Saturday, March 29, 2008
Well, duh! That revelation is hardy a revelation, or so one might think. Just take a look at my book page and you won't find anything else. Even the majority of my non-sci-fi-fantasy screenplays, tend to have a touch at least of things-not-ordinary. Which is, or so one would think, what fiction is all about.
To someone like myself, who learned to read by reading Grimm's fairy tales—before official schooling started—and who literally has lost count of the number of pulp and other SF&F books he's read, the notion that there are people out there who dismiss the genre as basically 'ridiculous' is quite hard to grasp. Still, these folks, no matter how they phrase their opinion—and 'ridiculous' is an extreme label, I admit, but it expresses their attitude most characteristically, I think—do exist, strange as that may seem to many of us, and one would presume that they consider their p.o.v. just as valid as I do mine. That is the nature of 'opinion'.
I think that 'genre' preferences arise from habituation, which can almost always be traced back to whatever it was that one was exposed to when first being exposed to stories. For it's not about books and movies but about stories; the kind that 'speak' to one, and which do or do not convey meaningful messages in 'accessible' media: from campfire to theater, from books to movies to computer-games. Similarly, those who don't seem to be able to relate to fiction at all, and there are those pitiful souls, clearly suffered from significant conditioning deficiencies during their early upbringing.
If 'habituation' is the dominant factor in the setting of genre preferences then one would expect certain consequences, which are testable. A major potential effect is that a change of the range and predominance of genres those growing up are exposed to would be expected to have a flow-on effect in subsequent generations.
This is, of course, exactly what has happened in the past and is happening, with due aid from technology and a much more effective 'media' apparatus, ever more noticeably. I mean, there was a long time when the genre-du-jour was basically religious/mythical and its only competitors were your classic fairy tales—which are also 'mythical', I suppose, but in a different way. That predominance suffered major change upon the introduction of print and a subsequent major social development: widespread literacy; at least in some parts of the world.
These are the roots of what we have today, when, for a number of generations, the existence of that very broad genre known as 'fantasy-and-scifi', or whatever you want to call it, has become a towering presence in the story-telling world. Yet still there are people, not all of them necessarily old and fusty, who regard it and the way it tells its stories with disdain. In many instances that judgment is justified; but then again, the same thing could be said about any genre.
The main objection of those who denigrate SF&F on the whole and regard anything delivered in its framework as somehow suspect is that its stories "can't be real". This objection is asymmetrical, in that those SF&F aficionados can't make the same blanket statement about, say, 'classical' literature, or much of what in the cinema context is called 'drama', which by and large is about fictional but definitely 'possible' or 'real' things. The asymmetry of the "it can't be real" argument against SF&F has always been a major handicap for the genre and its respectability—and never mind that giants like Vance, Heinlein and Dick produced some of the westerns world's greatest and most significant literature using the genre and its conventions and symbolisms. And the same argument has, of course, been used to trivialize, play down and denigrate the ancient and venerable genre of the 'fairy tale', which has a very close relationship to today's 'SF&F'.
The reasoning that goes something like "this can't be real and therefore it can't be as good or significant as something that can be real" is, of course, fatally flawed; and aficionados of SF&F are in the fortunate position of implicitly not being handicapped by engaging in such reasoning folly; or being tempted to display the same literary arrogance toward those genres which are not SF&F. It's possible that someone who, say, loves 'hard' SF doesn't really go much for romantic comedy; but the same might well apply to lovers of detective stories or fans of Charles Dickens. But he's not likely to say "romantic comedy is about something that can't be real and therefore it's somehow inferior". He just doesn't relate to it, that's all.
The point I'm trying to make here is that, habituation notwithstanding, it is folly to argue that, in order to be relevant or 'good', fiction need to be about something that can at least lay some claim to be 'real'—in the sense that there are possible or likely similarities in the elements of a given story or its context to what you might call 'physical reality'. Meaning, basically, that it's OK if the bad guy in the story is a psycho who thinks he's a vampire; but it's not OK if he actually is a vampire. That kind of thing.
Folk who hold the 'can-it-be-real' measuring stick to a story and prejudge its merits on that basis simply do not understand the nature of fiction. For 'reality' is not what fiction is all about. Revelation of a truth about the human condition, however, is. In this revelation lies fiction's purpose; with the effects of the revelation ranging from 'mere' entertainment to what might amount to psychotherapy or 'education'.
