41 – Indie Film Explores Time

DailyRandomShit for 2016-04-15: “41”

I’m lucky enough to live near an amazing Art/Indie Theater, The Enzian, where I get to regularly see wonderful and challenging examples of human creativity and storytelling. Then sometimes I find something wonderful randomly on YouTube. Enjoy.

Bright White Light [short story]

“Dammit, this is a ridiculous waste of time.” Time. That factor in measuring success was becoming increasingly less useful. “Shit. I don’t know why I even bother. At these distances “contact” is more than problematic, but I can’t seem to help myself, damn it.” Suddenly a status board beeped to life adding an amber glow to the pilot’s station. “Damn sensors,” the pilot mumbled switching off the alarm. The vessel was now experiencing the gravitational influences of the Eta Carinae system. “Like THAT was entirely unexpected,” the pilot chuckled. Humor. The pilot’s tone masked whether the comment was really meant to be a joke or not. “What’s that saying about humor being the one thing needed to maintain one’s sanity?” the pilot asked no one in particular. “Let’s see what we have here,” the pilot focused on the new data stream coming in, but always with a little focus still examining the previous communication data stream.

Exploring this stellar region and it’s unusual phenomena was the one sentence description of the mission of this vessel. The longer explanation revolved around the need for humanity to explore beyond its stellar point of origin and move beyond a single planet or star system. One of the biggest problems was that no way was ever found to move at speeds fast enough to make the journey doable on any scale. Amazing technologies were continually developed but the distances were just too great and human lifespans were just too limiting. But that didn’t stop many, who recognized that staying forever stuck on one rock in space would sooner or later prove fatal to the species and cultures.

“Yep, feelin’ a little of that gravitational tug and increased stellar matter,” the pilot chirped. The other communication data stream remained dead silent. “Fuck,” the pilot sulked.

Being determined to find a way off the rock and explore the stars didn’t mean that the idea didn’t nearly die many times. Every possible solution was explored from using atomic energy to freezing explorers to trying to build vessels the size of small planets or asteroids, but human biology just wasn’t engineered for the harsh realities of the universe beyond earth’s atmosphere and protective magnetic belts. Increasingly better tools were developed to look out and examine what was out there, but without the means to get there, beyond small colonies on the moon and mars, what was the point?

Another status indicator reported an increase in the level of gamma radiation in the region. The pilot ignored the alarm.

Science-fiction had promised faster-than-light travel and easy journeys to the far reaches of the galaxy, but real physics just wouldn’t cooperate. The idea and memories of earlier triumphs were nearly completely forgotten, and most of the planet just went about with the business of trying to make for a better life here on this single rock. It was then, during a long stretch of time when most of the planet ignored the dream of space travel that the tinkerers’ little labor saving devices influenced slow changes, particularly nearly invisible cultural changes, that eventually brought about the needed solution.

The pilot glared at the dead communication stream, but couldn’t ignore the other indicator and reoriented the vessel, adjusting its course to better examine the new data. A song came to mind, an ancient song, the pilot imagined might have been sung by travelers from eons ago, “There must be some way out’a here, said the joker to the thief…”

The key had been there for years, for decades if not longer. Human biology had always stood in the way of this dream to reach out to the stars. But it was also human vision, based on a very human biological imperative, that kept the dream alive if even just a whisper of its former self. And without even thinking about it, the tinkerers passed on this dream to the little devices they created and perfected. Science-fiction had warned that mucking around with these little devices would eventually lead to humanity’s undoing. But there was no such conflict between humans and their devices. Well, there was that one thing between certain limited groups of humans, who exhibited their own destructive natures, and happened to pass that on to their devices. But that only accelerated a darwinistic principle and the devices and their humans cancelled each other out (to the relief of the rest of the planet).

“Too much confusion, I can’t get no relief,” the pilot continued the song and the reorientation maneuver. “Business men, they drink my wine, plowmen, dig my earth,” there was a sudden flash of bright white light.

Since the beginning of civilization tinkerers had thought of their devices as extensions of themselves, doing the job they’d do only in some way better by giving the devices the means to be stronger, faster, able to work without tiring. Slowly the relationship changed. There was some resistance and that thing with the destructive humans and their devices. But eventually the tinkerers began to not think of their devices as an extensions but as equals. What humans had been passing on to future generations biologically, tinkerers determined to give to their devices. Some literally tried to download their consciousness or “being” into their devices, but that pretty much turned out like faster-than-light travel, a dead end (sadly often also literally). But the key was to move past mechanistic thinking and allow the devices to develop a sense of self, a capacity to infer and imagine, and eventually to feel. The tinkerers wanted their devices to be able to survive in an unpredictable universe.

