Tag Archives: science fiction

Will our future be like Star Trek or Jupiter Ascending?

Summary: Star Trek excites our imaginations, including those of economists imaging a world beyond scarcity. How will the economy run with almost unlimited wealth? This post looks at improbable aspects of this vision, including the robot revolt, and asks if our future will resemble Jupiter Ascending more than Star Trek.

Enterprise-D

Contents

  1. Trekonomics
  2. The Solution: robots
  3. The oddity of Star Trek: AI slaves
  4. Conclusions: what it means for us
  5. For More Information

(1)  Trekonomics

The release of chapters to Manu Saadia’s book Trekonomics sparked articles about the economics of Star Trek highlighting its absurdity — an inherent conflict in this fictional universe which raises and important point about our near future.

Let’s start with the best description I’ve seen of Trek’s economics, “The Economics of Star Trek: The Proto-Post Scarcity Economy” by Rick Webb at Medium. He describes it as a market economy whose productivity allows the government to easily provide a high basic income allowance to everybody. Even with replicators and ample clean cheap energy, it’s not the impossible dream of a post-scarcity economy in which every person is a god (no starships for everybody). Here’s the key passage of relevance to us.

The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. … Citizens have no financial need to work, as their benefits are more than enough to provide a comfortable life, and there is, clearly, universal health care and education. The Federation has clearly taken the plunge to the other side of people’s fears about European socialist capitalism: yes, some people might not work. So What? Good for them. We think most still will.

However, if they so choose they can also get a job. Many people do so for personal enrichment, societal pressure or through a desire to promote social welfare. Are those jobs paid? I would assume that yes, those jobs are “paid,” in the sense that your energy allocation is increased in the system, though, again, your allocation is large enough that you wouldn’t even really notice it.

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A post-holiday bulletin: government fear-mongering makes us less prepared!

Summary:  We’ve survived yet another brush with death from terror, although we disregarded the barrage of warnings on cable news to wet our pants on command of the FBI. There are lessons from this, if we wish to learn. Fear-mongering makes us less prepared for the eventual attack.  This is a post-holiday follow-up to Prepare for terror on the 4th of July!  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.”
— Last line in The Thing from Another World (1951)

While waiting for ISIS to attack the San Francisco Bay Area, our household held a festival of 1950’s science fiction films. In them generals often ordered “If you see a UFO, shoot it down!” (without knowing why they came). For breaks we switched from 1950’s government-manufactured fear to cable news — to see 21st century government manufactured fear.

The different is that this time we have learned, through repetition, to ignore these warnings. Yet we have not learned sufficiently to see that we pay for the vast apparatus that creates these warnings. We pay for the endless stream of fake terror cells — recruited, trained, sponsored, and busted by the FBI — for the legions of clerks who write the bogus analysis and press releases — and for the suits who solemnly recite evidence-less warnings to “be vigilant.”

Covering their asses, desensitizing us to real warnings

It’s the principal-agent conflict at work. it’s in the best interest of the government security officials to give countless warnings, so that the eventual real attack (large or small) will be covered. This means that their warnings become disregarded but expensive-to-produce noise. Only adult supervision from the White House and Congress can help, and they show no interest in doing so.

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“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a well-manufactured entertainment product.

Summary:  As a break from the FM website’s usual fare of geopolitical realism, today film critic Locke Peterseim reviews Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”. He shows how its industrial capitalism applied to the creative industries, Disney’s entertainment product assembly line adapted to the 21st century. Post your views in the comments.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Guardians of the Galaxy Poster


Who Guards Against the Guardians of the Galaxy?

By Locke Peterseim
Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly, 5 August 2014
Reposted here with his generous permission.

Let’s be clear at the start: I enjoyed The Guardians of the Galaxy. Quite a bit, thank you. I had much of the good-times happy smiles with it, and I laughed a whole lot, often heartily and with great joy. It’s a totally entertaining lark (with a bit of heart), and if you like fizzy, funny, sci-fi action and you haven’t already, you should probably go see it — you’ll have a nice late-summer blast.

Keep that in mind, because later in this piece, it’s going to increasingly seem like I did not like Guardians of the Galaxy; that I blame it for some very bad things. Not true. Remember: Liked it. Had fun.

… I increasingly have issues with big-studio, big-budget, big-action, big-CGI, big-franchise, big-box-office blockbusters. Often that’s because the films that get shoved off that particular production line start to all feel the same: all just slightly above mediocre, all carefully packaged so you don’t so much notice the mediocrity but instead smile contentedly, dazzled by all the sparkly familiarity.

But several times a year there are big, expensive, VFX-laden, hyper-marketed tent-pole genre films that frustrate me more because as they suffer for their formulaic bloat, I see down inside them the smart, compelling films they could have been if they weren’t birthed through a studio-committee process intent on sanding off any edgy or unconventional originality that might hurt ticket sales in a key demographic. (Last year it was World War Z; earlier this summer it was Godzilla.)

In that respect, Guardians of the Galaxy bothers me more than most, even as I delighted in watching it more than most. Seeing it the first time, I could almost literally feel the two halves of my conflicted film-going soul separating and floating out to each side, like Angelic Pinto and Demonic Pinto on Tom Hulce’s shoulders.

I watched in utter, giddy glee as Chris Pratt’s “aw jeeze” space-rogue Peter Quill danced and lip-synced to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love;” I laughed constantly at the non-stop bickering between Quill and his misfit bad of cosmic screw ups as they fly around… um, fighting some bad people to keep them from getting a thing that does something something purple energy.

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Interstellar’s Quantum Love and Other Cosmic Horses#*t

Summary:  As a break from the FM website’s usual fare of geopolitical realism, today film critic Locke Peterseim reviews “Interstellar”, an example of what passes for a science fiction film in our time. He explores its shallow but exquisitely rendered plot, so deftly revealing the themes that excite us. Perhaps another day he’ll explain why Hollywood ignores the hundreds of awesome sci-fi tales written during the past 50 years in favor of this kind of hackwork.  Post your thoughts about the movie in the comments.

Interstellar poster

Interstellar’s Quantum Love and Other Cosmic Horses#*t

By Locke Peterseim

Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly.
21 November 2014

Reposted here with his generous permission.

Christopher Nolan loves his daughter very much. He would like you to know that his parental love for his daughter is super large. Larger than your love for anything you might love in your lesser, non-blockbuster-making ways.

Once a cold, calculating director, Christopher Nolan now believes in love, and his love for his daughter is so big that it transcends time and space. His love is so big that he had to make a film about it. But not just any film.

You see, Christopher Nolan’s love for his child is so immeasurably powerful and life-changingly epic that he had to make a really huge film. No mamby-pamby quiet meditation on life and parenthood. No naturalistic, small-scale capturing of the reality of human interaction. Leave that stuff to the independent whiners and pikers with their out-of-focus grainy navel-gazing.

Chris Nolan don’t play that game no more. Chris Nolan made The Dark Knight. Chris Nolan made Inception. So when he makes a movie that explores the power of the human heart by exploring the boundaries of human imagination, he does it on a grand scale.

The kind of awesome box-office-exploding film making that puts fat asses in extra-wide theater seats by the billions. The kind that cost $165 million dollars and is full of mind-blowing imagery and fist-pounding excitement and adventure. A film full of love. And exploration. And danger. And hope. And science stuff. That runs almost three hours and must be seen on the biggest screen possible.

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Pacific Rim‘s Monster-sized Fun

Summary:  Today we have another guest post by film critic Locke Peterseim, reviewing Pacific Rim. It’s something different, a break in our series of reviews of films that providea mirror in which we can see ourselves.  I haven’t commented on these movies — leaving the reviews to the pro. I hated The Lone Ranger, which he liked. Here he reviews Pacific Rim, which I consider the best science fiction movie I’ve seen in years — and the most enjoyable since The Avengers. Post your comments about the film — and this review!

Pacific Rim

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Pacific Rim‘s Monster-sized Fun

By Locke Peterseim

Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly
18 July 2013

Reposted here with his generous permission

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I can’t recall a movie that – for better or worse – comes so completely as advertised as Pacific Rim does.

If you’ve been looking at the summer marketing and thinking, “Good lord, that looks head-slappingly stupid,” you are correct. Likewise, if you’ve been watching the commercials and thinking, “Ho-lee crap, this looks mess-my-pants awesome,” you are also correct.

And if your assessment, sight unseen, of Pacific Rim is that it’s just a summer popcorn flick about giant frakkin’ robots and giant frakkin’ monsters beating the stuffing out of each other, then you are dead on. Gloriously, mindlessly, entertainingly so.

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Elysium Shouts Big, Loud Messages About Health Care & Immigration Reform. Gun Control, Not so Much

Summary:  Today we have another guest post by film critic Locke Peterseim, reviewing Elysium. He shows how it provides a mirror into which we can see our politics, 21st C American weirdness in all its glory. Post your comments about the film — and this review!

