domingo, fevereiro 18, 2018

Tickboxing Screen SF: "Altered Carbon" by Laeta Kalogridis

It's a shame they've spent so much money on it as it isn't anything new, the only thing that is new is that you see a couple of willies (even though the willie count is going up generally, we always get an almost embarrassed shot which says look there's a willie in this but lets move back along to the tits, phew) along with the many, many boobs, bums and really as you get closer to the end, stomach churning sexual violence. There is a line spoken by one young actress which made me think that the thirteen year olds watching it (and there will be) will be off kilter for days if not months or years. And of course the scene where one actress fights naked. She seems to be fighting naked because she is a new clone and if she had been born from a vacuum pack I'd have gone with it, but she'd been reclining on a nice comfy chair which could have gone with some nice comfy sci-fi- sweatpants or even a slinky pair of pjs...but no she's naked. Some of the totemic cliches of the first two episodes are part info dump but are mostly faithful to the book. And unless I'm remembering the novel incorrectly, there's at least one Chekov's Gun lying in plain view that had to be there. There is a degree of lingering soft porn that's been overdone (e.g., the Bancroft clone vault scene), and the screenplay and acting are awkward against the expense and complexity of the effects. But I'm four episodes in and so far it's not even close to my expectations. Richard Morgan's novels are heavily invested in violence and sex. They do contrast the violent, casual decadence and immorality of the Meth's vs the street. It's the dark side to privilege that, say, Bank's Culture didn't always address with the same visceral ugliness.

I get the sense that the source material may have been chosen in part because of the way it weaves an appealing character and novel cultural mechanic with settings and tropes that are familiar and popular. I wonder if Netflix see this as a gateway drug to get the “Game of Thrones” audience onto SF/Cyberpunkish stuff. The boob count certainly suggests so (although fringe benefit, pubic hair, is going to make a comeback in the future). The prime reason it felt a little strung out is that they'd (perhaps through necessity for a TV adaptation) expanded the roles of a number of characters that don't feature quite so prominently in the book. Reileen is barely in it, Ortega doesn't have anywhere near as much focus and certainly doesn't spend time with her family, Quell only appears in the form of quotes from her battle diaries and has no connection to Kovacs at all, The Hendrix (Poe) is a lesser character, Vernon Elliott is not a sidekick and Lizzie Elliott has one short scene. For me, the idea that you "shouldn't believe anything you see", or whatever way they put it, is a cop-out. It's lazy writing and has the potential to provide for an easy out for some awkward storyline akin to Bobby popping up in the shower in Dallas. Also, I found the over-use and stagedness of smoking cynical.

I think having read so much written SF over the years my expectations of its being brought to life on screen were very high. Perhaps I'm just a boring old fart who can't be the young twenty year old falling in love with “Blade Runner” years ago and boring everyone senseless over it. I would like to see someone throw money at Marge Piercy's “Body of Glass” or “Woman on The Edge of Time” though (or at “The Player of Games” or at “Consider Phlebas”), and maybe create a new equation of less sexual violence and boobs but more willies and pubic hair...

All that being said, I am finding it extremely frustrating, that people keep either comparing it to “Blade Runner”, which it is not even remotely similar too, or complaining that it is whitewashing because Kovacs is a white actor instead of Asian, which is exactly as it is in the book. Having said that, I was really looking forward to seeing this, but kind of disconnected during the fourth episode. The luscious visuals are just not enough to keep you interested, as there's bad acting, bad and increasingly fabricated plot, and cliche loaded elements that feel like randomly stolen from the modern history of written and screen SF. I guess with “Altered Carbon” most people fall for the great CGI, something that regularly makes me enjoy second class movies if they at least look great, but this was just getting more boring and sterile as it went along.

Coming back to Iain Banks, “Consider Phlebas” is the obvious one for a great adaptation, as it's a very "cinematic" story with a linear narrative focalised through one character's perspective and contains some absolutely massive action set pieces. The main problem is squeezing everything into a film's running length. The later Culture novels become progressively more ambitious in scope and setting. “Use Of Weapons” would be very difficult to do on screen due to the endless changes of place and time. I also don't see how you could preserve the vital twist ending in a visual representation of the characters.

