Extant, et cetera

I finished watching the science fiction TV series Extant this morning. I could only watch it through Amazon Prime which meant a 4 day delay between airings and availability – each week in the meantime I had to avoid looking at the online reviews for spoilers, and especially for the comments, which were in some ways the best thing about this series.

It had really good intentions. Many people complained about the pacing (it was kind of slow and boring at times; often when it should have been crackling it felt lethargic), but I went along with that. It seems they introduced too many leads to tidy up, but I’ve never been one to demand total cleanup. One could well ask, what happened to the immortality-seeking billionaire? He just vanished from the story line. Or, sheesh, someone call the police on the terrorist maybe? Or, did the space center blow up with the android kid or not? Nobody seemed terribly concerned about anything, “five days later”. The husband was sort of a pussy with a weird accent. I never liked him. And Halle Berry often seemed completely frozen, as if she went on periodic acting-strikes. How about when they ran away, they went to her dad’s house? Who would ever think of looking there?

And yet, there were plenty of nice litte touches. I enjoyed the mysterious and sometimes creepy little android kid. And I liked “the offstring”, a sort of mini-me Michael Jackson Thriller clonelet with occasionally bright yellow eyes who could make people inhabit physically coherent virtual realities pulled straight out of their memories a la Solaris, and thereby mind-fuck them into doing whatever it was he wanted them to do. Sometimes he seemed to have to “feed” on people’s brains. Other times, not so much. He matured from fetus to twelve year old in a few short weeks, but then stopped aging entirely, as if twelve were a perfectly capable age to stick to. He was pretty cool, messing with people’s deepest darkest desires (to have their dead daughter back again, for example) and then just offing them for no apparent reason (perhaps a double meaning on the term “offspring”). The space station was pretty cool, the artificial limb technology was sweet, the artifical intelligence experiment with the kid had tons of promise, which unfortunately got bogged down in lessons about “humanity”. Seriously,  intelligent machines will have their own realities to experience. I still hold (as I expressed in my story Renegade Robot), that a real AI won’t give a shit about people and will likely inhabit their own spheres, much as we humans have little to do with the world of hummingbirds.

You knew there was going to be a showdown between the half-alien kid and the android kid, and boy did they waste that opportunity. But I guess you can’t get everything you want. The show developed slowly, and at that pace it needed more time, maybe twice as many episodes, but there’s no luxury like that in TV land it seems.

In other notes, my nephew’s wife is a staff writer for the funny and engaging FX sitcom You’re The Worst. I can recommend that for all of the side characters as well as the main ones. There’s some great potential in there, and after its ten episode first season we’re hoping it gets more time too.

I haven’t blogged in a while. I am #stillnotwriting. I’ve been spending most of my little free time and creative energy producing short music pieces (I have a one-minute rule, an idea I got from Caveh Zahedi and his interesting movie In the Bathtub of the World, where he shot a minute of his life every day for a year and cut it down to a 90 minute film). Anyone interested in that can check it out on SoundCloud at Emergency Test Lab 29, and if not I would still highly recommend my playlist there, which currently consists mainly of the great Nu-Cumbia producers El Buho and Chancha via Circuito. I listen to these guys all day long while attempting to program in Scala, my tenth and so-far least favorite programming language. (tenth? really? basic, c, c++, java, ruby, python, perl, php, javascript, scala, yup, tenth).

I haven’t even been reading much lately. Sometimes literature and writing seems so far away. I also have little interest in the worlds of publishing or promotion these days. I did recently re-read my own sci-fi sort-of Unwritten Rules of Impossible Things and enjoyed it. I’m glad I wrote that stuff, glad I put it all online, glad I gave it all away. It’s all in its own context now, experiencing its own realities, I suppose. It doesn’t have much to do with me at this point.  It’s all in the nature of ebb and flow, input and output, it comes and goes. I say, let it come and let it go, and don’t worry about a thing, pretty mama. Chevere?


Does Werner Herzog subscribe to the belief that his films are art?

