The White Hole Situation

Sometimes a story has momentum, sometimes that only goes so far. We’ll see how far this one goes. It’s already gone through several title changes, from “IBU” to “IBU: a white whole situation”, to “September and the Situation” to, finally,  “The White Hole Situation“. It’s kind of a fun story to write. One could riff all day on the implications of technology and the benign attitude towards it as reflected in the original star trek series and in “white male sixties moon shot sci fi” in general.

Sci Fi is one of many (most?) fields long dominated by the white western male human. The realm has been opening up more and more to women and people from other regions and groups in general, and that’s got to be a good thing. As a white male science fiction writer, it doesn’t bother me at all. I use the analogy of a shower. If you want a nice warm shower, you can’t just have the hot water turned up all the way and the cold water off. No, you need to adjust the mix until you get it just right. So to let more non-white non-male writers into all of these fields, you’ve got to turn down one knob and turn up the other. There’s an expected backlash, as with affirmative action and desegregation and any other program attempting to redress imbalance, but I’m sorry if you were born at the wrong time for your turn. Everybody else who’s not like you has been born at the wrong time for centuries.

Anyway, I digress.

Back in those days, technology was going to solve every problem, ease every load, make the impossible not only possible but easy. Warp speed? Sure. Teleportation? Why not. Handheld devices that not only diagnose but cure every ailment? You got it. All you have to do is talk to the thing.

“Computer,” you say, followed by your heart’s desire.

Everybody on board is assigned a rank and some color uniform. There’s hierarchy and patriarchy in full force, for no good reason, really, since the machine does everything. And the machine is only for good. Now and then they dabbled with some danger coming from that side of things, but in the end, pure reason saves the day and men are rational creatures who might be a bit hot-headed but damned handsome and charming as fuck.

So what’s it like to live in such a world? What could be wrong? What could you complain about? What if the technology continued on that trend for another two hundred years. By that time, it gets so good that it has pretty much figured it all out. Smooth as clockwork, smooth as silk, smooth as the whole space-time continuum. The universe is a hologram, says Stephen Hawking.

There’s no Matrix in this one, no Twelve Monkeys, no horrible future, no dystopia, just a bunch of randos minding their own business and living their lives in a world that’s been made perfect just for them. Of course, something is bound to go horribly wrong. Otherwise where’s the plot? But what if a tree falls in a forest and the computer doesn’t let anybody see it? Was there a tree? Was there a forest? Who is the dreamer and what is the dream? (ok, I stole that line from some peak TV show. Damn they’re good these days – I especially recommend Twin Peaks, Atlanta, Babylon Berlin, The Dark, Legion, and Superstore)

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Too Good to be True (story germ)

I always thought the universe of Star Trek was a little too good to be true.  They’ve managed to solve pretty much all the problems of humanity and become total good guys in space. How is the whole thing not a fantasy? How is it not really happening in the Matrix? It’s a virtual reality game which includes its own virtual reality games (holodecks and whatnot). What’s most amazing is how they solved all those problems using computers but without any of the now-commonplace worries about artificial intelligence. It’s all pre-Terminator stuff, I know, but come on. Where did all that starry-eyed idealism come from, but even more importantly, where did it go?

Can you smell the shift from dystopia back to utopia? Positive futurism is going to be making a comeback so I figured I’d hop on board with that – too soon, way too soon of course – and at the same time explore this optimism a little bit with my usual cynical eye. I’ve started this exploration on Wattpad under the title I.B.U. (which in my mind stands for universal basic income, but backwards). That Star Trek world has no inequality, has no racial or gender bigotry, and the implication was abundance for all somehow, and everyone has the freedom and opportunity to explore their own personal sense of mission. What would that really be like, especially keeping in mind the kinds of technology that might make this possible?

I have some plot ideas that may or may not work out. We’ll see. It could be another false start – that happens – but for now it seems to have at least a little momentum.

Gorlock the Contented (the musical)

This is where we are, we can see the fields around us brown and dry, and we recall the prophecy:

“Thirteen brown and white rabbits shall pass before your eyes, and then the lighting will get dimmer”.
Already the tenth rabbit has made its way down the cold steel ramp, while the Onlookers peer out from  the massive ship’s portholes. We shudder in the cold of the dawn, all of us standing back,  frightened and bewildered. Some among us whisper, “where is he?” while others frown and say that he will never come. Isn’t he already safe and warm and bathing in the light of his own planet. Didn’t he already try and do his best? And how did we reward him aside from all that money and the coupons?

I can see the eleventh rabbit now, edging towards the outer flap. Our time is running out.
But wait. That rabbit isn’t brown, it isn’t white! That’s a black rabbit for sure.
The prophecy didn’t say anything about a black rabbit! Is there hope after all?

originally on Wattpad

What If (Altered Carbon vs 2049)

Somebody thought so highly of that phrase, altered carbon, they just couldn’t let go of it. Writers be like that.