Still, it's a new world out there now. SF&F is everywhere, in literature, film and interactive computer gaming. Massive amounts of those growing up are being habituated to a genre that was once considered 'fringe', but which now has swamped the media. A lot of it is crap, as is to be expected. But those same people are being habituated to not being victims of the fallacious way of thinking I outlined above. And they are, in this world of hard-SF technology, being re-habituated to stories that would have been perfectly acceptable and socially respectable in the pre-literacy world.
It would be interesting to try and to figure out what kinds of implications that might have for our social future.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
And. no, it's got nothing to do with Easter being made into a commercial fest, which it's been for ages anyway. For the likes of me, however, the whole 'bunny' thing was kind of important; certainly more significant than the Christian stuff. No surprises here. But what does surprise me was how strongly I reacted, emotionally speaking, to that army of Attack Of The Clones like array of Lindt choccie bunnies in Coles supermarket in Arana Hills, for this is where the pictures were taken.
Going back there today, the clone armies were gone, to the homes of a thousand willing consumers, and the few remaining Lindt bunnies were in pairs in special gift packs. It wasn't quite so obvious anymore then. The thing about the eyes, I mean.
These are Werebunnies! That's like Werewolves and 'Were'-anything, meaning something pretty damn sinister that'll come and bite you in the ass. So the eager consumers have a thing or two coming, never knowing what it was they so readily and innocently purchased at the store. And Lindt, I guess, must be in conspiracy with some world-wide clique that's planning to take over the souls of all those kiddies and adults who unwrap them, and who knows what's inside that tastes like chocolate, but in reality might be something considerably more sinister than a substance contributing to the worldwide obesity epidemic. Sorry, that should have been...
The conspiracy theories one could weave around this. And there we are worried about Heroin grown in Afghanistan! Worry about Lindt chocolate, folks! Wrapped up in a werebunny package and supplied by every supermarket in Australia—and the rest of the world for that matter, or so I would suspect.
Friday, March 21, 2008
And far ahead. Like billions of years.
I like it even more, and it encourages me in a strange kind of way, that someone actually seems to care!
Like it appears is the case for some of the personages spoken about in this article, which—even though it does come from the NYT—I'd recommend for your reading pleasure. It's all about the ultimate destruction of the Earth by being scorched and subsequently swallowed by an ever-brightening and expanding sun—all of which may happen far, far (like a few billion years 'far') earlier than had been calculated in the past.
Donner und Blitzen! And there I thought we more than ten billion years left on the clock. But now it looks more like less than five before everything goes crispier than burnt toast.
And there are people right now worried about Global Warming?
Sorry, that should be GLOBAL WARMING!
Well, here's a newsflash for the GWFs. According to the article, it is inevitable that, and I quote verbatim...
Over the coming eons, life on Earth will become muggier and more uncomfortable and finally impossible.I know, I know, it's 'eons'. So it won't happen overnight, folks, but it will happen; human-created Greenhouse Effect or not. The universe and the sun doesn't give a shit. They're gonna do what they gonna do anyway, and never mind industrial emissions targets and Kyoto Protocol.
But, but, but... Here's the silver lining, and I'm all for that as everybody who knows me knows, and it's this:
Dr. Smith called the new result “a touch depressing” in a series of e-mail messages. But “looked at another way,” he added, “it is an incentive to do something about finding ways to leave our planet and colonize other areas in the galaxy.”Yay! Go, Dr. Smith! I'm all on your side here. Never mind ridiculous propositions about shifting the Earth's orbit out a few million miles and other super-large-scale engineering solutions that are only going to postpone the inevitable for a little while. Ultimately, when the sun shrinks and gets colder, we'll only end up having to shift it back. Serious business, this planet shifting.
Shifting shmifting. If we plan on doing to serious long-term planning—and I'm talking about Serious Long Term Planning; like over a serious number of billions of years beyond the demise of the sun—then the space-going option is our only ticket to survival. Distribute your eggs over as many baskets as possible, so if that goes to the dogs—mixing metaphors, I know!—there are others left over. When they give you cash-out at the checkout, always ask for 2 20s and a 10, never for a 50; and don't put all the cash into your wallet either. Elementary paranoia. Just like trying not to sit with your back to a door.
If you think I was being jocose; well, you're half-right. There was a bit of tongue-in-cheek and all that; especially with the billion-year issues these guys seem to be having.
On the other hand though, I wasn't joking at all. There are two major things we should really and truly pay attention to and a major effort on: (a) trying to extend the human lifespan to 'indefinite' levels, and (b) getting our asses our into space a.s.a.p. and on a large scale.
I know, I know: all that money expended when there are people needing our help and injustice and horrible things abound and so on and so forth. Not being flippant here at all, but that's the ballpark from which the major objections to this are coming. And I see the point. I really do.
