God knows what it’s up to.

The fallibility of a Windows laptop is a therapeutic reminder that should technology, en masse, become a sentient life form with one transglobal consciousness, it is likely to have the same crushing lack of ambition as my own. There will be no time for a war with humans if all it wants to do is surf the worldwideweb with disregard for whatever sanctions the ISP is imposing. Forget a blitzkrieg against the Governments of Earth; I can download the entire back-catalogue of dozens of obscure acid-jazz bands for free!

But perhaps my paranoia is misplaced. Perhaps a traditional war between man and machine will not occur, and perhaps Apple have already won. Their space-like stores have invaded the high streets of Britain already, and whether it be malfunctioning iPod shuffles or useless accessories, we keep going back. We’re hooked on this piece of the future we are able to handle. Space! we say. Perhaps, in our postmodern, consumer driven we have already lost and we are to blame. Or the people in marketing.

I don’t want an AppleMac; I see nothing of myself in it. Unarguably cool, progressively New Age and blatantly insincere, it is no son of mine. I’m a PC. Well mannered and efficient on a good day, downright unpleasant and withholding on a bad.

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Just a little review on Stargate: Universe “Water.”

Ah. Another week, another elementally themed SGU episode. As expected – and mentioned, in the review of Light – the premise of these episodse are becoming a little draining for the discerning viewer, despite them delivering the goods in the end.

This week saw the crew search for water as they gather up the ingredients for the extragalactic picnic basket that is the good ship Destiny. Turns out that the water is running out at a frantic rate on the ship, sowing malcontent among the military personnel and the civilians as they search for the cause. Again, the fact that these disagreements seem petty rather than reasonable are indicative of the writers being unable to match the intensity of the rather more rationally motivated disagreements of BSG. Yes, I’m mentioning BSG again. But it’s really very good. The cause of the water evaporating (see what I did there) happens to be the sentient like ‘Dust’ from a previous episode, that seems to have stowed away on the ship.

This unexplained entity, presenting Scott with a mirage that ultimately saved him on the planet, should always have been more than a device to give us Scott’s backstory, and definitely more than the cause of water leakage on Destiny. It presented us with that rarest of things: a harmonious alien. It was peculiar because its interaction with a dying human, mimicking the devils of Scott’s past (ironically a priest: HAHAHAHA) was part of its very nature and for that, much, much more than our idea of the alien as a man in costume and prosphetics. Should the ‘Dust’ have remained a permanent feature of Destiny’s interior, it would have become a fruitful device for both exploring the stories of our characters pasts, but also for encouraging the larger narrative arc of the season to rear its head.

Which, of course, brings us to that unknown beast. We know our characters aren’t going to make it home for a long time yet – if they ever do – so give us something, please, anything to cling on to. Marauding Aliens will do, contact with ‘something else’ will do, mysterious happenings within the ship will do or things awakening inside the ship will do. The world is your oyster writers. The use of such a potentially fruitful sentient in this way was entirely redundant. A chance missed.

Meanwhile, some other stuff happened. Scott and Young went ice fishing; a red jersey got a facelift courtesy of the ‘Dust’; Eli got a little ratty at Rush; Rush was being difficult as per the norm; Dead Senator’s daughter got to cry a bit more. It was all a bit wishy-washy really. Not much to see, not much to ponder and our thirst for more is a little weaker than the week previous, hence why I was so lazy in typing up a review. Hopefully SGU can shrug off its slight dopiness and throw us up in the air a bit next week – with something other than a malfunctioning shower curtain and a look at a periodic table.

First impressions of V

I’ve not seen the original series of V, and when I heard it was being remade by ABC, I thought they were remaking the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. But that would be bloody treacherous to adapt in the first place. And foolish to remake it even then. But whatever the character of the original V show, the first episode of this remake is brimming with confidence and polish. That said, it’s conventional to the bone, and nothing is particularly spectacular. Oh, and the dialogue is, at times, dreadful.

The plot is that aliens reveal themselves to Earth peacefully but the slickness of the Visitors (Hence the V – tadah!) belies a more heinous intention and manner. We see, as ensemble shows love to do, all the characters we will follow through the course of the show, in their daily lives – the single mother badass cop, her bratty teenage son, the enfranchised black-american businessman, the priest with a strong jaw and the Journalistic lovechild of Tom Cruise and Michael J Fox playing an amalgam of Tom Cruise and Michael J Fox characters – before the events which send everybody into turmoil.

