No, I actually like tech -- with caveats.
Reading back over my earlier post about "SF hitting its limit because we have hit ours" (as I summarized it), I suspect I seem rather like a Luddite itching to throw his wooden shoe into the machinery.
Let me put it this way: I'd rather have the technology we have now than not have it. There is no question in my mind that having these things has immeasurably broadened the scope and quality of our lives. I wouldn't be posting this stuff on a blog if I didn't think so. I wouldn't be working in this field if I didn't think so.
What I don't believe is that such improvement is automatic; it has to be earned. The fact that we have enormous amounts of data at our disposal only helps us if we are also capable of making native distinctions between facts and fancy. I know a few too many people who still equate having recall of -- or access to -- facts (or "data") being the same thing as being smart, when it's plainly not. I would rather have someone with splendid command of only a few facts, versus incompetent or middling command of many of them.
Many of the "tech is making us dumber" pundits have a kernel of truth, even if it's expressed very badly, or in the service of an agenda I profess no sympathy for. It's not that tech is making us all into dolts -- it's that tech makes it easier for us to delude ourselves into thinking we know something, when in fact we don't. It does also makes it easier for genuine learning to take place, but if we don't know the inherent differences between those states in the first place, we're lost.
SF has hit its limit because we have hit ours.
... most science fiction these days bores me. It all looks the same, I’m tired of Stargates, would-be-treks, and other work that just seems to rearrange the pieces we’re used to. There’s nothing, in my mind, that I’ve seen to inspire people to make something new. If there is something “beyond” the rehashes we’ve seen, it often seems to be hard to relate too or way too far out, strange cyberpunk and transhumanism. Perhaps useful in some cases, but in a scale of decades or centuries, not right now, when it seems we’re terribly out of ideas. Also we need something to bridge any gaps into a future of, I dunno, immortality in cyberspace and the like.
I came up with two responses to this -- one somewhat self-indulgent and the other more outward-directed. The first one is a naked sales pitch: most science fiction these days bores me too, which is why I wrote Flight of the Vajra. Let's see if my own attempts to cure my boredom work for anyone else as well. (I also had to wrestle in the book with the same problems of, e.g., having things too far-out for a reader to connect with emotionally. I think I told a friend at one point, "If you haven't cried by the end of this book, then I haven't done my job.")
Every movie, every book, is time in a bottle, if only you let yourself see it.
Often in my film school classes, I hear students complain about the screening of older movies. They say they’re not interested. They think old movies are boring. They complain about black-and-white, and they’ve got difficulties relating to those old actors. What qualifies as an old movie to these students? Anything made before the year 2000. And certainly nothing of any consequence or relevance was made before 1980.
If someone claims to be a film fan but can't stomach the idea of watching something before they were born, I submit they're not much of a fan to begin with.
On being the embodiment of your moment in time.
A quote from Zen Action, Zen Person:
When I asked a Japanese friend why Shakespeare is so popular even among the Japanese (who know his work mostly through translation), he replied that Shakespeare is universal because he is so perfectly Elizabethan. [Emphasis mine.]
I've talked before -- here, here, and here, at the very least -- about how every work of creation is a product of its moment in time and space. So are the creators themselves, and the audiences that experience both those creations and those creators.
On using SF as an examination of the clashes of spiritual opposites.
I have often been told by believers that they cannot imagine a motive for any of these things [to strive for excellence, create beauty, foster love, diligently build (rebuild) the ideal of civilization] without the certainty of God and eternal life. Yet, for me, this very lack of certainty is why these things are of vital importance.
I found a dichotomy of equal difficulty being recapitulated as I wrote Flight of the Vajra. In that story there are two major factions of humanity: the Highend, who have embraced the transcendental possibilities of technological progress to varying degrees; and the Old Way, who feel the only real transcendence is something that comes from within, and cannot be proxied or prosthesized. You could become immortal by backing up and serially restoring your intelligence across multiple bodies, but why bother if you were doing that for the sake of living a life that was fundamentally empty and uncreative to begin with? (One insight I had is that those who can do something like that eventually choose more and more to do nothing but that, and soon everything except protecting one's own skin becomes secondary and eventually falls off the map altogether.)
A little SF masterpiece that proves a small scale doesn't have to mean small ambitions.
Source Code begins with a great hook for a story, and wisely remembers that a hook is only that: a way in, not the story itself. It opens with a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) on a train headed into Chicago, with no idea how he arrived there. A woman (Michelle Monaghan) he does not know is talking to him in a familiar way, and calling him by a name he’s never heard before. He knows his name is Colter Stevens, U.S. Army—so why is the face in the mirror and the name on his driver’s license all wrong? And then the train explodes from a bomb hidden in it somewhere, and Colter is thrown back into his “real” body, strapped into a seat in a kind of armored pod.
It’s a military project, we learn. The eight minutes Colter spent on the train in the body of another man is a sort of a simulation—a kind of peek into an alternate dimension, one constructed from the remnants of the mind of the man Colter is being projected into. The woman, Christina, is the would-be girlfriend of the dead man. The “source code”, as they call this pocket universe, has been created so that Colter might go into it—as many times as required—and find out who set the bomb. There’s only one problem: Colter has no idea how he got into this situation in the first place, and doesn’t believe for a second that the people giving him orders through the little TV screen over his chair have any legitimacy.
Please suspend your disbelief. It'll do us both a world of good.
The health of the imagination, according to [Will] Self, depends on suspension of disbelief; the higher the level of suspension required the more vigorous the workout to the muscle and therefore those things requiring the most suspension are the most important activities to the health of the imagination.
A fun conversation -- or argument, depending on the tenor of everyone involved -- can be had by spurring a conversation about both the original King Kong and the Peter Jackson remake. Specifically, the visual effects. There are some who defend the original because the effects weren't forensically realistic; they forced us to suspend our disbelief just enough to lift our feet off the ground, so to speak.
Isn't a perfectly "realistic" version of something that could never exist to begin with something of a contradiction in terms?
On rewriting Lucas from his own notes: a nifty idea.
Now here's something that grabbed me despite myself: George Lucas's original Star Wars treatment is to be adapted into a comic by Dark Horse.
Fans may well remember how the original treatments, written in longhand, went through multiple revisions. Each succeeding one switched, shuffled, and re-organized elements from earlier versions, from other parts of Lucas's private mythology for Star Wars, and from other parts of his spheres of influences -- a little Kurosawa here, a little Buck Rogers there. They make for fascinating reading, if only as a reminder of a time when the Star Wars mythos as we know it, now so much a part of the cultural air we breathe, was nothing more than a disjointed collection of ideas.
The treatment excerpted in the above article makes one wince for two reasons. One, it's the primordial version of another, far more fleshed-out story we now know; it's a little like reading a "What I Want To Be When I Grow Up" essay from a second-grader. Two, it's pretty shaky as a story -- a cement-mixer full of pulp SF action clichés.
But here's the thing: every story, when reduced to a bare outline or a beat sheet, has the potential to come off as complete crap.
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Science Fiction Repair Shop for the month of April 2013.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind