Archive for March, 2018

There’s something of the Asian continent in the air around Sci-Fi at the moment, and we’re not just talking about the space station currently hurtling towards the planet.

Chinese artist and disident, Aie Weiwei plays a central role in the short film The Sand Storm which was kickstarted and filmed under the official radar in Beijing. First aired in 2014, you can watch it now on Vimeo here. (Note that there’s also a deeper Asian genre link between Aie Weiwei’s costume and that worn by James Hong, playing Hannibal Chew in the original Blade Runner.) Elsewhere, Benedict Wong, although admittedly a native Manchunain, seems to be constantly on our screens in one Sci-Fi role or another. He has most recently appeared in Impossible Planet as part of Channel 4’s Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, and as Lomax in Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2018). Maybe a couple of tenuous links for the sake of building out a topic, but there’s a wide selection of new written work to back this up.

We’ve mentioned Luci Cixin’s book, The Three Body Problem, in other posts on the site, but now Amazon are reportedly paying one billion dollars for the television and production rights. The tale depicts an alien invasion set across the historical backdrop of the Cultural Revolution, which seems like a bold investment in darker, more cerebral science fiction – away from the capes, codpieces and proliferation of super powers.

Hong Kong is about to host its second genre conference as well. The bizarrely titled Melon: Sci-Fi and Beyond, created by venture capitalist Fritz Demopoulous, will begin on the 19th April and will provide a platform for emerging and established writers. Among them we can expect to see Chen Qiufan who has earned the title ‘China’s William Gibson’ by fans of his work, plus Tang Fei whose short story collections are beginning to find an audience here in the west, and Bao Shu who has already been published in English through Clarksworld. Talking of translations, while they’re still sketchy, an increasing number are appearing for all the above authors – however, with mixed results. Regardless, with the ever mutable landscape of science fiction looking towards China for fresh input, perhaps now is the time to sample some of this growing Eastern promise.

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While we’d hate to be driven to write by the self-proclaimed racist currently in charge of the third largest army in the world, his recent call for a “space force” eclipses Ronald Regan’s misguided Star Wars program in acts of sheer fuckwittery. And yet, despite the willy waving and budgetary hole such an endeavour would cause, it’s not that far-fetched.

As forward-thinking Sci-Fi fans, we might like to think of outer space as a demilitarised zone or perhaps somewhere politically neutral, like the Arctic on Earth. The reality is that this strategic high ground has been contested ever since Soviet Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. Although this wasn’t the first, nor sadly the last, piece of codependency between warfare and technological advancement, there’s no doubt the time of Sci-Fi combat is already upon us.

We’ve dwelt upon Boston Dynamics and their ability to create some of the most, er… provocative robots ever. Regardless Skynet singularity fears and these machines being co-opted into a military service, their previous owners DARPA haven’t shed too many oily tears since selling off the company. Instead, they’ve been busy creating digital comic books that highlight the risks of cyber warfare for West Point cadets. Not only that, but they’re also working on adapting the biological characteristics of the near indestructible Tardigrade to aid in the creation of a battlefront stasis device to hibernate wounded soldiers until they can reach a field hospital. Extrapolate on this and once the military can put its soldiers in and out of stasis, so follows the opportunity of sending them out to claim extraterrestrial territory and… Colonial marines, we salute you!

The tragic reality is where one space faring nation leads, others will follow. Forget peaceful and scientific exploration of the solar system. Suddenly, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers become a possibility – without a hint of Paul Verhoeven’s satirical touch – as does John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and the more pacifist perspective with The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

Space shouldn’t be a launch pad for territorial divides, colonial efforts, the Wild West, or a ‘Scramble for Africa’ styled drive to get rich quick. While we’d like to advocate a united federation of planets approach to the space around us and the cosmos at large, that too has at its heart a fully armed star fleet. Perhaps the final frontier is actually worthy of a completely fresh approach. What this might be has yet to be decided, but whatever we try has to be better than the carbon-copied, geriatric strategies of the banker, the industrialist and the warmonger.

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