Snow Crash vs Star Trek

“[C]yberpunk sci-fi of the 1980s and early 1990s accurately predicted a lot about our current world. Our modern society is totally wired and connected, but also totally unequal,” writes Noah Smith (What we didn’t get, Noahpinion). “We are, roughly, living in the world the cyberpunks envisioned.”

I don’t find that surprising. Cyberpunk writers were looking at ongoing trends and extrapolating about the near future. We are living in that near future.

Considering inequality in the US began growing several decades ago when cyberpunk became a genre, it wasn’t hard to imagine that such inequality would continue to grow and play out within technology itself. And the foundations for present technology were developed in the decades before cyberpunk. The broad outlines of the world we now live in could be seen earlier last century.

That isn’t to downplay the predictions made and envisioned. But it puts it into context.

Smith then asks, “What happened? Why did mid-20th-century sci fi whiff so badly? Why didn’t we get the Star Trek future, or the Jetsons future, or the Asimov future?” His answer is that, “Two things happened. First, we ran out of theoretical physics. Second, we ran out of energy.”

That question and answer is premature. We haven’t yet fully entered the Star Trek future. One of the first major events from its future history are the Bell Riots, which happen seven years from now this month, but conditions are supposed to worsen over the years preceding it (i.e., the present). Like the cyberpunk writers, Star Trek predicted an age of growing inequality, poverty, and homelessness. And that is to be followed by international conflict, global nuclear war, and massive decimation of civilization.

World War III will end in 2053. The death toll will be 600 million. Scientific research continues, but it will take decades for civilization to recover. It’s not until the 22nd century that serious space exploration begins. And it’s not until later in that century that the Federation is formed. The Star Trek visionaries weren’t starry-eyed optimists offering much hope to living generations. They made clear that the immediate future was going to be as dark or darker than most cyberpunk fiction.

The utopian world that I watched in the 1990s was from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Those two shows portray the world 250 years from now, about the same distance we have to the last decades of the American colonial era. It’s unsurprising that a pre-revolutionary writer might have predicted the invention of the cotton gin at the end of the 18th century, just as unsurprising that he couldn’t have predicted the world we now live in. That is why I would argue it’s premature to say that no further major advancements in science will be made over that time period.

Scientific discoveries and technological developments tend to happen in spurts — progress builds incrementally, which is what makes Star Trek compelling in how it offers the incremental details of how we might get from here to there. We can be guaranteed that, assuming we survive, future science will seem like magic to us, based as it would be on knowledge we don’t yet possess. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were those who predicted that nothing significant was left for humans to learn and discover. I laugh at anyone who makes the same naive prediction here at the beginning of the 21st century.

To be fair, Smith doesn’t end there. He asks, “These haven’t happened yet, but it’s only been a couple of decades since this sort of futurism became popular. Will we eventually get these things?” And he adds that, “we also don’t really have any idea how to start making these things.”

Well, no one could answer what the world will be like in the distant future any more than anyone in the distant past was able to predict the world that has come to pass. Nothing happens yet, until it happens. And no one really has any idea how to start making anything, until someone figures out how to do so. History is an endless parade of the supposedly impossible becoming possible, the unforeseen becoming commonplace. But it is easy to argue that recent changes have caused a rupture and that even greater changes are to come.

Smith goes on to conjecture that, “maybe it’s the authors at the very beginning of a tech boom, before progress in a particular area really kicks into high gear, who are able to see more clearly where the boom will take us.” Sure. But no one can be certain one is or is not at the beginning of a tech boom. That can only be seen clearly in retrospect.

If the Star Trek future is more or less correct, the coming half century will be the beginning of a new tech boom that leads to the development of warp drive in 2063 (or something akin to it). And so following it will be an era of distant space travel and colonization. That would be the equivalent of my grandparents generation growing up with the first commercially sold cars and by adulthood, a half century later, experiencing the first manned space flight — there being no way to predict the latter from the former.

As a concluding thought, Smith states that, “We’ll never know.” I’m sure many in my grandparents generation said the same thing. Yet they did come to know, as the future came faster than most expected. When that next stage of technological development is in full force, according to Star Trek’s future historians, those born right now will be hitting middle age and those reaching young adulthood now will be in their sixties. Plenty in the present living generations will be around to know what the future holds.

Maybe the world of Snow Crash we seem to be entering into will be the trigger that sends us hurtling toward Star Trek’s World War III and all that comes after. Maybe what seems like an endpoint is just another beginning.

* * *

About predictions, I am amused by early 20th century proclamations that all or most great discoveries and inventions had been achieved. The belief was that the following century would be limited to working out the details and implementing the knowledge they already had.

People at the time had just gone through a period of tumultuous change and it was hard to imagine anything further. Still, it was a time of imagination, when the earliest science fiction was popularized. Most of the science fiction of the time extrapolated from what was known from the industrial age, from Newtonian physics and Darwinian evolution. Even the best predictions of the time couldn’t see that far ahead. And like cyberpunk, some of the predictions that came true in the following decades were dark, such as world war and fighting from the air. Yet it was hard for anyone to see clearly even into the end of the century, much less the century following that.