Elysium poster

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Contents

  1. The review
  2. About the author
  3. For More Information
  4. The trailer

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Elysium Shouts Big, Loud Messages
About Health Care & Immigration Reform
… Gun Control, Not so Much

By Locke Peterseim
Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly
9 August 2013
Reposted here with his generous permission

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Us older sci-fi fans are always bitchin’ and moanin’ about how no one makes science fiction movies about ideas anymore. How it’s all special effects and big stars and non-stop action. Which is why fan-boys and –girls of a certain age got very excited (probably too excited) about South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s debut District 9 four years ago this month.

A (very) thinly veiled Apartheid parable–only with aliens and giant alien weapons — Blomkamp’s DIY-feeling, R-rated District 9 showed a lot of visual verve and a willingness to gritty itself up with the sort of social messages usually flushed out of mainstream PG-13 teenage Cineplex fare. At least until it’s last act, when it slipped into yet another “oh cool, shit blowin’ up!” mindlessly “cool” action flick.

So elder-geek hopes were understandably riding high for Blomkamp’s follow up, this weekend’s Elysium. All the pieces were there: a teen-free R rating; timely and resonant themes about the haves and have nots; and the same dusty, down-and-dirty visuals from District 9 cinematographer Trent Opaloch.

Except Elysium has a higher budget, better-known stars (Matt Damon! Jodi Foster!), a wider scope (the action wings its way between a used-up Earth and the titular giant “gated space station” in orbit), and more impressive CGI. It’s all-around larger and louder with more action, more awesome weaponry, and a lot more ass getting kicked on all sides.

All of which makes Elysium twice as big, half as smart, and considerably more muddled, misguided, and flat-out disheartening than District 9.

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“Ender’s Game” is a horror movie, showing us our dark side. No worries; we’ll forget faster than we eat the popcorn.

Summary:  Reader’s have requested revisits to the posts about “Ender’s Game”. As the poster below shows, it holds a mirror to show us aspects of today’s America.  Dark themes, evoking aspects of ourselves we prefer to hide (as popular art so often does).  Our fear, even paranoia. And our willingness to kill as a first recourse (seen this year in Obama’s eagerness to bomb Syria). This was originally posted in September 2010.

It's them or us

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Contents

  1. Background on the author
  2. Why is Ender’s Game popular?
  3. Its powerful, weird dynamics
  4. Ender as an appealing Hitler-like figure
  5. The narrative structure of Ender’s Game: porn
  6. Why generals like Ender’s Game
  7. For More information — & link to free copy of the story
  8. Trailer for Ender’s Game

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(1)  Background on the author

Orson Scott Card has become the latest pawn in the culture war.  DC Comics hired Card to write Superman comics. The Left protested Card’s right-wing views (especially his anti-gay stance). DC fired Card (i.e., put the project on indefinite hold). For details see “What happened to Orson Scott Card?” at Salon.

Now Card has another shot at influencing the American public — and the world (it will be interesting to see the film’s reception in foreign markets).

My nickel review: the short story is brilliant, fascinating, well worth reading. I found the book unreadable.  If you have not read the short story or book,  before continuing either scroll to section 7, or read this free post of the short story.

(2) Why is Ender’s Game popular?

One aspect of its mass appeal: it tells the story of modern America. The world’s superpower — bigger, richer, stronger than any other nation — but we see ourselves as victims. We are forced to invade our Latin neighbors, repeatedly, to see that our businessmen get a fair deal. Attacked on 12/41, 8/64, and 9/11 — forcing us to bomb nations into oblivion (the total weight of bombs dropped on Vietnam was 3x what we used in WWII). But we remain unsullied in our own eyes because our motives are pure.

Others see the story’s appeal in the personal history of its readers: “Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender’s Game, Intention, and Morality“, John Kessel, update of an article originally published in Foundation – the International Review of Science Fiction, Spring 2004 — Excerpt:

Ender gets to strike out at his enemies and still remain morally clean. Nothing is his fault. Stilson already lies defeated on the ground, yet Ender can kick him in the face until he dies, and still remain the good guy. Ender can drive bone fragments into Bonzo’s brain and then kick his dying body in the crotch, yet the entire focus is on Ender’s suffering. For an adolescent ridden with rage and self-pity, who feels himself abused (and what adolescent doesn’t?), what’s not to like about this scenario?

An even more pointed answer comes from “Ender’s Game: fascist revenge fantasy? Nah, geek revenge fantasy.“, posted at Wax Banks, 21 August 2006:

{Click here to read the rest of post, going to the September 2010 post}

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