It's a strange one isn't it? I guess the question really is: should we judge a TV show/movie/book on its value as 'art' (high brow/low brow whatever) or should we judge a TB show/movie/book on how much money it makes. I wonder how much money Moby Dick made (first example to pop into my head). And then of course the worry that if a trend comes out of this, it could mean that only works that have a money value start to be produced, which means we lose a great deal of potential art from a lot of artists, as they simply aren't recognised, and the only things that are then produced always fit a formula, one that has been shown to make money, which is what I personally feel has been happening for many years in Hollywood - though there are some notable outliers. It is another example of the 'echo-chamber' effect in some ways I guess. I do wonder if a Brave New World awaits if we continue down this path... everything fits in box A, B or C.

This series is what Stranger Things is to 80's Spielbergian flicks; it does the same to 90's Cyber Films and B Movie Fare like “Demolition Man”, “Johnny Mnemonic”, “Strange Days”, and even “The Matrix”, etc. Even has some pseudo Industrial Rock songs that smack of 90's nostalgia. I also found some references to Video Games like Bioshock (the Raven Hotel just reminded me of some of the beginning stages) and Final Fantasy 7.  “Altered Carbon” lacks invention and understanding of what constitutes reality. Yes, we know life on Earth is likely to be a replay of previous life. That much is obvious to anybody whose mind is agile enough to detect the nuances that life brings about. What this series needs is someone with inside knowledge of the complexity of life whilst bringing out the pain and joy in ways that are subtle and not overplayed or overstated. Too many series are lazy is this respect, they have lost the art of developing the narrative and building up the story. Showing full nudity is a cheap way of gaining stiction and is a clear sign that the director has nothing much to say.

“Breaking Bad” showed us what good screen writing and storytelling is about. Netflix should develop groundbreaking shows like that, rather than spending on CGI blade runner adaptions.

Bottom-line: Gave up after four episodes. Despite the lavish budget it came across like one of those tacky Charles Band knock offs like "Trancers." I know. It's not easy to adapt books like "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" by Phil Dick. But it´s possible...

SF = Speculative Fiction.

sábado, fevereiro 17, 2018

The Endless Loops of Space Opera: "The Last Jedi" by Rian Johnson

I'm a Star Wars fan and I hate this movie: "Star Wars - The Last Jedi" by Rian Johnson.

What follows are the ramblings of a deranged mind after having watched this…

My feelings before the movie:

Yeeeeeeeehhhhaaaaaaaa! Tickets booked!!!!
Groaners can groan, moaners can moan,
Carpers can carp, and stay bloody home!
Jeeves! To the pictures! And don't spare the horses!!!

For some reason I continue to follow the endless loops of this space opera, despite having to endure long passages of painful boredom watching interminable fight sequences and passages of cheesy dialogue and chases down spaceship corridors pursued by ineffectual stooge soldiers wearing white plastic armour. People speak of episodes one to three as a low point in the series, but in a curious way they are representative of the many low points in much better received episodes. So why continue to watch it, even to the point of paying 10 euros for an IMAX cinema seat? Perhaps because it functions in its clumsy way as a ring cycle for our times, reverberating in some strange way with the sinister zeitgeist of the period between the fall of the Russian empire and the ascent of Trump. Or maybe it is because I like science fiction, even when it seems determined to bore me to tears.

I liked Palpatine in the prequels. The whole manipulating the entire galaxy into beating the shit out of itself was a good concept...Unfortunately they let Lucas write dialogue so we got... complaints about sand, and Ewan McGregor desperately trying to salvage something from Hayden Christiansen (who I blame less and less as the years go on - he did okay given the dialogue he had to work with). So yeah, what could've been an excellent piece of villainy over 3 films, manufacturing a galactic civil war whilst also successfully turning force-Jesus into force-Satan by playing off the inherent flaws of an ancient religious order (which was unable to look inward and understand why their centuries old dogma needed to change or they would inevitably face destruction) against the expectations of a young lad who's literally been told he was the chosen one by his mentor. A lot...So yeah, I like Palpatine in the prequels. I also fix the prequels a lot in my head. Part of the problem for me is that the villains since Darth Vader have not been scary in the slightest. I mean Anakin Skywalker going over to the dark side because he had nightmares or some such bollocks was really pretty unimaginative and drab fare. When I have loads of money, I'm going to buy a really big window, just so I can stare out of it and look all moody and vaguely sinister. Even the original one is pretty goofy (and Mark Hamill is incredibly whiny). The series probably peaked with Empire Strikes Back. So, while overhype is all-but-certain for this one, it looks pretty good for Star Wars Move #8. You'll forget about global warming, North Korean nukes, and Trump tweets for two hours. About all you should expect, really.