The world seemed pretty well explained and many felt improvements and progress were hitting up against a wall. So, it would be more of the same from then on. The greater changes foreseen tended toward the social rather than the technological. Otherwise, most of the experts felt certain they had a good grasp of the kind of world they lived in, what was possible and impossible. In retrospect, such confidence is amusing to an extreme degree. The following passage describes the context of that historical moment.

Stranger Than We Can Imagine
by John Higgs
pp. 17-19

It appeared, on the surface, to be an ordered, structured era. The Victorian worldview was supported by four pillars: Monarchy, Church, Empire and Newton.

The pillars seemed solid. The British Empire would, in a few years, cover a quarter of the globe. Despite the humiliation of the Boer War, not many realised how badly the Empire had been wounded and fewer still recognised how soon it would collapse. The position of the Church looked similarly secure, despite the advances of science. The authority of the Bible may have been contradicted by Darwin and advances in geology, but society did not deem it polite to dwell too heavily on such matters. The laws of Newton had been thoroughly tested and the ordered, clockwork universe they described seemed incontrovertible. True, there were a few oddities that science puzzled over. The orbit of Mercury, for instance, was proving to be slightly different to what was expected. And then there was also the issue of the aether.

The aether was a theoretical substance that could be described as the fabric of the universe. It was widely accepted that it must exist. Experiments had shown time and time again that light travelled in a wave. A light wave needs something to travel through, just as an ocean wave needs water and a sound wave needs air. The light waves that travel through space from the sun to the earth must pass through something, and that something would be the aether. The problem was that experiments designed to reveal the aether kept failing to find it. Still, this was not considered a serious setback. What was needed was further work and cleverer experiments. The expectation of the discovery of the aether was similar to that surrounding the Higgs boson in the days before the CERN Large Hadron Collider. Scientific wisdom insisted that it must exist, so it was worth creating more and more expensive experiments to locate it.

Scientists had an air of confidence as the new century began. They had a solid framework of knowledge which would withstand further additions and embellishments. As Lord Kelvin was reputed to have remarked in a 1900 lecture, “there is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” Such views were reasonably common. “The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered,” wrote the German-American physicist Albert Michelson in 1903, “and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.” The astronomer Simon Newcomb is said to have claimed in 1888 that we were “probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy.”

The great German physicist Max Planck had been advised by his lecturer, the marvellously named Philipp von Jolly, not to pursue the study of physics because “almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes.” Planck replied that he had no wish to discover new things, only to understand the known fundamentals of the field better. Perhaps unaware of the old maxim that if you want to make God laugh you tell him your plans, he went on to become a founding father of quantum physics.

Scientists did expect some new discoveries. Maxwell’s work on the electromagnetic spectrum suggested that there were new forms of energy to be found at either end of his scale, but these new energies were still expected to obey his equations. Mendeleev’s periodic table hinted that there were new forms of matter out there somewhere, just waiting to be found and named, but it also promised that these new substances would fit neatly into the periodic table and obey its patterns. Both Pasteur’s germ theories and Darwin’s theory of evolution pointed to the existence of unknown forms of life, but also offered to categorise them when they were found. The scientific discoveries to come, in other words, would be wonderful but not surprising. The body of knowledge of the twentieth century would be like that of the nineteenth, but padded out further.

Between 1895 and 1901 H.G. Wells wrote a string of books including The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man and The First Men in the Moon. In doing so he laid down the blueprints for science fiction, a new genre of ideas and technological speculation which the twentieth century would take to its heart. In 1901 he wrote Anticipations: An Experiment in Prophecy, a series of articles which attempted to predict the coming years and which served to cement his reputation as the leading futurist of the age. Looking at these essays with the benefit of hindsight, and awkwardly skipping past the extreme racism of certain sections, we see that he was successful in an impressive number of predictions. Wells predicted flying machines, and wars fought in the air. He foresaw trains and cars resulting in populations shifting from the cities to the suburbs. He predicted fascist dictatorships, a world war around 1940, and the European Union. He even predicted greater sexual freedom for men and women, a prophecy that he did his best to confirm by embarking on a great number of extramarital affairs.

But there was a lot that Wells wasn’t able to predict: relativity, nuclear weapons, quantum mechanics, microchips, black holes, postmodernism and so forth. These weren’t so much unforeseen, as unforeseeable. His predictions had much in common with the expectations of the scientific world, in that he extrapolated from what was then known. In the words commonly assigned to the English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, the universe would prove to be not just stranger than we imagine but, “stranger than we can imagine.”

 

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Introverted Delights

I’ve been watching Westworld. It’s my favorite show at the moment. That is saying a lot, considering it’s competition. The second season of The Man in the High Castle is about to come out, based on a novel I love by my favorite fiction writer. And the always entertaining Game of Thrones will be returning soon. But neither of those shows competes with Westworld.

Westworld is popular. But even though it has higher viewer ratings than Game of Thrones, it has much more mixed reviews. It’s such a complex show. The plotlines of Westworld are immensely more complicated than the sprawling narrative world of Game of Thrones. This makes it all the more impressive that it is so popular.

For some people, they see it as too cerebral. I wonder why that is. There is more emotional depth to this show in many ways than a show like Game of Thrones that is focused so much on physical action of fighting, on political machinations and worldly power. The inner experience of Westworld characters is conveyed to a much greater extent. Maybe that is what is difficult for some people, specifically extraverts.

