Gattaca

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With all the neo-noir SF thinkpiece this image implies.

Lachlan Atcliffe is fond of saying “the golden age of science fiction is fourteen.” Whatever you were reading, watching, doing at fourteen, that is the high point of the genre, and everything since has been a terrible slide into mediocrity. With that said, there is a certain breed of SF film that always makes me feel fourteen.

For me, it chronologically starts with The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, hits its stride at Blade Runner, and meanders past Dark City, Twelve Monkeys, The Matrix, Primer and The Man From Earth to reach new heights in the likes of Gravity, Her, and even Interstellar. These movies, as a “radial type,” are directly influenced by if not adapted from literary science fiction, are Spartan and theatrical in their writing, and distill speculative fiction into its most purified essence: telling a human story in a way that can only work with the science fiction in.

And, for me, the most perfect, the most archetypal, of these movies is Gattaca.

Gattaca is a 1997 Ethan Hawke vehicle, but don’t let that throw you. It’s the story of Vincent Freeman, a “faithbirth” or “in-Valid” conceived in the back of a Ford Riviera instead of in a controlled laboratory environment. In his world, it doesn’t matter where people are born, only how, and he was born wrong. His parents fear for his life when the nurse in the delivery room announces he has a 99% chance of a heart defect that will kill him before age thirty, in addition to myopia and the possibility of developing ADHD. His bosses tell him that, despite his encyclopedic knowledge of orbital mechanics and prime physical health, the only way he’ll see the inside of a rocket is by cleaning it. His younger brother, who was conceived in the lab (and with the specified hair and eye colors to prove it), tells him that he’ll never be as tall, as strong, as smart as he is.

Having set up the rules of Gattaca’s world, Andrew Niccol spends the rest of the film tearing it apart.

Vincent turns to the black market, and meets Jerome Eugene Morrow, a Valid “made man” who suffered a nasty twist of fate – after winning silver in the Olympic swim meet, he walked into traffic and lost the use of his legs. Vincent borrows Jerome’s DNA, his very life, becoming a “borrowed ladder” to infiltrate Gattaca and finally travel into space, as he’s always dreamed of. With a torturous morning routine involving scraping every last skin flake and hair follicle from his body and extensive amounts of Jerome’s bodily fluids, Vincent is one week short of achieving his dream, taking off for a year-long mission to Titan…

…when the mission director is found with his brains bashed in with a keyboard, and they found an eyelash from an in-Valid who becomes suspect number one.

The in-Valids are “a new underclass,” in Vincent’s words, and it’s hard not to notice two things about that underclass. One is how much it resembles the modern underclasses of America: we see in-Valids systematically discriminated against, casually stereotyped as degenerate criminals, roughed up by cops, segregated, barred from employment, and reminded of “their place” under their genetic (and moral) superiors. Ask all those black friends you have how much of this is science fiction.

The second thing you notice is how white this movie is.

For a film about a future underdog systematically rejected by society, it’s remarkable how monochrome the casting is. The corner geneticist is black, and the midwife/genetic tech at Vincent’s birth is an Asian woman. And …that’s about it. The trolley of Vincent’s fellow faithbirths is white, the in-Valids getting roughed up by police are white, the main cast are all about Uma Thurman’s coloration no matter where they are in society. The 1997 copyright only forgives the film so far – it still stands as a remarkable example of the near-universal stranglehold white men held on science fiction until very, very recently.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with Uma’s coloration. Especially in that dress.

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Artur Sadlos’ Conceptverse

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No real commentary, just that picture and all the rest like it are really, really cool.


Guest Post: Wearing the Uniform

Today’s guest post comes from Melissa Mathieu, and I’m posting it in honor of her six-week anniversary at Round Table Pizza in Morro Bay. Happy Bastille Day, everyone!

So, almost 6 weeks ago I started delivering pizzas part-time for Round Table. I have to say that it’s a much more fun job than the pressure-filed corporate office jobs I’m used to, and I’m not surprised that people treat me differently because I have a service job, but I was awed at how much.

Let me just say now that I recognize my privilege: I have two degrees, and I have the privilege that this is more a tour of this life than a final destination. Nevertheless, my experiences working for minimum wage has developed my empathy for those who don’t have a choice in jobs.

People react strongly to my uniform: to the people I deliver pizzas to I’m the slightly inconvenient, but ultimately benevolent angel that brings food; to the people, especially men, ordering food at the counter I’m a delay in getting their food and not human enough to warrant much more than civil politeness, open contempt or sometimes blatant sexual objectification; and to the people who witness me running errands-to the bank or to Albertsons for the soda run- I receive confused and obtrusive stares, as if they are not sure whether I am an alien or an apparition.

I don’t miss the glaring fluorescent lights and minimal windows, being glued to a desk from dark morning to dark night unable to move except to the bathroom, the necessity of corporate obeisance and the frequent use of corporate catch phrases *with a smile. I don’t miss turning a blind eye to open nepotism, the worship of title and rank, and the sickening frequency of bad birthday cake. I don’t know that I particularly miss that my bosses at these office jobs often acknowledged my over qualification and tried to cater to my pride without offering me a promotion.

I like people I’ve worked with at all my jobs and have been treated mostly like an equal even by management. I’ve worked retail before, even worked at the county where all the customers were hostile or on drugs. The difference I guess is that in the past the difficulties of the job were acknowledged as challenges, not my own fault. But in this new job, customers treat me like it is my fault, that I deserve their contempt for not having the good taste to get a job that pays enough in money and prestige to be snobby and condescending to hardworking service workers everywhere. I could also assume that the person who serves my coffee or rings up my groceries is a loser, but how could I possibly know their experience?

Despite my ranting, I like the job and still think people are basically good. I am sleeping better, eat good pizza all the time despite it’s effect on my weight, have the satisfaction of hard, clean work, and some tips in my pocket at the end of the night. And my co-workers aren’t bad, either :) Perhaps someday humanity will outgrow the tired notion that some groups of people are inherently superior. I look forward to that day. That and remember to tip well!

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Star Trek and Solarpunk

Sometimes, Melissa and I are completely lazy. We’ll curl up on the bed with wine and pretzels and set out her old brick of a laptop, and we’ll watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. I grew up on the adventures of Picard and Data and Worf and Geordi and Deanna Troi, and Next Generation came to her at a pivotal turn in her life. Hey, what the hell, this month I sold four TVs in one day, served as Central Coast’s representative to Pacific Yearly Meeting, and threw an excellent chanty-sing/seafood boil. Sometimes I need to slip into the warm waters of Next Generation, and so does she.

There’s a lot about Next Generation that’s dated: the Romulans’ giant “eighties business suit” uniforms, the therapist on the command staff, the inexplicable cardio class that Troi and Dr. Crusher do in the hallway.

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You thought I was joking.

A lot of people claim the show’s “simplicity” or “naivete” date it, but I like the theatrical writing and setting, and when it works (“Measure of a Man,” “The Inner Light,” “The First Duty,” “The Drumhead,” “Chain of Command,” “Darmok,” “Family,” “Ship in a Bottle,” “Lower Decks,” “Remember Me”) it works amazingly well. The theatricality worked for Twilight Zone, both Outer Limits, and the original series. It works here.

But still, there is a certain something about Next Generation that pins it directly to the 1990s. And I think what that is is its liberalism.

No, I don’t mean Captain Picard confiscating all the guns while delivering abortions to illegal Bajoran immigrants, I mean the “liberal world order” in international relations theory. As Foreign Policy puts it,

“Once upon a time — that is, back in the 1990s — a lot of smart and serious people believed liberal political orders were the wave of the future and would inevitably encompass most of the globe. The United States and its democratic allies had defeated fascism and then communism, supposedly leaving humankind at ‘the end of history.’”