I’m enjoying the Netflix show “Altered Carbon” as much as I failed to enjoy “Blade Runner 2049” and the two will remain linked for me for several reasons. One is of course that AC stole a lot of BR’s look (the original Blade Runner, that is) and essential milieu of extreme inequality and desperation. Another is the whole attempted Noir look and feel of the things. As a lifelong fan of Hammett and Chandler I’m a setup sucker for all that shit. I even give a pass on the word “dames”, which both features employ heavily though without the explicit naming. Lastly, they both make me think about the basic premise of science fiction and how and why it so often fails to live up to that.

The premise is “What If”. Science Fiction at its best posits some fundamental “what if” question and then attempts to answer it. Often the best what if’s are the simplest – take one small element of the world and alter it, explore the effects. Explore ALL the effects. Take the thing to its logical and illogical conclusions, and don’t get side-tracked or carried away off topic. Ursula LeGuin’s “Lathe of Heaven” is a successful example, I think. Here a man has the ability to change the world through dreaming, and his psychiatrist decides to use that talent to “improve” the world.

The what if that Blade Runner posits – what if we made slaves of androids – produces the logical conclusion that the slaves would rebel and their masters would hunt them down and try to kill them. Confessions of Nat Turner tells the same story and we call it American History. At the same time Blade Runner builds a whole world without any explanation as to why things are the way they are except, perhaps, because cool set design. All that is just background, though, and the gestalt works all right in that film. In the reboot, nothing works. An android got pregnant and had a baby. If the secret gets out then there will be more baby androids, and that would be an interesting story to tell only they did not tell that interesting story – instead we get a side story about one boring guy who thought he might actually BE the android baby but it turns out he isn’t. Anyway …

Altered Carbon, the main idea that people store their consciousness on floppy disks and insert them willy-nilly into bodies (a.k.a. sleeves) has a LOT of implications, and they do a fair job of sorting through a number of them – people with religious objections encode their floppy disks (ok, “stacks”) so they can’t be reincarnated, which fucks up some police investigations and family relationships. Other people are hacking the stacks to force that encoding onto unwilling victims. That’s a cool thought – and it gets cult-like hackers in there so we can has some cyberspace. Rich people have clones and fancy backup systems so they can keep occupying the same bodies forever and ever – which also means that anybody with access could impersonate them by stealing and occupying their clone body. Again, ok.

The show could have done without all the steamy sex, but it’s 2018 and there’s no TV show without random scenes in strip clubs and the couplings of various people as the go-to plot device to keep things moving along. In the end, as Sherlock Holmes was forced to say in the dreadful season 4 of the Steven Moffat production, “it is what it is”.

What works for me in Altered Carbon is that people are given this new technology and use and abuse it in lots of ways we likely would, but otherwise we all remain the same shit birds we’ve always been. In this respect, it works along the lines of a Black Mirror episode. What if we ran a cartoon character for parliament? Yeah, like that. As for the background, because cool set design etc … at least they spent a lot of money and it shows.

Often, a science fiction story will posit a What If and then nothing much comes of it. This can be quite realistic. Science, after all, is mostly tedious work! What if we colonized other planets? Then we’d be the same shit birds over there. What if we had wars with aliens? Then they’d be wars and wars are fucking awful. What if we made artificial creatures with super intelligence? Then they’d be smarter than us and either want to wipe us out (Terminator) or have nothing to do with us (my preference, as in my stories How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box and Renegade Robot). What if you could go back in time? Then you’d be stuck there most likely, without any visible means of support or speaking the language, so you’d better bring a toothbrush and bone up on your survival skills. What if we built a Moon Base? The residents would probably live boring lives – have you checked out life on the international space station lately?

What if you set out to imagine a whole new world, other places, other cultures, other creatures? In that case you’d better get your thinking cap on and really do some thorough imaginings, because if all you’re going to come up with is Cowboys and Indians, or Medieval Warlords, or Sexy Computer Hackers (as if), then you’re in luck – you can probably sell that crap to HBO and make it big time.

 

 

Dorian Grayscale

This new version of Clippy, the classic Microsoft Windows Help Assistant, is a popup presence on your smart phone that will absorb all of your emotional responses to everything happening on the device. Clippy will react for you, just as you would, in accordance with its detailed configuration and defaults. Settings include adjustable sliding scales for the full range of affiliations – political, religious, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, you name it. Clippy is the you you always wanted to be, or all the yous you ever could be. Clippy will snort with joy or derision at the latest tweets, rejoice or despair at the breaking news and soak up the shared delusions of your family, friends and neighbors. Clippy is thoroughly avatarable and guaranteed to ingest all that unseemly sensory input so you don’t have to. Clippy comes with a refreshing rejuvenation cleanse that can be applied repeatedly and forever at no extra cost. Clippy can be placed in telepathic mode, so that no one but you can hear its moanings and groanings. Clippy has no built-in preferences, tastes or prejudices, but is built to “roll with it” in any direction. Clippy has no memory, so can never remind you of troublesome prior opinions or indiscretions. Clippy is local-storage-data-free with subscription and otherwise inscrutable beyond detection. All print is just fine with Clippy. All records and materials including emotional and mental response datasets are property in perpetuity of clippy.handbasket.com

Warning: Clippy can not be exchanged, transferred, stolen, lost, misplaced or detached in any form or fashion for as long as you both shall live.