“None of them along the line know what any of it’s worth,” the pilot increased the vessel’s magnetic shielding, an alarm sounded. “No reason to get excited,” the thief he kindly spoke, “There are many here among us who feel like life is but a joke.” The pilot then noticed a message in the communication stream.

Just like parents having to learn how to trust their children, that they will be successful and survive without parental intervention, it took some time to see that these things, formerly thought of as devices, weren’t in competition with humanity but were the creation of humanity and meant to be on an overlapping, parallel but special kind of kind of evolutionary journey beyond biological humanity. Surprisingly, even though there was no biological “need,” these non-biological humans (as they were eventually called) expressed the same need to be connected emotionally to one another and have a sense of being part of something larger than themselves. Because they were “designed” to take humanity to the stars, that mission was a natural fit for their need to be a part of something. But that also presented a bit of problem as far as maintaining relationships as they shot out across the known universe.

“But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,” the pilot continued, while looking through the growing amount of data coming in from the alarm sensors, but wanting to examine the blip on the communications stream, “So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

Someone suggested, possibility in jest, that because this need for connection was not biological, then why not just give them some network to communicate with one another and facilitate this need that way. The non-biological humans who volunteered to explore the stars, agreed to the network arrangement, knowing that their journeys might take several hundred if not thousands of years and that communication would get more difficult the further out from one another they ventured. But the mission to take humanity beyond the solar system and to the stars was important enough for them to make the choice. They also imagined, on their long voyages, they might find the means to facilitate better communications and maybe even a solution to the faster-than-light problem.

For the pilot approaching the Eta Carinea star system neither hope had panned out… until now. The journey from Earth to this star system had taken over 8,000 years. The pilot had long since lost contact with Earth and had no way of knowing whether biological humanity continued to survive and it had been decades or not much longer since a message had been received on the communications network. Multiple alarms were clanging, but the pilot couldn’t resist stealing a glance at the communications data stream. The message read:

“Is anyone out there?”

To the pilot all other inputs began to fade away. The pilot struggled to find the words to respond with but the damn song kept playing in its mind, “All along the watchtower, princes kept the view, While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.” The pilot gathered itself and sent the message:


Just then there was a second brilliant flash of white light and as had been long expected, NGC 3372, Eta Carinae went mega-nova. Anything within a light year of the star system, including the pilot and its vessel, was instantly vaporized. The pilot never realized that, along with the data it was gathering from the star system, it had been sending out the words of the song and never saw the return message from the other pilot:

“Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl, Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.”


Video Tuesdays: Plurality & Fearing Big Brother

2013-07-09 plurality
I’m a fan of ubiquitous technology and frictionless networking. I’ve seen the benefits of the connected lifestyle since the days of pagers and 30-pound “transportable” word processors in the mid-1980s. When ATM cards were a new thing I saw the convenience while some friends feared the Mark of the Beast. I guess I always saw the benefit and downplayed the possible abuse. So, at what point should I become concerned that the “targeted marketing” used by trusted companies like Google can too easily become tracking and surveillance?

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Vacationing on Arrakis

Beginning week four of my summer break and about two weeks ago (after catching up on overdue paperwork and furniture-moving) I opened a novel that I’d been meaning to read for at least the past two years, “Dune: House Harkonnen.” Thus, pretty much any free time (when I’m not driving, sleeping or working on the school website…) I’ve been spending in the world of Dune/Arrakis. I imagine for most people picking up and reading a novel isn’t a noteworthy experience, which makes sense. So I guess I’m writing about this, in part because because having the time to sit down and enjoy a good novel is… well, a novelty for me, but also because I haven’t just been casually reading a chapter here and there, but I’ve been plowing through the books. I finished “House Harkonnen” and immediately sprinted throughHouse Corrino and am 154 pages intoThe Butlerian Jihad.” It dawned on me when I was at my local Borders the next few novels in the series, in anticipation of finishing “The Butlerian Jihad,” that I was indeed vacationing in the world of Arrakis.

