Not actually to a duel, please – I’m unlikely to stand a chance at anything except, maybe, a Clue or Babylon 5 reference-off—and even on those, I wouldn’t rate my chances highly. Just give me good reasons otherwise, or—even better, if appropriate—good reasons for and against:
Star Wars isn’t science fiction.
I need challenging because this came out of my mouth without me really thinking it through first, and in a context where it wasn’t likely to be challenged (right before a staff meeting starting, and I work for a regulatory body). I dredged up some justifications after (in proper Douglas Adams fan fashion; for that matter, in proper human fashion), so I think it’d be fun to argue.
So, Star Wars isn’t science fiction. It’s mythology. Science fiction uses technology as a vehicle for exploring aspects of humanity: “Given people being people, …”
- “… what would actors do if reincarnation were proven?” (Nancy Kress’s With the Original Cast!)
- “… what would people seeking meaning do if life on other planets were conclusively disproven?” (Philip K. Dick’s The Trouble with Bubbles)
- “… what would strong people do if another intelligent species wanted to take ‘the best’ of humanity and integrate it into some other form of life?” (Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis, aka Lilith’s Brood, Orson Scott Card’s Wyrms, &c. &c.)”
Star Wars uses technology to look cool while telling a story that would, and indeed does, unfold exactly the same in any context. It’s is such a classic hero journey that
- it’s literally used to illustrate the hero journey paradigm in at least one high school class I recently heard of;
- It’s been awesomely translated into Icelandic saga;
- I instinctively mapped onto Star Wars characters about half a dozen of the major characters of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death? the second time I read it (whereas on the first reading, exactly the foreignness of the book’s culture had impressed me most).
But, then, note that I linked no sources for parts of my claim like definitions of “science fiction” or even “hero journey.” So what am I missing? And what’ll be fun to pick apart even if I didn’t really miss it?No comments
Recently I noticed that I first “met” with all of the following BESTs at age 14 or 15 years:
- The most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever played: Pavel Chesnokov‘s “Salvation Is Created” (high-school summer camp concert band, I played bassoon)
- The most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever sung: Gregorio Allegri‘s “Miserere mei” (church choir)
- The best short story I’ve ever read: D.H. Lawrence‘s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” (found in the doorstop English class anthology-textbook)
- The best play I’ve ever seen: Jean-Paul Sartre‘s No Exit (“competition play” for my school’s Theatre Guild in a “drama” year)
And I don’t really have a best in any other culture/arts category like novel, movie, popular song, with all of which I had more extensive experience already before adolescence, and have continued to accrue more extensive experience.
How much psychological/philosophical/cultural “imprinting” does happen in adolescence, as opposed to earlier, later, or never? It’s a question obviously impossible to answer, but fun to toss out there, and far from irrelevant in the wider world.
The Economist, “Young voters: let’s set the world on fire,” 18 October 2014:
In the long run, however, wooing young voters is of paramount importance. A study by Yair Ghitza of Catalist, a data firm, and Andrew Gelman of Columbia University found that whites who came of age when Democrats were in power are more likely to vote Democratic in later years, and vice versa. In other words: like tastes in pop music, political affiliations forged while young often last a lifetime.
After all, part of the point of adolescent brain development is to hardwire our own shortcuts and “best processes.” National Geographic, “Beautiful Teenage Brains,” October 2011:
The first full series of scans of the developing adolescent brain—a National Institutes of Health (NIH) project that studied over a hundred young people as they grew up during the 1990s—showed that our brains undergo a massive reorganization between our 12th and 25th years. …[A]s we move through adolescence, the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade.
… [S]ynapses that see little use begin to wither. This synaptic pruning, as it is called, causes the brain’s cortex—the outer layer of gray matter where we do much of our conscious and complicated thinking—to become thinner but more efficient. Taken together, these changes make the entire brain a much faster and more sophisticated organ.
This process of maturation, once thought to be largely finished by elementary school, continues throughout adolescence. Imaging work done since the 1990s shows that these physical changes move in a slow wave from the brain’s rear to its front, from areas close to the brain stem that look after older and more behaviorally basic functions, such as vision, movement, and fundamental processing, to the evolutionarily newer and more complicated thinking areas up front.
I am a consumer of cultural media. How far do its producers imprint during adolescence, or before or after? Well, Robert Pinsky admitted a “very early influence” from Philip K. Dick, one of his favorite writers in his early teens, in response to a question from me about inspiration for his poems’ imagery. (He continued, “So I would have liked to think that all the wonderful writers I’ve encountered since, like Cather and Twain and Hemingway, would have covered up that very early influence, but I guess you saw through to it.” Yes, I’d love to share the full version of “my Pinsky story” to anyone who would like to hear it.)
