Archive for November, 2016

quantum-computer

Moore’s Law was recently discussed at ARM’s TechCon annual event for partners within the microchip manufacturing industry. Coined by Gorden E Moore of Intel in 1965, the law posited the idea that processor speeds, or the overall processing power of computers, would double every two years. It’s a rule that has held true for the past half century, but now micro technology is finally reaching its limits. It’s no coincidence then that Microsoft are currently investing heavily in the new scientific field of quantum computing. As chips reach their physical limitations, and the demand for global data shows no sign of slowing, it seems fitting to consider the genre heritage and future of this computational frontier.

Many machines have been put forward by science fiction writers previously, and these in their own way have been influenced by the real world process of miniaturisation. (Consider the world sized computers in Forbidden Planet or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy versus the cranial processing of, say, Ex Machina.)

Interestingly, some fictional representations of circuit free computation have been closer to the quantum mark – despite its inherent in-determination. Cult Sci-Fi film of 1974, Zardoz, dramatised a crystalline central processor that used light for its calculations. Meanwhile, Ursula Le Guin’s intergalactic communication device, the Ansible, could easily be seen to exploit the “spooky action at a distance” of quantum entanglement. Greg Egan’s Quarantine (1992) has been considered to be one of the earliest depictions of the idea. But others have contested this by siting Isaac Azimov’s use of “molecular valves” throughout the “Multivac” computer in his 1956 story, The Last Question. As for what comes next, genre pick-up is still pretty light despite the stimulating subject matter. However, there is now a dedicated annual creative competition called Quantum Shorts.

If computing at an atomic level does become a reality, one of the first areas of research to be impacted will be artificial intelligence. As a result, if Robin Slone is to be believed, complex acts like writing a blog post will become second nature to the robots of tomorrow. So then if Drozbot, a blog about messages within machines, was continued by a machine… Oh how comic, oh how apt.

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star-wars-episode-2

Sequels are an understandable part of the ongoing pageant of Sciffy. Even the likes of James Tiptree Junior and Samuel Delaney weren’t and aren’t adverse to the sprawling scope of a multi-book narrative. There’s space in opuses like these to generate a real measure of time and character development but, in the hands of marketing teams, the sequel can become a much more cynical endeavour. As a result, the jitters we have around the latest slew of ‘franchise reboots’ and follow-ups aren’t dissipating.

A recent and notable example of incredulity towards spin-offs focused on the serialisation of 12 Monkeys – a questionable sentiment echoed by the film’s creator, Terry Gilliam. That said, the show is still airing on Syfy and is now well into its second series. So there’s obviously a demand for it.

There’s also the mooted sequel to Blade Runner that’s been gathering momentum through a series of casting announcements. Odd that there’s the desire to continue a tale penned by one of the Sci-Fi greats who specialised in rapid fire novels each set against their own peculiar backdrops, especially when you consider the lukewarm audience reception to the original.

Another cult classic, Dune, is also making a cinematic come back – possibly as a result of fan reappraisal of the failed Jodowsky project that was then superseded by the weird and flawed adaptation by David Lynch. There was the serialised mini series which aired in 2000. But while it did display a tighter adherence to the original text, it couldn’t convey the scale of the book’s set pieces on its meagre SFX budget. Room for improvement then, so perhaps a re-imaging could result in a classic.

Most beleaguered of all Sci-Fi franchises, though, has to be Alien. A practically perfect piece of survival horror, even before the term was coined, which then transformed into an all-out action sequel at the hands of James Cameron. Then what? A slow bleeding out of sequels that culminated in the visually impressive but structurally desolate Prometheus. While being critical of such a much loved part of the genre is practically an act of self harm, the prospect of Alien Covenant doesn’t engender any confidence in a franchise reboot.

As for one-off concepts and projects, well they’re just as likely to fail. But there is something wonderful when the likes of The Martian and Arrival cut through the noise. You never know, though, there might be a group of marketeers out there already pitching The Martian 2: Return to the Red Planet and Departure as viable money spinners right now.

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Imaginary boundaries are plentiful in Sci-Fi. Maps overlying on shifting territories, zones and sectors wherever you look. Time and again, tales contemplate the outside getting in, or those trapped inside getting out. Now with Trump following such inspirational and successful forebears as Qin Shi Huangdi, Hadrian and Maginot, we have a new imaginary boundary made manifest and, this being Drozbot, our thoughts turn to all the genre walls ever constructed.

The mega cities of 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd immediately spring to mind. Walled urban jungles crowded with so many that only a fascist police force can bring some kind of order to those inside. More pertinent maybe is the fictional wall between the US and Mexico in the film Monsters, where the illegal aliens are manifested as extraterrestrial entities with inscrutable motivations. Or perhaps the walls of Pacific Rim have a more palatable, less relevant sting to them, protecting populaces from trans-dimensional beasts that emerge from the deep.

Most recently, the segregation in Channel 4’s The Aliens – which aired before both Brexit and the Trump campaign – did a horribly accurate job of foreshadowing what was just around the corner. But, thinking about it, Sci-Fi has always sat outside the walled garden of canonical literature. While it offers numerous cautionary tales about the dangers and impracticability of walls, the genre is also at risk of hiding behind one as a result of its increased popularity.

A natural reaction to a world turning its back on others, favouring isolationism and building such walls is to retreat – see Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalisation. Why not move further into the fantastical worlds the genre has created and disengage from the here and now? Perhaps its no coincidence that super heroes are also at an all time high regarding popularity, just as society turns to the oh-so-easy unification of ideology and cult of personality. There is no Tony Stark to come and extricate us from this mess, and leaders who seek power for power’s sake don’t lead us anywhere we can collectively be proud of.

Adrift – a Gravity-esque game set on a destroyed space station – contains an audio file that references President Kennedy’s speech inspiring a nation to go into space. To quote, “There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.” Space without boundaries, where walls are about collective survival not subjugation. Look at all these games, all the books, the films, the shows, the words and the music and consider them more a platform for inspiration and action, rather than something to cower behind.

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