Is Our Robots Having Fun Yet?

I recently came across a news item worrying about whether sex robots could be hacked to murder their clients. This opens up a whole new can of first world problems. My immediate reaction was the thought that while the future might be terrifying at least the headlines are going to be hilarious. As usual these days, one can only be ahead of one’s time by moments. Yesterday Amazon Prime released their new original series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, and judging from the first 3 episodes I’ve seen so far, contemporary science fiction writers have moved on from worrying about whether robots will kill us to the far more vexing concern of whether our robots might not have had an orgasm. Perhaps the series is following the usual binge pattern pioneered by HBO and adopted by Netflix where there is a lot of sex and nudity in the first few episodes in order to get viewers hooked before they tail off into the more mundane tedium of character development and soapy delights. I had hopes for this series, seemingly produced by the same people who’ve done fairly well with Man in the High Castle, but even the presence of Brian Cranston and other fine actors hasn’t helped too much so far. Dick was terrible at writing sex scenes, terrible at relationships in general, at emotions in particular other than anxiety and fear, but he was certainly terrific with excrutiatingly fucked up scenarios. But now instead of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep we are getting Do Androids Have Wet Dreams. At least we’re well along the path towards gender fluidity and ethnic variety. Just imagine how dreary it would be if all the actors were still the drab cis white bread stiffs from 1960s staples like Bewitched or 1-Adam-12. The eye candy factor is fairly high in this series, and I am almost moved each time a middle-aged lesbian robot moans with erotic pleasure. You’ve come a long way, baby-bot. Thanks for not killing us all, yet.

(episode 3: Human Is, should be retitled: Boring & Obvious Is)

Our Lady of the Requisite Backstory

Oh the rules of fiction – in order to have the Obligatory Character Development one must provide the Requisite Backstory, even if we’re talking about your basic Canadian Cable TV Science Fiction. This series has several good ideas (Travelers, on Netflix), many good ideas in fact, that routinely get positively drowned in gooey, syrupy, dismal and dreadful back stories. The one guy’s tedious wife has a terrible pregnancy. The medic has her empathy surgically removed. The hot head is married to a wife beater. The drug addict gets addicted to new and exciting drugs. The teen football sensation who is also the world’s oldest human suffers from A.D.D. (asshole dad disease). They are a team, sent from the future by an Advanced AI (The Director) in order to change history so that there will be no such future and no such people because the future is gonna be shite. In the meantime, several sensational ideas are casually dropped in:

  • the travelers take over the bodies of people at their moment of their otherwise death (awesome!)
  • young children are temporarily used as involuntary messengers when The Director has to change plans at the last second
  • time travelers sometimes have to try six, seven, eight even nine times to fix problems, each time a new candidate occupying a dying host and then dying themselves upon failure
  • there’s a guy (Philip, the drug addict) who has every trivial detail of the known future memorized.
  • but then how every time a mission occurs the future is changed in some way so that pretty soon nobody knows what the fuck is going on
  • So Philip gets a green pill update with the new future every now and then
  • The travelers occupy bodies that are nothing like their original ones, so the black lady was never a black lady at all, the teenager was 100 years old, the medical specialist is stuck in the body of a mentally defective young woman.
  • Of course there’s a Faction (I assume they are fans of Lemony Snicket’s VFD) who are fighting against The Director but exactly How or Why or When or Whatever is never very clear.

BUT, in between all these sometimes ingenious plot devices we have minute upon minute of Exposition, Character Development, Backstory, Personal Issues, Hugging and Learning, trying so hard to get us to give a fuck about these particular “hosts”. OMG! It’s just the writingness of the thing that drives me crazy. You can just see the writers room busily filling up boxes on the story board, checking off items, working out details. Marcy needs to learn how to fuck with genuine feeling! Jeff  has to get off the booze somehow! Grant really needs to show Kat how much he truly madly deeply loves her even though she is as annoying as anyone has ever been in the history of the modern world. Trevor is goodness no matter the cost and Philip, well, Philip better damn well stock up on yellow pills because they’re the only thing that keep him from visualizing multiple alternate timelines concurrently (another nifty notion, seriously).

Every episode I’m torn between watching and turning it off, even moment by moment. Sometimes I just have to pause the show and Scream, which family does not appreciate. I want to give this show every god damn award and then take it away immediately. Love it. Hate it. Wish I could just get the parts I like dripped intravenously. Maybe The Directory can make that happen for me.