What about you?No comments
My daughter discovered Disney princesses around age 3.
I had known to expect this. I read Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter a year in advance. My daughter eased us into princesses: she went through an intense Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phase 6 months earlier. (I told her recently how an insect or crab is built, using the term “exoskeleton,” and she responded, “Just like in Mikey’s Monster!”) She has plenty of favorite books unrelated to branding and of impeccable quality: we’ve read Phantom Tollbooth with her twice already. And though she does think of princesses in terms of branding very very often (Band-aids = toddler bling, and Princess Band-aids = a tantrum waiting to happen) she also tells stories about them, like when Rapunzel and Belle go visit a party Ariel’s hosting under the sea. (I think she borrowed from the plot of Anansi’s Party Time for that story, too!)
I have no standing to complain. I remember the first time I heard “Part of Your World”: my younger cousin sang it to me; I was eight or nine. During undergrad I was once in a mixed group of 8-10 people walking past Widener after dark when the song was casually mentioned, then immediately sung through with true passion and without a moment’s hesitation over a single word by every female present. (Admittedly, this was a group of Noteables). In the early-mid-nineties I believed as firmly as anyone that seeing the next big Disney animated flick was not optional but required. (I did have at least the good sense to be thoroughly and permanently disabused of that opinion by Pocahontas.)
The focus of my daughter’s obsession is indeed Ariel; said obsession has only been fed by receiving Little Mermaid birthday gifts from two great-aunts and one grandmother (DVD, novelization, swimsuit). As I already admitted, I have no standing to complain.
And yet … my acquaintance with Frozen is so far limited to a novelization and several dozen repetitions of certain Youtube videos. I live in fear of the day I’ll have to see it with my daughter. My husband says it seems like a fairly good story. That’s the problem.
“Let It Go” was first described to me as, “Because ‘Defying Gravity‘ would be too awesome for a Disney princess movie.” The first time I heard it I agreed – which is funny, because it’s the same singer-actress. I respect the performance (sung and drawn) more now, but I feel terrible thinking about it: this character is going insane. She’s expecting and intending never to see another human being again. She’s not losing her humanity: she’s deliberately renouncing it. The visuals are pretty, but a lyric likening one’s own soul to “frozen fractals” is nothing but sad and frightening. “The perfect girl is gone” not because this person discovers herself to be a different girl, or a woman. She’s becoming elemental, and she’s been so miserable for so long that she actually relishes this prospect.
It seems that the movie Frozen takes place during the first few days with any measurable level of plain speaking inside the royal family after at least 15 years of rigid, unbroken, jaw-clenched withdrawal. So even if some real trust begins to grow during those few days, I imagine so much heartbreak and fear and anger over their next decade or so. Family doesn’t heal so easily.
I read at least once some yammering about Beauty and the Beast encouraging girls to stay with abusive partners in hopes of reforming them. I can’t identify with that concern. (BTW: Fifty Shades of Grey is extremely transparently a “Beauty and the Beast” plot.) I don’t fear for what my daughter may learn from Frozen about family relationships, or for that matter how to deal with wolves. I just feel really, really sad for the characters who had to live through that pain, and I can’t believe the pain really ends for them.No comments
Why is fiction always about people and relationships?
I started thinking and talking about this question a few years ago. (I labeled it a “personal-intellectual project” of which my “Who’s the medium now?” set of posts in 2010-2011 is one expression). The only counter-example I know well is Dougal Dixon‘s After Man: a Zoology of the Future. An author friend, Alec Nevala-Lee, pointed me to “hysterical realism” (a term for packed-to-the-gills works such as many by DF Wallace, Pyncheon, Don DeLillo, and Zadie Smith) as potential counterexamples:
From James Wood’s review coining the term:
Zadie Smith has said, in an interview, that her concern is with “ideas and themes that I can tie together–problem-solving from other places and worlds.” It is not the writer’s job, she says, “to tell us how somebody felt about something, it’s to tell us how the world works.”
My dad offered many more well-known and better-loved counter-examples: Beatrix Potter’s books. “They’re about animals, not people.” “Of course they’re about people!” I said. “How so?” “Because they’re about how people feel and think and interact with each other.” My dad then accused me of tautology: I define any work of fiction as being “about people.”
That might be a fair criticism, but not with respect to Beatrix Potter stories, and particularly not with respect to The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan. Its first line may be, “Once upon a time there was a Pussy-cat called Ribby, who invited a little dog called Duchess, to tea,” but The Pie and the Patty-Pan is, in fact, exactly like the Sex and the City (TV) episode “A Woman’s Right to Shoes.” Both are surface-funny and subtext-baffling, showing absurd examples of what one may and may not say in certain social circles, what kinds of miscommunications or properly understood communications can or cannot threaten a friendship. Both poke fun at social conventions but apparently without denouncing them. The little animal details in Potter’s book like Duchess begging for a sugar cube on her nose or the doctor being a known and accepted kleptomaniac by virtue of his species (magpie) is probably all that makes Potter’s version easier for me to stomach than HBO’s.