Mr. Walt goes on to describe some of the ways liberals themselves destroyed this dream, how the product was oversold…

“We were told that if dictators kept falling and more states held free elections, defended free speech, implemented the rule of law, and adopted competitive markets, and joined the EU and/or NATO, then a vast “zone of peace” would be created, prosperity would spread, and any lingering political disagreements would be easily addressed within the framework of a liberal order.”

How liberals underestimated tribal instincts…

“[P]ost-Cold War liberals underestimated the role of nationalism and other forms of local identity, including sectarianism, ethnicity, tribal bonds, and the like. They assumed that such atavistic attachments would gradually die out, be confined to apolitical, cultural expressions, or be adroitly balanced and managed within well-designed democratic institutions.”

And, finally, how the snake is already within our midst.

“Most important of all, liberal societies are in trouble today because they are vulnerable to being hijacked by groups or individuals who take advantage of the very freedoms upon which liberal societies are based. […] [L]eaders or movements whose commitment to liberal principles is at best skin-deep can take advantage of the principles of open society and use it to rally a popular following. And there is nothing about a democratic order that ensures such efforts will invariably fail.”

The Federation of Picard’s age is a benevolent European Union writ large, forging treaties and securing rule of law and sternly warning Cardassians that if Bajorans are not allowed their planet and their ways, there will be Hell to pay. Worf practices his bat’leth, but his Klingon heritage never gets in the way of his dedication to the Federation and its principles of universal freedom and liberty. The biggest issue Ro Laren has is her earring and what my old man would call “being seriously in need of an attitude adjustment.” “Conspiracy” aside, the Federation does not suffer from demogagues or Vulcan sovereigntists. Picard never need worry that some twenty-fourth century Le Pen will take power in Paris.

Next Generation is absolutely steeped in the post-Cold War liberalism Walt describes. It is a liberal future, in more ways than just your one friend on Facebook smugly pointing out that Picard’s a socialist. That vision of international relations, of the future, died a thousand deaths in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and its repercussions, counter-repercussions, vendettas and countervendettas. We saw a chilly realist world creeping in, exemplified in science fiction by Battlestar Galactica on television and the monotonous march of apocalypses in print. And, as much as I long for the Federation, I recognize that Worf might one day feel more Klingon than Starfleet officer, that Ro Laren could betray even Picard if she felt it would free her people, that the Federation treaties that Picard arranges give millions or even billions the short end of the stick.

If the world does unite, it will not look like the EU writ large that Next Generation envisioned.

But that’s no reason to despair. That’s reason to build new futures.

The other thing I’ve done this month is write and submit a story to Ecopunk. Before June 15, I didn’t even know it existed, or Sunvault or such a thing as solarpunk. These are people who look to the last solid decade of apocalypse, and tell it to go to Hell. These are people who dream of a brighter future – a future of decentralized solar cells, of mighty windjammers built from the husks of oil tankers, of curling green cities and the gastronomical delight of all the undiscovered sea vegetables which will grace our plates. They reject the smug, Silicon Valley utopianism of transhumanist and Singulatarian(TM) visions. Ecopunk cries out for stories of solutions to global problems: the mired bureaucracy and fracturing of liberal orders, bold human responses to climate change, hatred and division leading to violence and destruction.

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And visions like this. No joke, dear God that’s beautiful and I want to live there.

Why –punk? Because these are the first literary SF authors and editors in seemingly ten years that realize that, in a time of despair, hope itself is a subversive act.

I wrote a story of an Indian auntie in the ghost town of Surat, which will slide beneath the advancing waves in the next century. She uses biorock technology, that I first read about in the Kids’ Whole Future Catalog, tapping into the neighborhood solar system to feed power to the iron bones and chicken wire strung beneath the placid waves of the expanded Cambay Gulf. And, slowly, they turn chalk-white before bursting into color, corals expanding and breathing on the ruins of sunken Surat. They clean the waters and draw in fish, and are beautiful enough for a rich farmer from Uttar Pradesh to look upon the city’s bones and weep tears of joy. Ladli brings artha and kama into the world, and thereby fulfills dharma and touches moksha.

