Archive for February, 2015

BioShock Infinite

Two years ago, I was all over the hyperreal. While still playing through BioShock Infinite we, as a family, visited Paris. Beyond the discombobulating jolt of climbing Le Tour Eifel, we also travelled to Disneyland where the multilayering of Main Street and Space Mountain (shown here in Disney collaborator Ray Bradbury’s private art collection) effortlessly overlapped with Ken Levine’s Columbia. As Disneyland should be, it was all adventure without risk, but it still struck me as interesting that such a simulation of the ‘real’ world should enthuse cultural theorists, sci-fi writers and game makers alike.

French sociologist Jean Baudrillard thought Disneyland Anaheim was actually more connected to ‘the real’ than the simulated, self-referencing mobius strip called Los Angeles that surrounded it. As part of his working through of Hyperreality, he described how the theme park functions as a hallucinatory distraction from the lack of any cultural foundations, or cognitive purchase points, the individual may have within the post-modern world. Not so weirdly, sci-fi savant Philip K Dick also engaged in defining reality through the medium of Disneyland, but did so in a way that wasn’t confined to the academic ivory tower. That said, many people miss the comparable playfulness shared between the two writers, and the cautionary messages they communicate about the nature of reality. As a salient point of divergence, Dick’s fears were more conspiratorial, considering to what end the, “pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms” might be used. Which, awkwardly, is what the majority of Drozbot is about – a sense of wonder at these sophisticated phantasmagoria designed to entertain and make money for their creators.

We should consider, however, that Disney – while currently holding more than its fair share of geek dreams – is a company built upon a legacy of imagining a better tomorrow. You can argue all you want about whether that goal has been subsumed into a drive for cash, but the legacy remains. When Bradbury was called in by Disney to design Spaceship Earth at Epcot, it was out of a mutual optimism for the future – a sentiment that the company will no doubt be promoting yet again via the film Tomorrowland.

Returning to Philip K Dick, he closes his brief essay on reality with the words, “For years [Disney] had the Lincoln Simulacrum [who], like Lincoln himself, was only a temporary form which matter and energy take and then lose. The same is true of each of us, like it or not.” In comparison, Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet before he died yesterday read, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” But let’s not be glum about the entropic nature of life. Instead, in parting, let’s enjoy this perfectly apt sci-fi/Disney/Spock crossover.

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Rhino Drone

The sky should literally be the limit for radio-controlled micro flying machines, but the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK and the US Federal Aviation Authority are scrambling to control this airborne infestation. In some cases the call for registration of vehicles over a certain weight seems driven by genuine concern for health and safety. In others, the principle of actually having these administrative bodies governing flight paths appears to be the greater motive to legislate – a case of the CAA and FAA ensuring that they don’t lose control for the situation.

Surveillance by law enforcement officers, recently highlighted by the illegal use of a drone by the Merseyside police, is something anyone with even a passing fear of a panopticon state should resist. But should this resistance lead to direct action? The US already has its fair share of libertarians posing with rifles aimed at drones, and there’s more than one meme promoting the idea of poaching proposed aerial delivery services. The tech behind the vehicles, however, is already becoming amazingly robust and, even with a limited ceiling of operation, shooting one of these things down with a high-powered air rifle would require some precision marksmanship. Then again when hovering, or flying in low, the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are particularly vulnerable.

As with so many swift advances within the world of robotics, the outlook isn’t all legally fraught, ballistic and bleak. Benevolent innovators are also looking at ways of delivering medicine to remote locations, breaking monopolies on world mapping and using fleets equipped with thermal imaging to find people still living across disaster areas. They’re even helping to defend endangered wildlife against poaching. While the robot imaginings of Robert Chew (above) are still fantasy, companies like Google and Airware – alongside initiatives like the Wildlife Conservation UAV challenge – are making it increasingly difficult for poachers to operate.

Whatever your stance, you should have – and voice – an opinion on these ingenious little devices. That said, for every government sanctioned ‘spy in the sky’ there’s also the potential for a fast response, flying defibrillator. Sweeping sanctions simply aren’t the answer. A complex, grey and a case-by-case justification is.

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God Is Dead

Saturation points are good. Look at the glut of superhero themed news that dominates the geek film columns, and you’d be right to wonder whether any of this goes beyond marketing and touches upon, you know, the ‘art’ side of comic art. Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury to die! Troubled casting of Suicide Squad! The Rock to play Black Adam! Frankly my dears, damns given = zero. Being raised on a diet of Action, Crunch, 2000AD, Starlord, Warrior – and buying Deadline magazine just to read Tank Girl – I’ve ended up with a very Anglo-centric taste in comics. Which means my reaction to the contemporary firework displays from Marvel et al is to simply search harder. Surely there’s still something vital happening within the medium?

Anyone reading Drozbot will know that Alan Moore is a continual touchstone and, thankfully, he’s been busy. Writing Alpha for Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa’s God Is Dead, he brings his own unique take to the ongoing tale of the second coming of multiple deities – smartly bookended by Kireon Gillen’s Omega. Fellow Brit – just roll with the bias – Brian Talbot also cropped up in the news recently via a Guardian profile. His steampunk/Beatrix Potter tale of an anthropomorphic badger detective now stretches to four volumes. Plus Grant Morris, of personal We3 renown, is also keeping things energised with Nameless, a new, possibly Cthuhulu mythos themed series – you had us at astronauts wearing sigil covered space suits.

Obviously, things are still stirring State side, highlighted here through one older and one fresh project that have both generated interest. Brian K Vaughan’s unhinged space opera Saga has just had its 25th edition and seems to be going from strength to strength – Fiona Staples art style has the same ‘feel’ as Peter Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man. Meanwhile, sticking with the ladies, Ming Doyle could well find herself having to work up some of the gender switches she’s generated in her recent showcase.

Finally, something intriguing is emerging from the US small screen. Enormous is the comic book brainchild of Tim Daniel and Mehdi Cheggour and posits a world where giant mutated creatures battle with humans for dominance of the planet. Good news is it’s on route to becoming a mini series with Trollhunter’s André Øvredal working up the TV adaptation. On the flip side, the trailer looks a bit Joss Whedon guest directs Power Rangers. Ah well, back to fueling the search engines.

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