My main issue with it was the confusing sides. Why are the good guys always referred to as the 'resistance' here when the rebels won? Shouldn't they be like... the army? The naming conventions of the sides in this conflict are not well set out, and “The Force Awakens” does an absolutely terrible job of setting the broader political scene.

My understanding: the First Order is effectively a splinter group that's risen up from surviving elements of the Galactic Empire, hence the Stormtroopers, tie fighters, and I suppose, the liking for ridiculous giant battle stations. The New Republic, which I assume was established in the aftermath of the Empire's fall, for some reason, doesn't seem to want to combat the First Order. Perhaps hoping to simply co-exist and reduce their sphere of influence. The Resistance is then formed from parts of the New Republic out of those who believe the First Order is a threat and should thus be dealt with directly. I think there was some insinuation that they were funded in parts by the New Republic but covertly to prevent 'outright war' or whatnot. To be honest it makes no sense why the New Republic wouldn't want to combat the First Order, but I imagine it was a decision made to make the good guys appear to still be 'plucky underdogs'. Yeah, that doesn't work for me. The "Rebels" won in Jedi, they are the establishment now, yet they are skulking around like some sort of guerrilla army. Surely they have access to the entire Empire's military power and could/should be able to obliterate Kylo Ren's mob with ease. If they are so incompetent in power that they couldn't prevent the rise of the First Order then perhaps they have no business being in power.

That's one thing the Prequels have over the new Sequels, is it at least they fleshed out the situation of the galaxy/universe better. Given the Empire was an evolution of the Old Republic, most of it should sort of fallen back into the New Republic after the Civil War, so how do the First Order still have access to high volume ship fabrication and defense manufactures, that the NR would now have oversight of. Too much overthinking obviously. It doesn’t matter that the rebels ‘won’ in ROTJ. Why would that mean that 30 years later everything is fine on the galaxy? Didn’t the Americans ‘win’ the Iraq war? Didn’t they overthrow Saddam Hussein? Did the Iraqis live happily ever after? Or did a bunch of crazy Jihadists take over a large chunk of the country and blow lots of things up? Surely the Americans could have easily crushed them!! This is the equivalent of the French resistance being in operation again with Hitler still enjoy a “creme brulee” for brunch with his Nazi buddies. The problem with this theory is that the film implies that we're supposed to side with the Rebels/Rebellion, that somehow they're going to make the galaxy a better place. However, as we know, they defeated the Empire and now they've either a) fucked it up and lost their power - in which case, why should we want them to win again when they were not good enough to maintain control the first time? - or b) they're still in power but facing a rebellion from the shell of the Empire that they defeated - in which case, aren't the First Order now the underdogs and the side we should empathise with? It's the Socialists vs Social Democrats (two political forces in Portugal; in England it be something like New Labour vs the Tories at the end of Blair's period in office - there are no good guys left and nobody really wants either to win given their track record).

One of the things I liked about Rogue One was that it showed that the Rebels were not all good guys - shit had to get real in order to progress their cause and innocents died in the process. With that in mind, the Rebels of the original trilogy are no different to the First Order of this trilogy. There is an actual Muppet in all of this. Star Wars was good because Lucas cobbled it together from the Hidden Fortress and Dambusters. Then the Muppet show. Then the one with the gold bikini, which was half good (gold bikini) and half rubbish (Ewoks). Three prequels, with the comedy gay Jamaican, Jewish slave trader and slitty eyed aliens threatening the Burmese queen in Japanese accents. Then a film with the utter cheek to have yet another death star and yet another unsuspecting teenager on another desert planet... although the crashed star destroyer and At-At gave it a nice sense of history at the start. Rogue One was pretty good because it mostly avoided the mystical nonsense and did Vietnam in space.