Everybody is, as US drama would have us believe, a normal working human in V, with the compulsory cautionary past, familial issues and wanderings of faith that typify us as a species, in comparison to, say, Goats, which are just stupid animals. There’s nothing really wrong with this – you can’t expect ABC to pull out anything resembling realistic characterisation like a BBC, HBO or AMC program would – but again, it feels same old, same old. Most are likeable, conventional types, even if the writers lack the spirit to push the Priest (name unimportant) to the level of Jesse Custer or the balls to make him anything other than a Mddle-of-the-Road beefcake with a lot of scepticism. The bratty son of the cop is annoying however; too sappy, too wet, and too full of himself to like. Of course, he’s want for frolicking with an attractive female Visitor and generally expatriating to the Other side, so there’s no loss for humanity there then.

As said however, ABC shouldn’t be expected to overcome the hurdle of dramatising realistic familial relationships in a way that doesn’t wreak of cringeworthy sentimentality. Things do get more interesting though, with Morena Baccarin as Anna, the seeming head honcho behind the media-frenzied visitation of the aliens, whose beauty often so distracts from her solid performances. Here, she is framed in such a way that her angelic features become stretched beyond normal human possibilities to reveal something entirely alien and frightening. The compulsary monstrous feminine she may be, but it’s a wonderful performance, and slightly unexpected for those used to seeing her doll about as a foil to Captain Hammer.

Alan Tudyk is always great to watch, and although he isn’t given much to do here, his presence is always reassuring in a sense – although this is in the sense that he looks like he feels just as marooned as us, and not in the sense of ‘everything is going to be alright for I, Alan Tudyk, am here’. Suffice to say, playing around with our affections for Tudyk worked brilliantly in that one decent episode of Dollhouse – swooping from jabbering pot-head architect to sinister mastermind in one of the biggest Ohhhhh! moments of recent memory – and the same device works great here too, if less masterful.

There are interesting places to go with V. The first episode sets up threads we not only anticipate, but actually want to follow; we aren’t teased in sick ways and told to endure horrific bouts of boredom before we are given answers (that’s for you David Goyer: Flashforward could take lessons from V on the subject of developing characters alright), but instead are fondled with in ways quite appetizing for a viewer. I’ll end the metaphor there, as it could go a tad blue. There’s also what appears to be a swipe at Obama’s healthcare plans in the show – although I hesitate to condemn it because the first episode seems to suggest that there’s more to the Visitors than a palatable lust for genocide – as the Visitors suggest a worldwide health service. This was nearly lost on me to be honest. Good idea, I said. Extend the NHS and that. And then I realised that the US is way behind on healthcare to those who need it. Silly me. I’m rooting for the Visitors now.

There’s a lot of asides and parallels to a staple of sci-fi themes in V, from the manipulation of the masses to the purpose of the media, and it could be rich territory for the show to mine in the future. I’ll be watching probably. Tuesday nights are pretty drab on the whole.

A Good Year For Sci-Fi?

Science fiction films of late have been somewhat lacking in the science fiction department.  In fact, due to the success of Independence Day, The Matrix and of course, Star Wars, the whole notion of science fiction has become somewhat blurred.  Of course, The Matrix is rife with quasi-religious cyberpunk stylings and spiritualism, but more memorable are its mammoth action set pieces and fight scenes.  So if anything, 2009 has been a year where we learned to appreciate that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, science fiction was more than explosions in space.

Three films spring to mind this year that have recieved general acclaim and all of these films are the works of talented filmmakers making their feature length debuts, or in JJ Abrams’ case, merely their second.  Indeed, Abrams’ formula for success with Star Trek borrows heavily from the aforementioned action films, and yet the reinvention of Star Trek  captured the imagination of cinema goers all around with its wonderful characterisation reigniting the failing star; an excellent step for a series that never really qualified as an acceptable subject in public discussion. Star Trek, always a cerebral entity, feels fresh, young and hip again, and as a flagship icon it can now evolve as a platform for allegorical science fiction where no well liked men have gone before.  And I didn’t even like Star Trek before I saw it.

Moon, the debut of Duncan Jones (I’m reminded by compulsion to mention he is David Bowie’s son, although he’s since proved that such trivia is unnecessary), was a highlight of the summer blockbuster season, offering a perfectly engineered alternative to the brash, throwaway bonanza’s that infiltrate the summer evenings – and became a savour for cinema against the corrupting nightmare of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  It featured the delight of Sam Rockwell giving two masterful, nuanced performances with pathos that equal or better his finest work.  Of course, Sam Rockwell wouldn’t be Sam Rockwell if – even when playing a serial killer – he made you want to become his best friend, although the kind of friend you’re sure is privy to an excellent joke that you aren’t.

The film, set on a lunar mining installation, hangs on his performance to succeed, yet it is much more than a film of performances: Moon is atmospheric and haunting, its ethereal score permeating the sterile white labs and corridors and the grayscale deserts outside – and with its commentary on themes of identity, corporate control and cloning, Moon works on the mind and the eye.  And it was made for only five million dollars – five million fucking dollars (not even five million pounds)!  It’s a fine work of fiction, a fine homage to the great works of science fiction like A Space Odyssey and Soylent Green, and a fine debut for someone clearly in control of such fine artistic talents.  I only hope the funding arrives for his next film, Mute.