Originally posted on Biblioklept:

So you certainly don’t subscribe to the belief that your films are in any way ‘art films’?

Absolutely not, they are no such thing. I dislike intensely even the concept of artists in this day and age. The last King of Egypt, King Farouk, completely obese in exile, wolfing one lamb leg after another, said something very beautiful: ‘There are no kings left in the world any more, only the King of Hearts, the King of Diamonds, the King of Spades, and the King of Clubs.’ The whole concept of being an artist is also somehow outdated today. There is only one place left where you find artists: the circus. There you can find the trapeze artists, the jugglers, even the hunger artist. Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of the mind; cinema comes from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism. I truly feel that in the world of the painter or novelist or…

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Recommended: The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer

What I love most about literature is the rare experience of encountering a worthy mind. It’s not just about the story or the plot or the arc or the characters or the formula or the climax or the talent or the craft, it’s about how this other sees the world and expresses what they see. I want to know how their mind works, the connections it makes, the impressions it conveys. I don’t want to merely read to find out what’s going to happen, or how it’s all going to end, or what it’s going to make me feel. I don’t want to be nothing more than a passive subject operated upon as if mechanically by some technician who knows precisely how to manipulate my emotions. I can always watch a movie for that! When I read I want to come in contact with a mind through which I can discover new perspectives. This book – The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer,  gave me such an experience.

I felt like I could live in this book, and it’s not something easily done. The structure of the story is simply two men walking together down a city street for less than an hour one morning, and the plot, if you can call it that, centers around their conversation about a birthday party that neither one attended. But I felt I was on that street with them, walking along beside them, listening not only to their words but to their internal digressions, their meandering thoughts, and feeling my way along with them through the pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The two men are not friends, just mutual acquaintances, who meet by accident and happen to be going the same way, but their worlds intersect and criss-cross on many levels. What matters in the book is, to put it in a word (or as the author says, “in two words, to be more precise”), “every things”.

There’s a lot I liked in the author’s style, the translation, the language, his “bag of tricks” so to speak, but ultimately I kept reading with excitement to see what he was going to say next, what he was going to make me see next, what new world I was going to be able to glimpse.

Confessions of an Ex Dog Owner

Last week we had to put our last dog down. She was fourteen and her condition was deteriorating rapidly. She could have gone on a few weeks or months more, sniffing and pooping and wanting to be scratched, but on the whole she was no longer happy.  It was an easy procedure, both for her and for me. I was a bit envious, wishing that when my own time comes it could be so simple. Unfortunately, I do not live in such a civilized place.

I’ve had one or more dogs continually for the past twenty years, but I’m done with it. I am now an ex-dog owner, much as I am an ex-smoker (I quit smoking 18 years ago after 22 years of tobacco addiction), and just as an ex-smoker perceives smokers differently than before, I am beginning to witness dog ownership (or call it companionship if you prefer) in a very different way. I see the people literally tied to their canines, their gait and rhythms constricted and restricted by the instincts and impulses of those creatures. They don’t go out for a walk so much as go out for a series of involuntary pauses. And as Demetri Martin put it, dog owners are people whose need for companionship outweighs their repulsion at picking up shit.

Every dog owner loves their dog (and there are so many different kinds of dog, so you can pick out precisely the particular variety they prefer to have this affection for) just as cat owners love their cats, and people in general love their family and/or friends. But there is no translation from the specific to the general, from the micro to the macro. We humans have these individual feelings for our own small set of other animals, but on the whole (you would have to admit, from the evidence) we as a species do not give a shit about life on this planet in general. Nor do we as humans act as if we give a crap about humanity in general. We love our family and/or friends, as I was saying, but then again, war and racism and violence and so on.