Westworld, despite the outward action and adventure of the virtual world portrayed, is ultimately a show maybe best appreciated by an introvert. So many of the main characters on the show seem rather inwardly drawn and guarded about their most personal experience, which is unusual for mainstream action-oriented sci-fi. The point of the entire show revolves around growing self-awareness and the strengthening of an inner voice, the kind of thing that preoccupies introverts.

Some people wonder what is the point of all the convoluted plotlines, multitudinous cultural references, and in-show commentary of obscure ideas. Also, there is the simultaneous celebration and questioning of genre tropes. Is it embracing “guns and tits and all that mindless shit”? Or is the entire show a criticism of that, an exploration of what it means for our humanity? Maybe both. From my perspective, that just makes the show more interesting. But the basic show can be enjoyed on a much simpler level, even ignoring the sex and violence, as much of the character development is fairly straightforward. The motivation of characters is revealed as the show goes on, assuming enough imagination and curiosity pulls you in to follow the characters on their path of emergence.

The tricky part is that the identities of characters isn’t immediately apparent, only being revealed as their pasts are revealed. This is a slow reveal with glimpses of a murky past gradually coming into focus. The exploration of motivation is a learning experience as much for the characters themselves as for the viewers. We are meant to identify and empathize with the characters as individuals and not merely to be caught up in their actions and relationships with other characters.

This requires of the viewer both patience and immersion, along with suspension of disbelief about the entire fictional world. It’s an act of imaginative speculation taken to an extreme degree, an attempt to bring we the viewers into the borderlands of consciousness and of humanity. Some people have more tolerance than others for that kind of thing, but this is what the best sci-fi is able to achieve. That is what the producers of the Westworld show have been attempting, it being fair game to argue over how well they achieved it. Still, no matter how well done, these themes aren’t exactly of mainstream interest. Most viewers probably just want to see robots revolting and, for those folk, this show does deliver on that promise.

Still, Westworld is constrained by the sub-genre it belongs to. There is a central element of dark mystery and claustrophobic focus that is typical of gritty neo-noir, always leaving certain things unseen and unexplained. Take the slow burn of Blade Runner, exaggerate and complicate it, spread it across an entire show series with no linear plotline or single dominant protagonist, and that is what you get with Westworld. This isn’t a world-building exercise like some traditional fantasy and space operas where every detail is articulated and the background fully described. Everything in the narrative revolves around the characters and about what it means to be human.

This season introduced the individuals and their place in the world. The exploration of the larger world, if it is to happen, will be developed in the next season. The hosts, having gained consciousness, will no longer be trapped in voice commands, character scripts, and narrative loops. The inward focus likely will turn ever more outward, as the hosts try to grasp what kind of world they find themselves in. That is the natural progression of emerging consciousness, whether for a child or an android.

Alternative Visions, Radical Imagination

When Science Fiction Stopped Caring About the Future
by Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic

Over here is Le Guin, taking a stand for science fiction on the grounds that “we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.” And over here is Star Wars, showing you more pictures of the Millennium Falcon. So much for Le Guin’s call to elevate creators who know “the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.”

writing & reading, democracy & despotism 
by Kenan Malik, Pandaemonium

Ursula Le Guin
‘Resistance and change often begin in art’

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

The full text of the talk was published in the Guardian; there is also a video of the talk.

Science Fiction and the Post-Ferguson World: “There Are as Many Ways to Exist as We Can Imagine”
by Mary Hansen, YES!

Again, this is why we need science fiction. We often can’t imagine that things could be different because we can’t imagine alternative systems. Ursula LeGuin just gave an incredible speech at the National Book Awards, where she talked about this and said people can’t imagine a world without capitalism. Well, there was a time when people couldn’t imagine a world without the divine right of kings.

But the writers, the visionaries, those folks who are able to imagine freedom are absolutely necessary to opening up enough space for folks to imagine that there’s a possibility to exist outside of the current system.

I think it’s been a concerted effort to erase those possibilities. These systems that we live under are incredibly unnatural. This is not the way we’re supposed to live. It takes indoctrination to get us to a point where we believe that this is the way things should be. When we take a small step outside that, we are able to break that indoctrination and see that this is not the only way, and in fact there are as many ways to exist as we can imagine.

 

 

sensawunda

sensawunda

Posted on Nov 28th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Sensawunda is the sf genre term for sense of wonder.  I’ve come across the term before, but I was just thinking about how its something I value highly in fiction.  I was reminded of it because I came across a blog that  was questioning if it was missing in contemporary fiction.  I don’t feel like analyzing the concept, but one interesting idea stood out to me.  The Wikipedia entry contrasted sense of wonder with the numinous in gothic horror.  One blogger I came across thought the term awe covered both the sensawunda and the numinous.  I agree.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_of_wonder

http://futurismic.com/2008/11/22/has-science-fictions-sensawunda-lost-its-sense-of-wonder/

http://www.bookslut.com/science_fiction_skeptic/2007_12_012076.php

http://allumination.wordpress.com/2008/04/01/sensawunda-removal-machine/

http://sensawunda.wordpress.com/

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Horror and Science Fiction

Horror and Science Fiction

Posted on Nov 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

My friend reads a lot of horror fiction.  I’ve never been all that attracted to horror even though it crosses over with the fantasy genre which is something I read quite a bit.  However, because of my friend, I’ve learned a lot about horror and begun to read some.  He enjoys reading many of the small press horror writers which actually are some of the better horror writers from what I understand.  For instance, my friend says that a number of horror writers consider Ligotti to be one of the best living horror writers and yet Ligotti is practically unknown.