“The City Sunk, the City Risen.” What can be more solarpunk than that?

And to think, I was worried that the drumbeat of apocalypse and singularity had withered my ability to imagine possible futures.

Last night, Melissa told me a dream she had, years ago, of a Japanese house in the woods, but the walls were not paper – they were made of leaf. Last week, this happened. I saw cities of chalk from greenhouse gasses, an Eastern pagoda planted of eight intertwined laurels, roving city-farms of coral that graze their schools of fish where the weather is fine and the markets ready, a fissure in solarpunk thought that rejects the city for the village and kibbutz, the crows sitting around telling epic poetry, and a moon-viewing platform behind the living green paper that makes the moon an emerald in a darkened sky. Not quite the Doctor’s “worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea is asleep, and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song,” but still, something fresh and new on the surface of the Earth after sixteen years of Apocalypse or Singularity – a human future, a living future, free of the tragic liberal trappings of “The EU Writ Large.”

Who knows? We might see Ro Laren there, brokering a Bajoran peace and bringing fresh water to the refugees. We might see Worf leading a delegation of emigre Klingons. We might even see Jean-Luc Picard there, raising Atlantis or preaching Life and the best of his vineyard to the stars and planets beyond.


New Book Out! “Ian Brown and the Hand of Fatima!”

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Ian Brown and the Hand of Fatima

That’s right.

I have a new book out (under the name Jack Castle*), and it’s a two-fisted tale with all the hammiest purple prose you could smash a mook through.

Tucson, 2016. Mild-mannered business student Ian Brown pays a friend a visit one summer evening, only to find himself embroiled in a globe-spanning adventure, pitted against mad militiamen, wily human traffickers, and rampaging elephants, racing to warn the woman he loves that danger stalks her shadow. Will Ian succeed in saving the girl? Will he win …the Hand of Fatima?!

Yes I had glorious fun writing this story and all the copy why do you ask.

You can grab a copy off Amazon or Smashwords. Go forth, buy a book, leave reviews, and tell your friends!

*Because, seriously, Jack Castle. Doesn’t that guy sound like a dude who settled hash with three Chinese guys in Yunnan?


Roscoe’s Beef Stew

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Filling and melancholy.

Ingredients:

  • Three pounds of slow-cooked brisket, left over from the second-night Passover seder where you managed to fit fifteen people in one little room for dinner and your wife touched Jew and Gentile alike with her telling of the flight from Egypt.
  • The juices of the same, totaling about two cups, which you rescued by reboiling the shit out of it for about ten minutes.
  • Half a bottle of cheap merlot, because you drank the other half yourself.
  • Three potatoes.
  • Two shallots, the last, slightly wilted survivors of a whole haul of shallots it took both hands to carry inside when you got back from the Quaker New Year’s Gathering with her, laughing and smiling. You squeezed her hand as midnight struck in the middle of the mountains, and some distant bagpipes sounded “Auld Lang Syne.”
  • The last half of the celery she set out to dip in salt-water tears and people didn’t finish.
  • Three carrots, which forms the third of the Holy Trinity, the mirepoix.
  • A pack of white mushrooms, because you are the only one eating this, and no one will mind.
  • The whole contents of a full tea kettle, less the two cups you had with breakfast this morning. She had Mariage Freres, you had builder’s tea.
  • A spoonful of Old Bay from the dented tin that’s followed you to China and back twice.

Instructions:

  1. Put on folksongs of quiet desperation, to fill the silent house with music as you are about to fill the cold kitchen with warmth and the salon with light.
  2. Rescue the gravy of the brisket – boil the shit out of it while you take your boots off.
  3. Pour yourself a glass of that merlot. It’ll taste better as the evening wears on, the aromas mingle, and the sharp edge comes off experience.
  4. Tumble the desiccated brisket into the Dutch oven where you’re boiling the juices, add half the bottle of merlot and the contents of the kettle. Toss in some Old Bay. Cover.
  5. Stab the brisket every now and again with a meat fork, until it starts coming apart under the fork’s ministrations.
  6. Chop the vegetables rough, adding them in order of toughness: first the potatoes and the carrots, then the shallots, then the celery and the mushrooms.
  7. Cover again, turn the heat down to low, and leave it be until the meat comes apart if you look at it funny.
  8. Pour yourself a bowl of thick stew, knowing that no matter how far away she is, she loves you and misses you. Drink a glass of the cheap merlot with it, and toast once for her.
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I regret nothing.


