Archive for June, 2014

So why are you here? No, seriously. Did my government send you to help update their file on me? It’s a conspiracy I tells ya! A conspiracy! Which is all very useful as July is shaping up to be a scorching summer of paranoid sweats here in the UK. First up, the provocative Utopia returns for a second series on Channel 4. Despite the show inevitably lacking unsettling mystery – we all know where Jessica Hyde is now – it’ll no doubt make up for the short-fall with a fresh, infectious dose of unhinged interconnections.

At the start of last year I compared the original series to the quality once seen in the BBC’s Edge of Darkness and, as if to generate a perfect opportunity to compare and contrast, BBC 4 have obligingly rescheduled that whole slice of duplicitous magical realism starting tomorrow. While registering on the less whacked-out side of the spectrum, it’s still a chilling, fictional consideration of the shadowy world of the nuclear industry.

Maybe it’s a personal thing but I’ve always preferred my conspiracies as way out as possible, yet with enough meat on them to leave you fearing for your sanity should you ever research the connections they purport to make. Which does result in a very fine line as far as artistic appreciation is concerned. For instance, the Mel Gibson helmed Conspiracy Theory is a definite miss. As is Dan Brown’s horribly sanitised Davinci Code series. However, head back to the late 1960s/early 1970s – and the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination – and you’ll find the well-spring for the seminal Illuminatus Trilogy (Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson), Erik Von Däniken’s wonderfully left-field theories on alien intervention in our culture and, last but not least, Philip K Dick’s vision of a totalitarian state under the rule of Richard Nixon (Radio Free Albemuth – recently adapted for film). Collectively there’s enough within these to keep you second guessing for a month of Sundays. Just make sure you don’t let the fretfulness spill over into our current world of internet surveillance, spy bots, agenda driven news feeds, democratic capitals investing in water canons

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Blade Runner Syd Mead

From the early animatronic trackways of Disney’s Epcot Center to the proposed transports of Minority Report, speculative traffic systems have sparked the imaginations of futurists and Sci-Fi writers alike. With increasing pressure on reserves of fossil fuel, the threat of global warming and general automotive congestion across the planet, it now seems as if concepts and hypotheticals are more the norm than ever before. Hybrid cars are a familiar sight in Europe and North America, but there remains a swathe of political resistance to the kind of infrastructure needed to make self drive or electric transport a reality. Which, in itself, is all part of an increasing tension between tech and government – succinctly teased apart in David Runciman’s recent Guardian article.

Developments are proceeding at a breakneck pace, no doubt about that. Google are already building their first fleet of self-driving vehicles, the electronic gyroscopics needed to solve mono-wheeled transport are being aced by the likes of Honda and Ryno, and Tesla Motors won’t be content until they’ve made the internal combustion engine a thing of the past.

There are still numerous hurdles to cross – car insurance for self-driving vehicles and the potential loss of individual freedom in a world where police can simply hack your vehicle to a standstill to name but two. There’s also a sizable gulf between proposed transport solutions and the road/air crossing of Syd Mead’s ‘spinner’ above. But there is a definite shift coming in the future landscape of domestic travel. Question is whether you are or aren’t on board with that.

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One year on since whistle blower Edward Snowden fired his digital distress flare across the bows of global government. It’s no surprise then that surveillance culture is gnawing at the collective consciences of the Sci-Fi minded. Personally, I find it delightful to be sat here in the eye of the storm, bathed in the assurance that the culture which bought you 1984, V for Vendetta and Brazil was integral in pillaging your virtual back waters, all thanks to the noble efforts of GCHQ.

In 2010, UK Tory MP Teresa May gave in to the electoral demands of pressure group No2id and scrapped the proposed chip card system for this country’s populace. A tactic that gained respect, if not votes, from the digital savvy among the left-wingers. How hollow that promise seems now in the wake of this latest observational scandal. Even before you get into the realms of online snooping, the UK still has one of the highest proliferations of CCTV systems in the world. Add online marketing data capture, bank transaction monitoring, e-passports and bio-metric lunch money for kids in school and… Any of this making you feel more secure? Less fearful?

Thankfully, while No2id might have served its purpose, others have taken up the torch of peaceful resistance – hence the Reset The Net video above. If you love your skiffy – regardless of your political leanings – then you’re perfectly at home with the wonderful mental exercise of extrapolation. So have a ponder, have a look at the Deus Ex and the Culture sides of the virtual fence we’re collectively sitting on and, if nothing else, do something. As Dame Stella Rimington – former head of MI5 – said back in 2009, the biggest risk in all of this is that we’re “sleep walking into a police state”. And if you’re in need of a bit of additional Sci-Fi related motivation, have a listen to Bruce Sterling’s closing speech at this year’s SXSW.

Until next time… Be pure, be vigilant, behave!

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