Anyways, my friend and I talk about fiction all of the time.  We share some of the same favorite writers (such as William S. Burroughs and Barry Yourgrau), but usually we’re reading entirely different authors.  In particular, this past year or so, my friend has read hardly nothing else besides horror.  So, even though I’ve read only a smattering of horror, I’ve listened to my friend read quotes from and give synopsis of hundreds of horror stories.

I’ve come to have more respect for the horror genre.  Because it deals with human suffering in such a direct fashion, its heavily influenced by philosophical and religious ideas.  Interestingly, horror has attracted a number of writers of the Catholic persuasion.  Horror writers for sure have been influenced by the ideas of Catholocism: original sin, fallen world, demonology, etc.

I pretty much appreciate any imaginative fiction partly because imaginative fiction tends to be fiction of profound ideas.  Philip K. Dick is one of the writers of profound ideas, but he is somewhat opposite from horror writers.  PKD used Science fiction for his plots even though his stories were often more fundamentally fantasy.  The closest that PKD came to horror would’ve been A Scanner Darkly.  That book could be made into horror with only minor changes.

I was discussing with my friend the differences between the genres.  I was thinking about how its rare for writers to combine horror and science fiction, and when they do its usually through the mediation of fantasy.  Fantasy crosses over easily with both horror and science fiction maybe because fantasy is a more general category.

I’m reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson right now.  I started it quite a while back but became distracted by other books.  I decided to finish it now as its a direct influence on Google Earth and other virtual worlds.  It has some similarities to PKD: the average hero and the interspersing of philosophical discussion.  But its a bit more hard sci-fi than PKD tended towards. 

Hard sci-fi often goes for these massive multiperspective epic narratives.  This is quite different from horror.  Horror is more likely to go for the small scale and single perspective.  Horror writing often creates a sense of isolation and claustrophobia through an extreme subjective narrative voice.  This disallows one to see outside of the character and thus magnifies the emotional impact. 

Ligotti believes you need the subjective perspective of a single human to register the horror.  A horror story can’t be portrayed from the perspective of the monster.  The monster portrayed can never touch upon the imagination in the same way as a monster left as a mystery.  This is why Lovecraft stories too often make terrible movies because monsters in movies can come off as simply ridiculous.  Horror is a profound emotion that isn’t fundamentally about blood and guts.  Slasher movies aren’t the most horrific stories.

Besides the claustrophobia of subjectivity, the other technique is intimacy.  Almost everyone remembers sitting around a campfire or in a tent sharing ghost stories.  This is often recreated in horror stories.  Poe used this technique, for instance, in The Telltale Heart.  The main character in that story is telling the story in what seems to be a confession.  This intimacy creates sympathy all the while throwing one off with questions of the narrator’s reliability.  Part of the horror is how the narrator tries to make sense what happened or else tries to rationalize what he did.

How this is different from science fiction is that with sf there is much more action by and interaction between characters.  SF characters may spend pages explaining some idea but they don’t tend to tell the story.  The narrator’s voice is more likely to be less identified with the subjective perspective or at least not a single subjective perspective.

This is intriguing in what it says about human nature.  Science fiction tends towards the optimistic by taking on the big picture.  Horror tends towards the pessimistic by confining it to the small view.

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tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 7 hours later

tuffy777 said

Actually, Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Father Thing” is horror.  Hollywood ripped it off for the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  – nice article! 
  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 11 hours later

Marmalade said

Nice to meet ya tuffy!  I see you just joined.  I’m glad you liked what I wrote and you compliment me by calling it an article. 

You are correct about “The Father Thing”.  That story is very much like a traditional horror story, but it was more of an original idea when he wrote it of course.  Yes, Hollywood has benefited from PKD.

Do you know of any other PKD stories that could be considered horror?

