Archive for May, 2013

Ender's Game

I have been watching the growing media activity around Gavin Hood’s film version of Ender’s Game, and re-experiencing a niggling unease about the original story. I enjoyed it immensely when I first read it, I’ll freely admit, but subsequent understanding of the author’s political stance has brought something questionable to the narrative. It’s familiar territory, well-trodden by the combat boot of male-dominated, hard SF. Not exactly clean cut, not exactly simplistic but definitely part of a pervasive argument that technological ferociousness will always have a place in our interaction with alien races. A ‘distinguished’ military line within the genre then, from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers right up to Halo 4’s recent mini-series prequel, Forward Unto Dawn.

However, there’s also the sometimes quieter, more complex voice of dissent; the alienation of the returning soldier trying to make sense of the conflict that he or she has been through. With this in mind it’s encouraging to find Joe Haldeman’s Forever War being refreshed as a film project by Ridley Scott – the man who brought corporate complexity to the future battlefield (or maybe that was John Wagner). Although the project is still languishing in development hell, it would be fantastic to see a more pluralistic view of future war and its effects on indigenous life forms and the soldiers sent to kill them.

War. Maybe that never does change but, thankfully, the perspectives on it do.

No, not the 2005 Doctor Who novel, rather the virtual capture of an actor’s performance for digital reproduction. It’s a topic that Hollywood has already had a pass at with S1m0ne, which – despite a ‘powerful on paper’ union of Andrew Niccol (Truman Show/Gattaca) and Al Pacino – received a limp critical reception.

Now, in the hands of Ari Folman – director of Waltz with Bashir – the topic resurfaces with a tale of an aging, out-of-work actress accepting one fateful farewell gig. The film’s an interesting merge of live action and animation – much in the style of Richard Linklater’s excellent ‘A Scanner Darkly’ – but it does delve, once again, into the muddy waters of ‘selfhood’ as opposed to ‘reproduction’ within an increasingly omnipresent and avaricious mediascape. Twelve years ago discussion centred on the femininity of virtual character Aki Ross in the technically brilliant ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’. Now we’re already beyond the Rubicon of post mortem digital reproduction – Oliver Reed in Gladiator/Tupac hologram at Coachella 2012. Perhaps – to bastardise a line from Proximo’s character in Ridley Scott’s swords and sandals epic – future legal agents will have to consider that movie stars can, potentially, be more than just “shadows and dust”.

2001 Video Phone

A look at retro video phones over at io9 sparked some thought about future communications. While, in the real world, we’re bouncing through innovation after innovation via voice over internet protocols (VoIP), it’s still wonderful to see how ideas about visual communication have evolved.

One thing missing from this retrospective, however, are David Wallace Foster’s simulacra from the novel Infinite Jest. In a very PKDickian twist, the use of ‘Teleputers’ within the book results in people purchasing prosthetic representations of themselves to answer the phone – ultimately, the stigma of looking naturally flawed drives this completely self-serving and superficial industry. It’s obviously an idea heavy with Foster’s characteristic irony, but when you look at contemporary actors’ concern about the emergence of HD TV, alongside Skype providing guidelines about whether your home office is “ready for broadcast”… Well, maybe this premise – mirrored at a less developed level in the film Surrogates – isn’t so far-fetched.

Within science fiction there are, of course, several other cautionary tales about revolutions in communication. Most poignantly Ursula K Le Guin’s Ansible – a faster than light system explored fully in The Dispossessed – and Douglas Adam’s universal translator, the Bable Fish, which, “… by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different cultures and races, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”

The complexities, then, of messages and machines… Oh, and fish.