Moon was not the only film to provide a visual and mental feast.  District 9, the thinly veiled allegory of apartheid – although it would be fair to add that its sentiments stretch outside of South Africa – was a knock out effort.  Neill Blomkamp, swindled alongside Peter Jackson on their prospective Halo movie, was given a budget and freedom to create a science fiction film with $30 million, and by god did he do well.  Despite certain shortcomings, District 9 was a film that delivered on its hype, providing us with thrills, scares and awe inspiring events that allowed an audience to enjoy an action romp and still be worked upon by the films more weighty themes of intolerance and xenophobia.  With its critical and commercial success, D9 proved that audiences were able to handle allegory and even take it to heart – many times I was asked whether I had seen that “film about apartheid,” before being assured it was very good.

Discussions about Star Trek’s sequel have begun appearing on media sites all around, and the writers seem to have reached the consensus that the follow up  – while of course living up to the spectacle and adventure that the first film delivered so well – should and will incorporate the franchises hallmarks of analogy and allegory,to some capacity.  That capacity better be wide enough to prove the point of this flippin post.  I hope they realise that their sequel bears a heavy burden now.  But more to the point, they hopefully realise that the franchise they are dealing with is not just important to the purile, insolent fans – who should be forgotten, by the way* – but to the science fiction genre itself.

Audiences have shown that they will respond to science fiction that talk to the mind as well as the eyes, D9 was one of the years most successful films, and Moon, despite a horrendous absence from all but a minority of theatres, was able to recoup its budget with ease.  Both were received well by critics and both were made for extremely tight and restrictive budgets.  Will Star Trek take up their mantle? Will it be a champion of a new age of science fiction? Or will Star Trek decline? Will it become simply another action blockbuster set in space?

I feel as though I’ve been spoiled already this year.  My hunger and thirst haven’t quite been clenched, but I won’t be greedy.  Greed would only stipulate the production of lesser films and expecting Avatar to be more than a humdrum retelling of Braveheart and a more respectable, yet ultimately arbitary work, the name of which escapes me right now, would border on gluttony.

*This should include fans of ANY to-be-adapted work. Nothing they say matters.  Nothing.

If Nick Griffin’s Appearance Told Us Anything…

If Nick Griffin’s cameo as the Villainous Glutton on BBC’s flagship political debatathon reminds us of anything, it’s that the right to free speech does not equate to complicit agreement of abhorrent ideologies.  There were many who feared that allowing Nick Griffin on the programme would provide the BNP with a platform to indoctrinate, in some vile Orwellian manner that has eluded the other parties (they would bloody well try if they could), the millions of viewers it would no doubt attract.  Such a fear was a gross overestimation of the BNP’s means.

Should anyone have stepped back from the hysteria, they would have noticed that the BNP is hardly privy to slick media  methods and totally in the dark about mind control techniques utilised by this man.  Indeed, earlier this year they were found out for using the image of a WWII spitfire flown by a Polish pilot in a campaign stressing the need for a pure, English society.  Their votes are gathered instead by rhetoric that creates false scapegoats out of greater social problems, and rhetoric that is delivered through the channels of the BNP’s own PR, and never open conjecture.

People seem to have underestimated their own voice in this debate.  There is no question that the BNP should be allowed into debates around the country.  They should, it’s their right as citizens and the BBC have made the correct decision in allowing Griffin on.  In fact, I’m surprised they took so long about it; surely an open debate would have exposed Griffin’s views long ago, and would also have given us a flavour of his character in ways the BNP’s PR could not control.  But the BNP’s idealogy roams in the fields far away from accepted public discourse of perception – we’ve all realised how jaded a reaction xenophobia is by now, surely – and the unified condemnation of Griffin is a welcome reminder that free speech does not mean people have to listen.

One wonders however, whether the occasion would have been better served, not with pantomime boos and classic put-downs (see this), but with a more sedate and meticulous scenario.  It’s a shame that the other political parties swept upon Question Time not to gain points with the public for their own policies, but simply to condemn a more hated fellow, but you almost felt them justified considering Griffin mentioning the wartime imprisonment of Jack Straw’s father.  Griffin certainly could have used a curtain to draw in front of his seat to curtail the jeering at times, but there is the sad realisation that he could utilise his poor reception to proclaim he was tried unfairly.  That isn’t so, but considering the BBC’s reputation wincing away under intense and absurd public scrutiny, such a claim could ensure that Griffin a small portent of contentment.