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 14 hours later

tuffy777 said

well, there’s my favorite, “Roog”, in which the dog is trying to warn the family that the garbage collectors are monsters
  – and many more, so I’ll name some more stories later
  ~~~

 

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 15 hours later

Marmalade said

I’ve read Roog.  I guess I didn’t think of that story as horror, but I guess it could be labelled such in a more general way.  Its true that the dog did see the garbage collectors as monsters.  As I see it, PKD does use elements of horror, but for me his fiction doesn’t usually have the feeling of horror.  However, there is much from PKD I haven’t read and so maybe they’re are more horror-like stories I’m unaware of.

Do you read much horror?  And how do you define horror?  I usually define horror as any fiction that creates a feeling of horror, but that isn’t how everyone defines it.  As I see it, many shows such as Buffy aren’t horror even though they use elements of horror because they don’t cause a feeling of horror.  Then again, horror merges with dark fantasy and so there is a wide variety.  And, besides, what causes horror to one person might not cause horror to another.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 17 hours later

tuffy777 said

My choice of reading material is quite eclectic, ranging from newspapers and scientific journals to humorous poetry, and from classics to comic books.

Most of my “reading” of horror has been movies, but I have read “Frankenstein”, “Dracula” and “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”. I read Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire”, but I classify that more as a romance than as horror.

I used to teach classes in horror fiction and film, and when I asked my students to define horror, I got many different answers. My own definition is that horror first evokes fear and then purges it, much as the Greek tragedies did. I have a book titled “The Thrill of Fear”, and that title suggests that horror is like a roller coaster ride – first we scream, but then we laugh.

~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 24 hours later

Marmalade said

Same here.  My reading is eclectic too, but I can’t say I read scientific journals too often.  I suppose that most of my “reading” of horror has also been movies.  Plus, I’ve read some interesting nonfiction books about horror the past couple of years.  Two really cool books are The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson and The Melancholy Android by Eric G. Wilson. 

I don’t think I’d previously heard of the book you mention.  I did a search on it and I think I might enjoy it.  I like books that give an overview.  I also like books where the subject is analyzed across many media such as film and books.

Your definition of horror is pretty good.  I think that fits a lot of horror.  I was thinking, though, about how Ligotti would likely disagree.  I get the sense that he wants to evoke fear without purging it aferwards, but maybe fear is purged just by the story ending.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

1 day later

tuffy777 said

Most horror fiction either kills or confines the monster at the end. That is why “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Halloween” were so shocking to audiences of their time.

The author of “The Thrill of Fear” is Walter Kendrick. Perhaps that will help you to find it?

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Cool discussion. I like the generalizations you made, Ben.

One of the most horrific stories I ever read I am not sure whether was fantasy or scifi. I have read a ton of the latter and almost none of the former. It was about white spiders, and how their bite would cause one to live in an alternate reality but not know that…. I have no ideas of author or title. But I know it led me to doubt my reality for many days, and of course to get even more phobic about light-colored spiders than I already am about them ALL !!!!!!

Most people might not think that having one’s sense of reality undermined or shaken is “horror” but to me it might be the ultimate of horror…….

Does either of you consider Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as horror? I don’t remember any specifics about it now, except a few generalities, but the protagonist does say, at the end, as he looks back on his life “The horror [of it all that I have done…] and one FEELS that along with him. A kind of almost self-annihilating guilt. That’s pretty horrifying, too !!!!!!

Blessings,
OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

Welcome to the discussion, OM.  I’d have to think much more about it to figure out how much these generalizations make sense.  I haven’t analyzed the horror genre all that thoroughly.  I usually only care about horror to the extent that it relates to sf.

The experience of having your sense of reality undermined could potentially fit into the horror genre.  I’m somewhat familiar with the horror writers Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp, and they both play around with the sense of reality.  I love any writer of any genre that plays around with my sense of reality. 

PKD plays around with reality perception, but he doesn’t exactly focus on the horrific experience of it.  The reason is that PKD’s characters tend to take on an attitude of problem-solving which lessens the emotional impact of horror.  PKD’s protagonists don’t usually have a victim mindset.  They most often either overcome their problems or at least aren’t overwhelmed by them.

I don’t know about Heart of Darkness.  I did a quick search about it in reference to the horror genre.  I saw an article which stated that it could’ve been categorized as horror when it was first published.  I wouldn’t consider it horror myself, but my memory of it isn’t perfectly clear.  I read it in highschool and don’t remember experiencing it as horrific.  Even though some horror is expressed in it, I don’t think it has an overall feeling of horror.  That is a good example though because I’m not sure what the dividing line is.  My friend likes Conrad and I’ll ask him what he thinks.

Of books I read in highschool, I personally found some other books more horrific.  Lord of the Flies was pretty darn horrific in that it was so believable.  Another novel was Hardy’s Jude the Obscure which has had a longterm existentially horrific influence on my poor psyche.

Its kind of hard to make an objective definition of horror as the experience itself is so subjective.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Yeah, I agree about Lord of the Flies. I am glad I’ve never read Jude the Obscure !!