If you’re voting for Bernie…

 

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If you’re voting for Bernie, good for you! I agree with you that Bernie Sanders is the best candidate running, both for the many accomplishments he’s got done in his time in Congress and because of his voting record of consistently voting in the interests of the American people, especially the worst-off Americans. I support him for his well-thought out tax plan, his willingness to confront race issues, and for letting the rest of us democratic socialists out of the red closet.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you’re probably stirred by his message of revolution: “not me, us.” You want to see a more democratic, more just America, where mothers don’t have to choose between nursing their newborns and getting a paycheck, where veterans aren’t begging for change on the street, where CEOs aren’t taking home millions while their workers count pennies. You’re passionate, you’re inspired, you want to change the world.

But if you’re voting for Bernie, voting for Bernie isn’t enough.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you’ve seen the same memes I have, telling you 469 seats in Congress are up for grabs this election. Socialist (or at least socialist-friendly) Senators and Representatives will make President Sanders’ term a lot easier. But do you know who your current Senator and Representative are? Here’s your answer. Do you know who’s running against them? Find out here. Do you know which candidates side with Bernie on issues like minimum wage, antitrust action, and campaign financing? Check their websites! (I’d also peek at their ranking with the Citizens’ Congress.) Now you know, and you can tell your friends and neighbors to vote for Bill Ostrander (or whomever) in the same breath you mention Bernie Sanders. You might even volunteer for those down-ticket campaigns, where every vote counts.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you care about your government and what it’s doing to you and to the rest of us. Get involved in local politics. Your state, county, and especially city governments have a much bigger impact on your life than the resident of the Oval Office – and vice versa. Look up your city council’s agenda for their next meeting, and go speak at public comment. Sign up for a city board or commission appointment, such as Public Works, Planning Commission, Recreation and Parks, or, erm, Citizens’ Finance Advisory Committee. Run for elected office! San Luis Obispo just became the first city in America to get money out of elections and clean up campaigns because of a small group of dedicated citizens. Start there.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you care about working people. Unionize your office  Half the reason we need Bernie in the first place is because capital convinced white-collar workers and service people that we didn’t need unions. But the same laws of economics apply to white-collar jobs as blue-collar: If all you working stiffs are on the same page about demanding a living wage or paternal leave or inclusionary hiring practices, you can win against management. You don’t have to strike, you just have to be willing to negotiate…and be willing to stand with your brothers and sisters when they need you.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you care about the downtrodden members of society. Volunteer a few hours or a few loaves of bread at your local homeless shelter. Organize a #BlackLivesMatter march. Join a campus or city social justice activist group. If you’re church-going, demand your congregation help. If you’re a frat boy or sorority girl, get your brothers/sisters behind you for community service. If you have five hundred Facebook friends, get a tenth of them to show up. Put your skills, time, and resources to making this country more just, more fair, and more equal, so that  we really do have liberty and justice for all.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you want a revolution. One man isn’t a revolution. It can’t just be him, it has to be us. We have to carry the revolution forward. And while it sometimes involves waving banners and shouting slogans, most of it is doing homework, sitting in meetings, speaking at podiums, and making agreements. It’s coalition-building and voting your conscience and doing a job. It’s keeping in mind the vision of a new America, and making your corner of America look more like that. Then, and only then, will we have a real revolution. Then, we’ll see body-cams on policemen and bankers in jail. Then, we’ll earn the right to say “we fought the revolution.” Until then, there’s work to do.

If you’re voting for Bernie, you don’t mind a little work to bring the revolution. If you’re voting for Bernie, you live for it.

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