But, you see, it's like this: There are things we can do something about and those we can't.
We can stop death-by-aging and associated diseases. Give me a couple of billion €—not US$, because that currency is going down the drain fast—and I'll put together a programme that'll do that job in 5-10 years max. So might Aubrey de Grey, but I think I'd be much more likely to get it right and done on or before schedule.
We can solve the problems standing in our way to serious large-scale space exploration. That'll take more than a few billion, but then again, doing this particular more-than-one-basket thing isn't going to come cheap. But no matter the cost, it's going to be a bargain. And. yes, once I've project-managed the longevity enterprise, I wouldn't mind getting started on STFF. That's Space, The Final Frontier for those who need to be told.
And, no, I don't regard either of these enterprises as 'optional'. Of course, it all depends on what you want, as I may have mentioned in the previous blog. As far as I'm concerned, I do want the species to survive as a species; because by and large they're good to have around. And it would be a great added attraction if survival extended to the personal realm, too.
Maybe some folks don't actually want this, or maybe they don't want it enough, or maybe they want it but refuse to acknowledge it. Tomato, tomato. If you don't want personal survival then why do you struggle to remain alive? I daresay that all readers of this blog do want to live and not die. And few of those who continue to read this blog after having found out about my predilections with regards to LTUAE—that would be Life, The Universe And Everything—probably also share with me a 'wanting' for the species to survive, and never mind sizzling and fizzling stars and all that jazz.
So, then what's the problem? Let's do it, huh? Like, let's get started tomorrow. That would be good.
Monday, March 17, 2008
BTW, if you're not an aficionado of the long-defunct TV series Babylon 5 (1 , 2) these references will mean diddly-squat+nada to you; but that's life anbd you'll just have to grin and bear it. There are people who have seen B5 and there are those who haven't. Thus mankind is divided into two camps forever—unless those who haven't seen it change their state of not-having-seen-it-ness, of course!
I've often wondered—and this just randomly came back to mind, as random things often do—why good ol' Kosh, for 'old' he was, actually went around asking this particular question and what he was wanting to achieve by it. He certainly stirred up a lot of stuff and contributed to setting significants events into motion!
So, I thought about it some more and came to the conclusion that, like Joss Whedon, Michael Straczynski—the creator, producer and writer of much of B5—is an Absurdist, and that, when you come to think about it, What Do You Want? is the question which, if it prompts the questionée to do what it ought to, will reveal his ultimate driving motivations.
Truth be told, it will reveal anybody's ultimate driving motivations; only that those not of an Absurdist disposition are much more likely to prevaricate and do their best to deflect the thrust of the question to places where it isn't meant to go.
Fools! Pussies! Or maybe they just don't know better. But for many of them, is ignorance really a valid excuse?
Bygones. The point I was trying to make was this: Absurdism implies that, on the big existential quasi-metaphysical scale, there's nothing whatsoever in this life of ours that we:
- ought to do
- are born to do
- need to do
- are 'designed' to do
- are compelled to do
- are obliged to do
- are driven to do
- and so on
So, what, apart from what we want to do, is there to actually make us do stuff? On the big, cosmic scale, I mean; and even, when you come to think about it, the more modest, daily life scale, where there appear to be a thousand instances from the list above that make us do this but not that—or do nothing at all, which is, of course also 'doing something', only in this case we label that 'something' as 'nothing'.
What, I ask again, apart from what we want to do is there to make us do? Even the apparent 'compulsions' that we encounter every day: are they really compulsions? I mean, even if, say, our lives are threatened and we just had to take this action or that to avoid ultimate clamity calamity...
But to we really have to? We could just not do this or that and die. I mean, if we didn't want to live, what's there to stop us?
Ahh, you say, but we are driven to survive! It's not a question of mere 'wanting'. The same argument could be applied to any perceived 'compulsion' of course. According to that line of reasoning, we have no choices about anything, because it's all 'compulsion'-type driven-ness, whether that's of the 'cosmic' or 'daily life' type. Which brings us back to the whole vexatious and convoluted question of Free Will, which I've touched upon some blogs back.
But cutting through all that bullshit is this simple proposition, the truth of which, after some reflection, becomes almost self-evident:
Hence the question What Do You Want? isn't just 'interesting', but a probe into the essence of what makes you you. And in that sense we may further state that:
Which would nicely wrap things up, if only there wasn't another, much more basic question. I've been conveniently skirting that one, in order not to disrupt the nice flow of my argument.
But what actually is 'wanting'?
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
One image is a melange of building sites, from the Brisbane North-South tunnel to tall-building construction. Large works, for the most, with a few small roadside works mixed into the impressions.