Must we distinguish horror from terror from upset? From being disturbed or shaken? As you say, the experience is so subjective. My question is prompted by a couple of disturbing books I read when much younger: George Orwell’s 1984 tops the list, and Animal Farm was very upsetting to me also, but there are psychological torture things in 1984 which freak/creep me out to this day if I ever think of them.
 
That’s cool, about the attitudes of PKD heroes !! And it’s cool that you love having your sense of reality messed with !! I can appreciate the great flexibility that requires. (I have more now than I did when younger.) Do you think that’s an Intuitive characterstic, flexibility around “realities?”

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

We mustn’t anything at all.  In some ways, genres are arbitrary categories.  A funny thing is how any genre writer that is particularly talented gets put in the mainstream literature section of bookstores and libraries.  If a writer is good, his writings must not be genre because by definition genre is crap.  For instance, I’ve read plenty of genre fiction that is closer to mainstream literature than is Kafka.  I think Kafka is one of the greatest horror writers who ever lived.
I’d be perfectly happy if they simply got rid of genre categories or else made them more relevant.  In particular, horror doesn’t seem like a real genre to me.  I’ve always considered it to be a sub-category of dark fantasy which is further a sub-category of speculative fiction overall.

Do I think flexibility around “realities” is an Intuitive characteristic?  By definition, the Sensation function is the tendency towards concrete reality and a conservative attitude.  Sensation types prefer life to not change and be reliable.  It also comes down to the thin vs thick boundary types which correlates.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

2 days later

tuffy777 said

Hi, OM, and thanx fur joining the discussion! You have some pawesome ideas!

When we discuss horror, we tend to think of monsters like Godzilla and the Mummy, but the monster story is only a subdivision of the horror genre.

“Heart of Darkness” is an excellent choice because it is the story of a whtie European man coming to the realization that the horror of the “dark” continent of Africa is actually in his own heart, and not in the dark-sknned natives.

I believe that the horror is greater when you become a monster, than when a monster attacks you.

The irreality of one’s external world is also a type of horror. For example, in PKD’s novel “UBIK”, we can’t be sure who really died in the explosion and who survived. Somebody is in cryogenic storage with a futuristic telephone attached to the coffin, while somebody else is on the outside and still living.

Another PKD novel that I consider horror is “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”, in which a recreational drug turns people into evil cyborgs.

~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

21 days later

Marmalade said

Hey tuffy… in case you notice this new comment…
“I believe that the horror is greater when you become a monster, than when a monster attacks you.”
I lost my first response. Let me try to partially reconstruct my argument.
Yes and no to what you said. Yes, horror is more relevant the closer it is to one’s own experience. No, horror in its most profound form can’t be described in human terms. Horror is only horrific to the degree that it has an element of Otherness. But, as Ligotti theorizes, horror necessitates a human or human-like character to register it. Even in “Heart of Darkness”, the protagonist experiences the horror at some distance as he is an observer entering into the world of horror. That is a common technique.
On a different note, I wanted to return to another idea. I found this following quote which relates to the distinction I made between Science Fiction and Horror.

Aron’s twofold task was to remind us, first, that there is no human nature unsullied by the Fall and, second, to suggest, as does orthodox Christianity, that what prophets of the absolute decry as a disaster was in fact a “fortunate fall,” a condition of our humanity. The utopian is optimistic about man, pessimistic about particular men and women: “I think I know man,” Rousseau sadly wrote, “but as for men, I know them not.” The anti-utopian is pessimistic, or at least disabused, about man; this forgiving pessimism frees him to be optimistic about individuals.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

22 days later

tuffy777 said

Hi, Marmalade.  You make some good points, but consider this:

When a monster attacks, you can lose your life.
But when you become a monster, you can lose your soul.
Many children of the 1960s learned this tragic lesson when they became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

22 days later

Marmalade said

Horror is a rather general term. There are many kinds and degrees of horror. Its an interesting question to consider what is most horrific. Everyone would probably have a different answer. To me, ultimate horror is a complete metaphysical Otherness… the dark wrathful face of God or elsethe silent infinite Void.

What is horrific about how serial killers are portrayed isn’t the fact that they’re human, but that they’re made into the monstrous Other. I notice how the news media resists giving any explanations or insights which leaves every event as an inexplicable phenomena. There are no reasons, just the gritty details of reality, facts that add up to nothing… now, that is what seems horrific to me.

The movie “Monster” made this point. Its the only serial killer movie that fully expressed the human side of the killer and thus made her seem less monstrous. Its psychological realism is what encouraged empathy rather than horror.

As for the horror of addiction, “A Scanner Darkly” is truly awesome. Another good one (in a suicidally depressing kind of way) is “A Requiem for a Dream”.My favorite author that has great insights into addiction is Burroughts. Hiswork can be very dark.

Self-destruction is a very horrific topic. Its the Otherness felt within… something we can’t control. Its horrifying in that its so predictably human and yet so humanly incomprehensible. Addiction is akin to demonic possession. The sense of loss of soul is in how addiction can utterly transform someone. When at rock bottom, everything that one previously loved and cared for becomes unhinged and distant as if from a dream or a previous life.

What is horrific about it is that one’s normal sense of humanity (ie soul) is lost. One becomes the Other, a disconnection from self. What may be worse for the addict is that everyone else might also treat the addict as Other in having fallen from the grace of acceptable society… which leaves no lifeline back to “normal” reality.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

22 days later

tuffy777 said