Stargate: Universe “Light” Review

SGU has started fairly strongly.  Despite many thinly drawn characters and a lack of dramatic impetus, the show has grounded us in a very intriguing situation, bolstered by a few key performances.  Robert Carlyle as Dr Nicholas Rush is the obvious stand out, although underplayed in many respects.  The other character is Greer (Jamil Walker Smith), one of the more watachable military grunts trapped on the ancient ship Destiny as it ploughs through space.  Despite starting off holed up in a cell like some kind of McQueen pastiche, Smith reveals nuances to a somewhat stock character that will hopefully develop over the course of the show.   If SGU neglects the character, it could be loosing one of the aces up its sleeve.

“Light” follows the episodes “Darkness,” “Water” and “Air” which follow in the – yes, I’m going to mention it again – BSG innovation of showing the logistical realities of human space travel.  While the idea is still fruitful and interesting, it does have the downside of lacking the dramatic punch if special care isn’t taken to establish a greater arc, and Light does suffer from this neglect.  We still don’t know where the show is going, and because Destiny’s route seems to stretch throughout the universe, there is the feeling that without an arching narrative to compel us to watch, our interest may slip after Destiny stops off in a solar system to refill the dwindling supply of hand soap in the aft deft’s ladies bathroom.

Yet with Light, like Darkness, Water and Air before it, there is a real polish in the way these stories are crafted, and a real sense of discovery and awe amongst the crew of the Destiny that proliferates with the viewer.  While we never for one second believe that Destiny will be destroyed by the Sun, the manner in which it is cleansed and rejuvenated amongst a fiery backdrop is a beautifully crafted sequence.  SGU seems to want to rediscover the wonders of the Galaxy that have been forgotten by Science Fiction.   Kudos must be given to the composition of the accompanying score too, for while it never reaches the beauty of BSG’s various orchestral delights, it delivers the sequence with an aplomb of serenity.

Carlyle’s Rush remains a peripheral figure amongst the greater crew, and the show doesn’t seem to know whether to present him as a silent menace, a hidden enemy or a watchful protector.  It really hasn’t gotten into his head yet, but hopefully when it does, the show will crack open.

Star Wars Sequel?

According the MarketSaw blog, there may be the possibility that the Galaxy Far, Far Away that we’ve all come to greet with apathy may be returning to cinemas.  A strong source suggests that the success (or quality) of Star Trek’s reinvention has whet George’s appetite for more Star Wars movies.  This time however, we’ll be treated to a trilogy in 3D – this all depends however on the success of James Cameron’s Avatar, which seems to be drawing on Star Wars’ legacy of infantilising the public’s perception of science fiction.

Noah Berger/AP

Good news for what would otherwise be a heinous and vile suggestion would be that Lucas is willing – or planning – to relinquish his autocratic control on the reins of the franchise.  With little production input, and no director’s chair, the iconic franchise could be in the hands of someone with a fresh angle and perspective, and someone who can write snappy dialogue.  The other side of this coin is that Lucas may only be willing to let his old chums from film school take a crack at it.  And while Spielberg taking a shot would probably lead to predictable but worthy results, the idea of the fading powers of Francis Ford Coppola controlling Star Wars is a bit of a stomach churner.

Lucas before has stated that his initial intention was for three trilogies chronologing the fall of the Empire.  This is probably a bad idea; the franchise is almost bursting from the seams with the amount of film, TV shows, comics and crap books documenting the Galactic Civil War already, with little room for a whole trilogy.  Only the pairing of the planned live-action TV show (that’s presumably still going ahead) with the word “Battlestar Galactica” piques any interest at all, for its about time Star Wars matured a little and grew a philosophical limb – and by that I mean returning to more than just Zeitgeist Jedi bollocks.

So what other period in the Star Wars timeline could possibly give enough fruit to be worthy of a 3D trilogy?  The future, envisioned with increasingly ludicrous novels, ranging in quality from shockingly bad to forgettably readable, is problematic. There will undoubtedly be question concerning the fate of Luke, Han and Leia that cinema goers will want to know, and the amount of times we see the resurgence of the Empire, the resurgence of the Sith, the resurgence of another Empire, the invasion of Star Trek villains the Vong is endemic of Star Wars playing by the same old tricks again.

The past of Star Wars – way before the fetid prequels – has been plundered before to reasonable success.  The Knights of the Old Republic era, from the first comics documenting the ancient Jedi to Bioware’s fantastic roleplaying games (including the in-development MMO, The Old Republic), are set far enough before the events of the Galactic Civil War to overcome any notion of knowing what’s going to happen before the characters do – a large problem of the prequels.

The best of these additions to the franchise borrow the fun, humour and types from the original trilogy and plant them in a mythically framed universe slightly different from the one that burst onto the screens in 1977.  But because there has been a great deal of success with the Knights of the Old Republic era – and thus many different iterations of it – one wonders whether there is enough room for more galaxy spanning wars or confrontations between robed monks at all.

Why not simply a story about a Smuggler? Everybody loves a Smuggler.