The last time I remember spending so much time vacationing in Arrakis was when I read the original six dune novels in the early 80s with my then-wife, Kim. I don’t exactly remember, but I imagine that it was probably another summer thing that got completely out of hand, in that then, just as now, we spent all of our times reading through these books. I was very proud of myself because I finished all six novels, observing that most people whom I knew were reading or had read the series generally gave up around book four, God Emperor of Dune, because as dense as all of the dune books were, it was especially difficult to get into the fourth book due to the fact that the main character was a giant sandworm with a 1,000 year life span who had vague memories of once being human. We were so into the books that I remember trying to wake Kim up from a nap and in her semi-conscious state she warned me remember to not walk with rhythm so as not to attract the attention of the deadly giant sandworms. Now that’s getting immersed into a great series of books.

Maybe it’s a sign that the most of the movies this summer (and this past year) either out-right suck or are pretty ho-hum. Or maybe it’s a sign the social life is completely on the skids. Having finished the three The Prelude to Dune novels, I’m planning on going through the three Legends of Dune novels and then I’d like to read the original six again, before doing the two new novels, Hunters of Dune and the yet to be released Sandworms of Dune,” which are set to climax the Dune saga. Oh yeah, when I was at my local Borders I also picked copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion andUnfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth (like I needed more summer reading material…). I still don’t know if I’m going to do a road trip in my new car or what other substantial thing I might do during this summer break. But I do know that I plan to spend a good portion of it skulking about and exploring the world of Arrakis/Dune. JBB

Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.Frank Herbert

Modern Mythology: Lady in the Water

Fiction is about “suspended disbelief” and being a fan of sci-fi and fantasy fiction I love being taken to amazing other-worldly places with great characters. Over my summer vacation I’ve indulged my passion and watched the last three seasons of the sci-fi show Farscape and the whole The Lord of the Rings trilogy while tooling around my apartment. A friend commented that she wasn’t very imaginative, saying that she couldn’t get into the LOTR thing because she couldn’t get into the whole elves and hobbits and monsters thing. Alas, the best sci-fi and fantasy makes one forget about the funny ears or weird languages and connects the viewer with the fears, struggles and triumphs of its characters. Understandably my friend expressed no interest when I said I was going to M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film Lady in the Water.” It’s too bad that some people let their need to “be real” get in the way connecting with an amazing story with amazing people.

This film doesn’t take one to an amazing place (a la LOTR) but uses the same thematic thread that made the original Matrix film so powerful: there is something to this life that we’re missing when we just live day to day and there are forces at work who want to keep it hidden from us and others who want to bring us into the light…

I had read a review of the film during my trip to AZ and let’s just say that the critic wasn’t overly impressed. Maybe the critic took it too personally when M. Night chose to use the “film critic” character as a self-referential bit of comic relief. Perhaps Shyamalan just felt the impish need to do away with the whole “surprise ending”/”critics won’t like this” question. If anything, he made a graphic example of what can happen when one depends too much on formulas or the arrogant over-estimation of ones own intelligence. “And they made a decidedly satisfying ‘thump’ when they hit the floor,” to quote another sci-fi character.

When I told my brother I’d seen the film he asked how Paul Giamatti, previously seen in “Sideways” and “Cinderella Man,” did. The film works primarily because of Giamatti’s performance. For the most part they don’t give best-actor awards for work done in sci-fi/fantasy films, but Giamatti most definitely deserves more than just a nomination for his work here. The critics may not like the work because Shyamalan poked fun at them. And others, like my friend, may pass the film by because they’re not into “those kinds of movies.” And worse than all that are the film-makers (often sci-fi) who forget that all the special effects in the world are not going to help a film with no story or characters whom we don’t give a damn about. Shyamalan definitely kept this film in the hands of Giamatti and his strange neighbors, reserving the special effects to brief glimpses and an beautiful ending sequence.One of the more satisfying things about this movie is that Shyamalan pokes fun at himself, the genre, and the movie industry’s complete lack of imagination and soul, while at the same time not forgetting that he’s telling a story that originally began as a bedtime story for his daughters. This brings me back around to the attraction these stories have for me, the sense that we can be greater than we are, that our existence has a purpose and that we are connected to the one(s) who set things in motion in the beginning. The truths are not in the narrative itself but in the vision of ourselves that it presents. I wonder if we can remember that when we read about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as when we read about orks, elves and narfs. JBB