Consider Dr. Jekyll, the kindly gentleman who becomes the loathsome Mr. Hyde whenever he drinks the potion.  (They say that R.L. Stevenson based this character on an alcoholic uncle.)  Eventually, he becomes Mr. Hyde without drinking the potion, and he is unable to resume his former identity as the good doctor when he most needs to revert. 

Only in death can he subsume the monstrous side of his psyche and become the respectable gentleman once more.

  ~~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Child

22 days later

Marmalade said

Ah, yes… a good example. I love stories about doubles or alternate personalities. That is a theme that PKD usesextremely wellin “A Scanner Darkly”. Reintegration can come at a great cost.

Philip K. Dick — Gnostic Prophet of Science Fiction

Philip K. Dick — Gnostic Prophet of Science Fiction
By Dr. Hoeller 

In his best work “Valis” and its two companion volumes, “The Divine Invasion” and “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer”, the late Philip K. Dick develop a strangely Gnostic vision. In this 73 minute lecture, Dr. Hoeller discusses P. K. Dick, his vision,

Resurgence of Imagination

My response to Matt Cardin’s response to Damien G. Walter’s response about Arthur Machen:

Beyond just horror, all works of imagination have had an upsurge of popularity: movies, graphic novels; and, within fiction, speculative fiction in general. 

In movies, this can partly be explained by increasingly better special effects and graphic novels have been piggybacking on the superhero movie boom.  In general, I think movies have made accessible realms of imagination that were outside of the norm in the past.  I think the popularity of fantasy fiction is directly linked to the changes in movie-making.  Even someone like Machen probably wasn’t all that popular in the past except amongst the literati.

There are a couple of other reasons that imagination has been let loose. 

First, many of the censorship laws applied to the movie and comic book industries stifled creativity for many decades… or at least forced creativity outside of the mainstream and into the black market.  Comic books such as the Watchmen were direct commentary on this dark period of the American imagination.

Second, I think that imaginative and speculative art in all its forms captures the public attention during times of social upheaval and stress.  The American public has been under great stress this past decade, and it seems the fear-mongering has hit a high point recently.  People want to escape reality and also imagine new possibilities

And my response to Matt Cardin’s interview with Stephen Jones:

This shows a contrasting view to that of your blog post about Arthur Machen.

I generally disagree with the negative view here.  If I remember correctly, more books are being published in larger numbers than ever before in history.  I was peruzing Amazon the other day.  There were tons of books on a wide variety of intellectual topics and there was no lack of such books having been printed in recent years. 

With e-book readers, this book boom will only boom even further.  With an e-book, a person can easily carry around all of the volumes of the massive Oxford dictionary (which in physical form take up an entire bookshelf).  I think, in particular, small presses are going to get an increase of sales as e-book readers become more popular.  Books that have been out of print for decades will soon be available to anyone in the world at cheap costs.

Also, the internet helps the average writer.  The internet makes it easier for writers to interact with other writers and interact with their readers.  And the internet makes it easier for a writer just starting out to get their name and work out there by joining forums and starting their own website.  The internet has introduced me to many new writers including those in the genres of horror and weird fiction.

However, it’s possible my view of reality is too rosy.  I live in a liberal college town (Iowa City) which has the oldest writers workshop and supposedly has the highest per capita in the US of the well educated.  I’m surrounded by bookstores and book-lovers.

Harlan Ellison’s Influence Beyond SF

Harlan Ellison is a fiction writer I’ve known about for many years.  I haven’t read him in a while and I’m only generally familiar with what he has written, but to the extent I’m familiar with his career I consider him a worthy writer and thinker.  He influenced the field of SF greatly and is particularly famous for an anthology he edited.  He was friends with the likes of Philip K. Dick, and I must admit I’d loved to have been around to hear those two having a conversation.

Anyways, my point for mentioning Ellison isn’t merely his greatness in the world of SF.  I happened across someone writing about him in another context.  This person claimed him as being his major influence as a blogger.  I’ll post the piece here in its entirety for I only could find it in Google cache.

The Broadband Teat: a blog by AustinCynic

Sarah Palin and the Conservative Cult of the Common Man

I must begin with a word about my “blogfather,” the blogger who has influenced me more than any other. It’s not Markos Moulitsas, or Jeff Tiedrich, founder of The Smirking Chimp, which I used to frequent back in the day; it’s not Joe Conason, Glenn Greenwald, Cenk Uyger or Robert Schlesinger, all of whose observations I find intelligent and insightful. It is Harlan Ellison. The same Harlan Ellison who does not have his own website– though the excellent but unofficial site Ellison Weberland (www.harlanellison.com) comes pretty close–the same Harlan Ellison who, for all I know, still writes on a manual typewriter.

For about three and a half years, from late 1968 to early 1972, Ellison wrote a column for the long-defunct Los Angeles Free Press entitled “The Glass Teat” and it was primarily about television. Indeed, a great deal of fun reading the book are reviews of now-classic shows both outstanding (Ellison writes a review of the pilot for All In the Family, at that time titled Those Were the Days), and campy (his review of The Partridge Family in its entirety was “Mother of God”). I first read the two-volume collection of these columns at 13, and what resonated with me as a teen in Reagan’s America were Ellison’s prophetic political observations in the age of Nixon and Agnew, and his warnings both about Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, as well as to not underestimate the power of the “Silent Majority.” I don’t know if Harlan had read Kevin Phillips’ The Emerging Republican Majority, written just before “The Glass Teat” started its run, but Ellison and Phillips are to me two sides of the same coin, with Phillips laying out the road map for precisely that which Ellison feared would come to pass: that the working-class whites who backed Nixon and Wallace in 1968 would work to roll back the New Deal and the progressive legislation that followed. Especially the Civil Rights Act and the measures growing out of it, including The Great Society. Ellison was a blogger before there were blogs.