In all instances we're talking about 'works of men'. In all instances the 'men' working on said 'works' have the significance of...well, think of intelligent ants. Something like that.
The 'works' in whose construction they are a minuscule element, will very likely outlast them all. The scope of these works is humungous; probably beyond their scope. They matter and yet they don't, for they are all replaceable; easily so I'd guess. If any of them disappeared by accident, sickness, nervous breakdown or just plain death, within the scope and context of the 'work' they're laboring on, who would really care? Worse, who would actually 'know'? Certainly not I, who just drives past or watches bemusedly for a few moments. Or anybody else who drives past and/or doesn't even 'see' that these are human beings.
The second major impression of 'city' are high-class peddlers--known in common parlance as 'retailers', though they would probably be horrified at being labeled even as 'retailers', which is a benign term!--for the revoltingly affluent. Names like Montblanc or Louis Vuitton; plus another hundred I don't recognize, but who have the same status and basically cater for a whole spectrum of idle-wealthy tastes. I find it difficult to express how profoundly the existence of these...things...offends my sense of existential propriety. It's the places and what they represent; what makes them possible and what makes them be where they are. Each time I see them I realize that, yes, no matter where we are in the decline of this kind of civilization we live in, we are in the decline. We have been for a long time.
I'm not talking about world catastrophes or anything like that. But since basically 'civilization' on a worldwide scale has become so connected that, for certain purposes we might as well consider it all as 'one', we can speak of the decline of 'civilization' as we know it in the world. The obscenely affluent, whose lack of life-purpose is reflected in the existence of these peddlers' outlets, are pretty much the same everywhere; never mind the 'culture'. This isn't a new thing; only the worldwide near-direct connection and competition for status between qualifies as 'new'. In the old days the competition was plain old conflict. Wars and stuff like that. Nowadays it's a battle of who flaunts what the most and best and in the right places. And the 'masses', by and large, being the sheep they are--and they are--accept it and indeed support it; as, one might rightly argue, they really have always done.
Next on this city-observer's hit list: Angeber Autos, a.k.a. 'bragmobiles'; cars whose main, if not sole purpose is the effect they have on those knowing that you have one of them. That's different from 'toymobiles', which are cars chosen from a passion for the car itself, or for the fun one might get out of it...but in this instance the fun is predominantly independent of the existence of others drooling and twitching in paroxysms of envy, jealousy and sheer spite—though you might, of course, be a member of a select group of similar toy-lovers who in turn might well drool. So, the line is fine—but it can be drawn in most cases. Just look at the person driving them; a fascinating array of the sad and airheaded. This city is riddled with them, though possibly in the apartment complex we stayed we might have gotten more than the usual in-your-face share of these losers; male and female alike. It certainly left an impression.
Next there are the smokers, of course; but I've already alluded to them in another blog.
A seething mass—as much as you're going to get 'seething mass' here in Australia; inhabitants of Calcutta, for example, would probably laugh derisively—of people, many of which do not have even a shred of a sense of purpose. I can see it when I look into their eyes, many of which are dead. And dead eyes like that are of a special kind; I'd almost call them 'city-dead'.
"Ahh," you say, "but life has no purpose—as you keep telling us. So what are you talking about?"
Well, the 'purpose' I'm talking about need not be 'real' in the metaphysical sense; meaning that there need not be any 'higher' meaning to anything and that, even as Joss Whedon made his demon-with-a-soul, Angel, say, ...if nothing we do matters... there can still be imagined purpose, which is of course all we have. Imagined larger context. Imagined 'reasons' why a purely random configuration of events and contingencies, turns out to 'actually be for the best' or 'the universe working in my favor' or 'better in the long run because...'
The main reason for such purpose attribution to dismal events is, of course, that it has helped those who were subject to such imaginary considerations and rationalizations to survive—long ehough to breed and ensure their offspring's survival. On a more immediate scale it assists one subjected to adversary vicissitudes to cope with them and to learn and adapt, such as to deal with any future contingencies of similar nature better. Someone who is crushed by witnessing the indifferent randomness of the universe does not learn and adapt. He just perishes. He who has a sense of purpose—all imagined, mind you—is much more likely to live and indeed to be 'successful'.
So, I'm not necessarily talking about anything metaphysically 'real' when I speak about the void in people's eyes where a light of purpose should be. And in this big city, with its high density of population—again, 'big' and 'high density' are relative!—the number of vacant eyes can be disheartening. Never mind how 'busy' they look, or if they're running from here to there like the devil was chasing them and time was running out. Many remind me of that old joke about if you want to look busy, just pick up a manila folder with some papers in it, and never mind if they're blank, and just go somewhere, anywhere, with sure, apparently purposeful strides. The irony about that joke is that many lives perfectly fit the metaphor; only the deceptions are aimed at the deceivers themselves.