The individual is not the species – they operate on completely separate levels – just as a tree is not a forest or vice versa. As an ex-dog owner, I am somewhat stupefied by the persistence of those who insist on continuing to be dog owners. What are they thinking? I wonder. What do they see in these sniffing, pausing, wagging, marking, pooping, sniveling, warm and fuzzy and innocent beings? Over time we have manufactured these animals into the kind of things we want to have around us, but I’m done with that. I can go for a walk and keep walking. I can come home without having a set of duties to perform for an immediately demanding and insistent hairy mongrel. I suppose I will miss having a dog around, from time to time, just as I occasionally crave a cigarette, but I expect those moments to attentuate over time, until there comes a day when I can hardly believe I once spent all that time and money and attention on an admittedly adorable thing like that.

Book Review – Captains of Consciousness

Captains of Consciousness, originally published in the mid-70’s but just as relevant today, is an interesting book on the role of advertising in the development of the new world. It’s only been a hundred years since the invention of mass production, which eventually required a culture of mass consumption to go along with it. What good is it to produce a billion widgets a day if there is no one to buy them? The result was the creation of the middle class, at least in America and Europe. Globalization is another matter – the growth of a middle class throughout the world is inevitable but lagging.

The cultural implications are also interesting. Previously, people in our culture were raised to value craftsmanship, quality, and thrift. These values became unsuitable, and had to be replaced with acceptance of disposability and debt. Tradition was replaced by trends. Also, people had to be made perpetually dissatisfied with themselves and everything around them, so they could be made to buy things which promised fleeting satisfactions.

The transformation has been so complete we are almost unaware of it. We take consumer culture so much for granted. Consider: Cultures used to have one book or central legend that lasted them for hundreds of years. Now every single day brings a new “Most Viewed” item on YouTube. Movies that lead the box office two weeks in a row are uncommon. A number one bestselling book or album spends only days at the top of the charts. This is clearly no sustainable economy!

The acceleration of this process seems almost asymptotic. The most significant event in the future history of the world may not even be perceived by anyone, because it will only last for a fraction of a second.

Re-inventing the Wheel

Nobody ever wants to “re-invent the wheel” but everybody is always re-inventing the wheel. Obviously, the wheel frequently requires re-inventing. It’s unavoidable. Every new crop that comes around thinks it’s the first crop ever. We have to make the same mistakes, learn the same lessons, follow the same paths. Ontogeny recapitulates philogeny (as my father never tired of saying) and this is how it works. The older I get the less patience I have for this sort of thing, yet I was of course once the same. I’ve been through the stages. I’m still going through the fucking stages, and will right through to the very last one.

I’m thinking of this because I recently came across a person named Justine Tunney, a Google engineer and former Occupy Wall Street honcho (if one can say that that pathetic momentary twitch had honchos – these were people who seemed to be unfamiliar with the concept of “winter”). She was outspoken then and she’s outspoken now, creating a bit of a stir saying shit like the masses ought to be servants to the great one percent true heroes, and that culturally America is going to hell in a handbasket, and that homeless people make cities go bad, all the kinds of things you’d expect from a high school senior who just came across Ayn Rand and thought ‘woah, that is so true, it’s like it’s all a big survival of the fittest contest and every man for himself and who the fuck cares about other people anyway except the losers?’

But there are never two sides of any issue, there is only one confusing complicated mess of an issue. Because there is no right and wrong. Because there is no solution. Because there is no meaning but the one we make up in our tiny little brains. Because making up meanings in our tiny little brains is just something we do.

But knowing that you were wrong before doesn’t mean that now you are right just because you figured out you were wrong before. The logical conclusion is that you are probably wrong again now, because being wrong is clearly something that you can do.

And creating a stir is certainly a lot of fun when you have the ways and means of creating a stir, but you know when you go to sleep at night that what a stir does is churn up a wave, and what waves do is dissipate as they travel, and that the end result of waves and stirs is nothing.

It’s okay, though. Every time the wheel is re-invented it does its one thing and does it well. It rolls along. After all, it is still just a wheel, even if shinier and chromier and sturdier and stronger and sleek and cool and awesome. Wheels do what they do, and we all have no choice but to roll along through all the stages and all the various spokes have their little moment on top.

Woah, that is so true.