Perhaps none of the “The Glass Teat” columns has stayed with me so strongly as two from October 1969 on “The Common Man,” Harlan’s reaction to a two-hour episode of The David Susskind Show which featured a panel of working-class white men deemed to be representative of Nixon’s Silent Majority. All of them had families, all of them were the sole breadwinners of their families, making between about $45,000 and $56,000 a year in today’s dollars ($8,000 to $10,000 in 1969) working one or two jobs. In watching Sarah Palin on the campaign trail these last five weeks, and especially after the debate Thursday, I came to the stark realization that not only have the GOP’s arguments to these voters has changed little in 40 years, in nominating Sarah Palin they have put a member of “The Silent Majority” on the ticket. Sarah Palin is the goddess of the conservative Cult of the Common Man.

For example, guess who might have said the following: “I have absolute faith in the Pentagon. I believe they are the only ones qualified to set their budget.” If you guessed Sarah Palin, or even John McCain, I couldn’t blame you; in fact it was Frank Mrak, one of the Susskind panelists. But it easily could have come out of the mouths of either person on the GOP ticket.

“It’s the Liberal mafia that keeps this war from being won.” Again, this was a Susskind panelist by the name of Paul Corbett rather than McCain or Palin, but didn’t Sarah Palin say more or less the same thing on Thursday night?

We have a cherished myth in this country, one that states that ordinary, inherently pure outsiders can storm the halls of power and make things better for the country, unlike the entrenched fatcats who have forgotten their roots. This scenario has been played out time after time in movies ranging from Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to the more recent Dave.  Both are movies I happen to enjoy a great deal but reality is much messier. Though I would not call George W. Bush a common man, he likes to play one on t.v. and embodies many of their attitudes. How well has he done over the last 8 years?

Sarah Palin is, if anything, worse. Joe Conason, in his current Salon column, says she represents the dumbing down of the GOP. I submit that it is more than that. She represents the final step from merely pandering to “Joe Sixpack” to handing him the reigns of power. Like some latter-day Mr. Smith she plans to turn Washington around with her homespun wisdom and spunk, but Gov. Palin, you are no Jefferson Smith.

Ellison puts it best, and I cannot improve upon it:

“The Common Man is no longer merely as outdated as the passenger pigeon. He is a living menace. He is the man who votes for [George] Wallace because Wallace offers him easy cop-out solutions to the fears his feels. He is the man who thinks everybody can earn a living. He is the man who…believes there is no such thing as prejudice. He is the man who believes in what affects him, what he sees, or what is most consistent with the status quo that will keep him afloat. The time for worshipping The Common Man is past. We can no longer tolerate him, or countenance his stupidity.”

I have hope that this might be finally getting through to the Silent Majority, Reagan Democrats that began abandoning the party in 1968, or at least that this is getting through to their children. My household is firmly in the range of what the Susskind panelists made, and we can barely support ourself on that. Even when you insist on voting against your economic interests at every turn, reality and its liberal bias can slap you in the face, and foreclosure and homelessness is a hard slap indeed.

Instead of being taken in by folksiness, hockey mom anecdotes, and fear-mongering, instead of worrying whether a candidate is “too smart” to be president, maybe we’d better consider whose intellect is best suited for the job. Folksiness and small-town spunk won’t get us out of the mess we’re in.

Harlan Ellison put it best in the conclusion to his two-part column:

“If we are to continue living in this doomed world, if we are to save ourselves, we must kill off the Common Man in us and bring forth the Renaissance Man.”

SciFi and Special Effects, US and Japan

I’m happy with the increasing availability of SciFi tv shows. 

Special effects have improved and maybe they’ve become easier or cheaper to use in a regular show.  Even many major SciFi movies in the past seem a lot less impressive compared to how much more realistically and seamlessly special effects can be used today.  Special effects have essentially made SciFi mainstream.  In the past, people had to use their imaginations to a greater extent.  Shows on tv now present a much more immersive experience and I suppose big screen tvs help. 

I’ve also heard the theory that during socially difficult times people prefer shows that help them escape reality.  Maybe that explains part of the popularity of several recent SciFi shows.

I think, however, that there must be more to it than just those factors.  I think this is part of the larger cultural shift that is happening.  I suspect the very large Millennial generation is fueling much of the popularity, but of course it began long before.  As a GenXer, I grew up at a time when SciFi and comic books were becoming mainstream.  This largely had to do with society becoming less oppressively controlling of public entertainment (e.g., the ending of the Comic Book Code).  It’s interesting the relationship between freedom of society and freedom of imagination.

There is one particular example of social change.  The Millennials are the first truly demographically multicultural generation and I think this explains the greater variety of cultures seen on tv.  In the past, other cultures were always seen as other and characters from other cultures tended not to have major parts.  This is most clearly shown in terms of language as English is the default language of US entertainment even though a large part of the US population speaks other languages.

But SciFi has especially played a role of creating the first major bridge across cultures.  There are three popular SciFi shows that have featured Japanese characters speaking Japanese for extensive periods of time: Heroes, Lost, and Flashforward.  The last two are both ABC shows and so maybe someone in management is Japanese or likes Japanese.  I also wonder if this is an attempt to develop shows that could be popular with a wider audience base as SciFi is very popular in both the US and Japan.  Anyways, it gives a glimpse of the ever-increasing global media.