And so they proceed with their lives, oblivious to the second part of Angel's statement: ...then all that matters is what we do… now, today. Indeed, it seems to me like an incredible amount of effort is expended of trying to make oneself believe that it is not so.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Two hours later though...
Ready for the floor polisher tomorrow.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
My wife and I spotted these two underneath the railing of our rear porch as we were having lunch today.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
The noises of road and street traffic, near and far, are with us all the time, bouncing off the buildings and wafting across the river and the city, sometimes even from the distant airport, depending on how the wind blows.
It was an educational experience, living here, because, though Brisbane probably qualifies as a 'pretty city', it is still 'City'; and though there is very little squalor, it is easy to imagine, at least for me, what it would be like if there were.
The curse of an imaginative dystopian. Blade Runner is not that far away, despite all efforts of those running the city to keep such developments away.
In less than two weeks at the latest, we will leave this temporary domicile behind us and move to 'the suburbs', specifically one called 'Arana Hills', which to Spanish speakers should indicate the presence of many spiders. And if you look up right now, at the power lines strung along the streets, you will find many of their nets strung between the cables. Life making best use of what humans have wrought.
This one doesn't live up in the power lines, though his siblings do, but at eye level. I love this guy. He just sits there, waiting. Every now and then he moves very fast, and then somethingsmaller and creepy-crawly usually dies and gets sucked dry. And then he sits there and waits again. What a life!
The house we have bought is surrounded by greenery. The land area isn't large, but large enough. We have Lorikeets and other flying entities in the trees, and cicadas at nightfall. Plus I've already been bitten several times by whatever, which means back to the use of insect repellent on my bare ankles. A small price to pay.
The move away from 'City' and into suburbia, for that's what it is, has caused me, as such things tend to do, a different look at what we are leaving behind; at the environment and what it is and what it means for humankind to now have passed the point where more than half of all people live in cities. What the City actually means.
I know, this is hard to define, and you could probably write tomes about it, and people have and will continue to do so. I've tried it in fiction, at least a little, in an extended episode in Tethys.
I'll try to add to that just a few impressions in some following blogs, or maybe just one. At this point let me just say that what I'll miss about living in the city are the bats.
For months, from our balcony, we have watched these not-so-little suckers wing their way past in the evenings, occasionally swooping quite close through the canyons formed by the buildings, silently swishing past with barely a beat of their wings. Small versions of stubby Batmans outside the window.
They're out in the suburbs as well, and indeed the other day, one basically dropped out of a tree above out and flapped away, with that characteristic sound of skin-wings, which is very different to feathered ones. Gave me quite a jolt, because it was dark and because of the sudden percussive opening of the wings.
Still, we won't have quite the panoramic view of hundreds of them flying past in the evening as we were having dinner.
And that exhausts what I personally will 'miss' about living in the city. I'm not at heart a city-dweller, I guess; unlike the tens of thousands of other denizens of central-city apartment blocks.
It was useful to find that out.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
This could be just another fatuous bit of New Age heebeejeebee wanking on, but indeed, as I would like to suggest, it is an essential truth about the need for people to make mistakes; and hopefully to learn from making them how to recover from them. Indeed, people who don't make mistakes are probably unfit to live.
My thought for today, 's all.
* From Batman Begins, of course.
Monday, March 03, 2008
The suburb where we have made our domicile is called 'Arana Hills', which, to speakers of Spanish, will immediately translate to 'Spider Hills'. These gaudy hunters are everywhere, stringing their extended nets between branches of trees, power lines, anything that brackets a space where victims will fly to their doom.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
So, today, when I was taking apart the old kitchen in our new house, in order to prep it for the installation of a new one, and when I demolished old cabinets and found underneath them, in what had always been a place of dank darkness, the carcasses of several sizable roaches, who had died there because someone shoved a bit of killing paper (paper impregnated with poison) into that dark place; and when I found the leftovers of decades I daresay of roach-shit...eeeyaak!
Almost make me rethink my intention to have lunch. Shoulda had it before dismantling this particular cabinet... But I didn't, and there was the shit and the corpses and the filth and...
Did I lose my appetite? Not! The human capacity for compartmentalization is amazing. I managed to have lunch and not one be troubled by the images of the 1+' roach corpses lying in state in their excrement.
I do hope I'm getting the image across. Truth is, I'm just trying to gross you out. But you knew that, right?