This is very similar to my argument for Invisible Cities and The Twilight Zone being about people: they use tight, focused, beautiful metaphors to externalize a mind or soul’s internal conflicts. And I think it’s an argument very relevant to speculative fiction fans: the main message of a show like Babylon 5 is always, “Aliens are just people, too.”2 comments
Careful, World of Warcraft gamers. The NSA is looking for terrorists among you.
Spies with surveillance agencies in the United States and United Kingdom may have spent time undercover as orcs and blood elves, infiltrating video games like “World of Warcraft” in a hunt for terrorists “hiding in plain sight” online.
That’s the finding of the most recent round of documents released by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to British newspaper The Guardian.
Agents from the CIA, FBI and Pentagon and England’s Government Communications Headquarters infiltrated WoW and virtual world “Second Life,” as well as collecting information on the Xbox Live gaming network, according to the documents.
A 2008 NSA memo called online gaming a “target-rich communications network” where terrorists could communicate “in plain sight.”
Really the best comments were from Rose, who shared the link with me:
I can just imagine a bunch of NSA guys sitting around saying “I bet we can get paid to play WoW.”“Yeah, we’ll say we’re looking for spies, yeah, that’s it!”
But apparently so many agents were engaged in playing video games for national security that a “deconfliction” group was created to make sure government agents weren’t accidentally spying on each other.
Hat tip to my brother Jared for the link.
Puzzled by the intricate structure of the M-PMV retroviral protein… scientists have striven to find its chemical key for ten years now. Each enzyme has millions of possible combination in which it can fold its atom bonds, and determining its precise structure is a very laborious enterprise even for high-end computers with large processing power.As a long-shot University of Washington biologists sent the virtual 3D model of the M-PMV to the online game Foldit, where gamers folded and turned it into a myriad of combinations. Eventually, and remarkably enough, the gamers obtained the optimum one – the state that needed the lowest energy to maintain….
“They actually did it in less than 10 days.”
The reason why computers haven’t been able to do this, despite their evidently superior processing capabilities, is that they’re still far from being capable of having human-like spatial reasoning.
I buy that argument as part of it. I also wonder about the characteristics of the neural super-net that is collaborative human interaction.
Interestingly enough, Foldit records the players’ actions and processes them in an algorithm which will eventually help the AI behind the game to someday be able to compile successful structures on its own.
Well, whether you buy that might depend whether you believe that algorithms can generate strong AI, or not.
So who’s seen Ender’s Game?
Is it any good as a movie?
Unrelated question: which, if any, parts of the feel & experience of the book does it get right?
It’s funny, isn’t it, that those are unrelated questions? And movie reviews can only answer the second question when it’s obvious that the reviewer is a fan. e.g. for The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey (3-part Hobbit: WTF?), go straight to Anthony Lane’s review. It summarizes very neatly to “I loved it — but I’m a fanatic” (which is also, word-for-word, my own review of Terminator: Salvation).
I haven’t seen a fan’s review of Ender’s Game. (No, I haven’t searched at Hatrack River, why do you ask?) I knew I was in the wrong place at Entertainment Weekly upon reading, “The problem is, these initiation and training scenes go on forever.” I’m not a Card fanatic, but I’m pretty confident that anyone who considers Battle Room a problem hasn’t the slightest idea what Ender’s Game fandom is about.
P.S. Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham is, in theory, an unadulterated stroke of genius. Please tell me that, unlike Russell Crowe as Javert, it also works in practice.1 comment
Haven’t posted in a while. Recently I was emailed a few links I wanted to share.
The first was shared by Rose, the URL is worth sharing:
Therein, the link describes efforts to equip robot monkey arms with a sense of touch:
“If you really want to create an arm that can actually be used dexterously without the enormous amount of concentration it takes without sensory feedback, you need to restore the somatosensory feedback,” explains Sliman Bensmaia, Chicago uni prof.
But the (convincing) explanation is unnecessary, for my exhiliration, anyway. THEY ARE EQUIPPING MONKEYS WITH ROBOT ARMS. HUMAN TRIALS ARE ANTICIPATED WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR.
We should probably reflect on the implications of this. Even the article notes,
This research is funded by our old friends at the US military bonkers-boffinry bureau DARPA, hoping to deliver better replacement limbs for American troops injured in the Wars on Stuff.
But for today, I’m just going to enjoy it.
I decided to save the next link for a later post.1 comment