I make that two and a half good films out of eight so far. Yeah, as a franchise, it started eating itself almost immediately. Star Wars is like a black hole: created by sucking so many other things into itself, then sustaining itself that way across huge spans of time/space. Still, even a black hole shrinks over time, eventually fizzling out. In that extremely broad sense, sure, all pop culture is a long retread. But most of that stuff is not expected to keep animating a movie franchise (not sure I want one based on poetry), never mind keep animating it for ever and ever. Do they still sell those felt pillows? That may be why. (Milton squeezed 10-12 (depending on which version) 'episodes' (some better than others) out of “Paradise Lost”, then 4 more from “Paradise Regained”. And he had far less characters to play with than Star Wars. As if “Paradise Lost” wasn't a slog enough...)

Having said this, I am in the camp that says Star Wars ended with George Lucas leaving the series, so I see these new movies as fan fiction, which it is. It can be entertaining but for me Star Wars was Lucas' vision, and even if people didn't like the prequels, they were part of his world, and the Disney movies are just a step backwards. The Force Awakens reset the whole rebels Vs Empire thing, meaning the previous trilogy was inconsequential. They brought back the same iconography (Stormtroopers, Millennium Falcon, X-Wings, Death Star, a desert planet, the same freakin' story) from the very first film. That was to keep the brand familiar to audiences marketing purposes. They made Rogue One for the same reason, to evoke feelings of classic Star Wars and even brought Peter “Gushing” back from the dead for that purpose. I wish Disney had gone with the Lucas story treatments because this time he wouldn't have written the scripts and his versions may have been interesting, and would have aligned with what he started with the other films. He did polarise the fans, but at least the films would have gone in some weird direction.

Also, audiences are getting J. J. back for the next film - that is good as confirming the next films will be crap. The original Star Wars was wonderfully ingenuous, it had a great pace and an optimism that was infectious. Empire strikes back was just a wonderful movie, due mostly to Harrison ford. Return of the Jedi was the weakest of the 3; the ewoks didn't work and they relegated Harrison ford to comic relief.  The next 3 had great potential with Neeson and McGregor, who were both really good. But the kid playing Annakin, the crappy robots and daft comedy aliens badly compromised the movies. The last 2 have been formulaic and with little depth - but they've been really successful (like the makers have got a hold of the marvel universe playbook). I think we can expect more of the same.

Coming back to the “Last Jedi”, I wouldn't have thought any Star Wars fan would have been satisfied with plot. Every strand of story was just a pointless diversion to create an action set piece. And most of the characters were just there to pull a plot lever when required (Del Toro the worst offender - and how did he even know the information he betrayed? Finn & Rose didn't). Finn's storyline - pointless. Poe's story-line - pointless. Disappointed as both a Star Wars fan and a human being with half a brain cell.

My feelings after the movie:

Next flick in December 2018, if it's not by the Coen brothers (it won’t be; see above) I'm not going to bother. Mind you there's a great idea for a pitch - Coen Brothers "The Hudsucker Force Empire Lebowski Awakens Fargo" starring Clooney, Turturro, Hamill and Goodman as Chewbacca. It's a musical space opera based on Homer’s Iliad, but based in small town 1960's America and the hero is a lawyer specialising in divorce, who has a string of mistresses, but is also married to Princess Leia, who happens to be a serial killer.

I received the following leaflet as I was leaving the theatre after having watched the movie:

"After the failure of Lucas' prequels, we here at Disney Corp. decided to 'give back' to fans and provide them with exactly what they wanted: old faces in new costumes, lightsabres, big-dogs driving spaceships and all that Sci-Fi crap they love. After the roaring financial success of “The Force Awakens”, we knew we were onto a winner by following well-researched business models and marketing strategies, which would tick all the boxes for Star Wars fans old and new. The fans ate it up, and myself and all the other shareholders here at Disney Corp. had a wonderful Christmas. The enormous financial rewards from ticket sales and merchandising has allowed us to acquire more assets and rival studios, so as to reduce the competition from other distributors and film-makers, which could in anyway harm our product. In fact, our enormous power and wealth has allowed us to hire maverick, independent, American film-makers, such as Rian Johnson, with the lure of a vast salary and a side-order of blackmail, in order to make sure the latest product (TLJ) is directed to specification of our glorious leader Kathleen Kennedy. Fans will want to see this 10/10 masterpiece again and again, so we here at Disney Corp. have made sure that cinema chains will pay a large part of their revenue stream in order to screen The Last Jedi, so that other films don't get in our (your) way. Merry Christmas and do make sure to visit the gift shop after your fourth viewing!"

NB: I watched the movie in January.

quarta-feira, fevereiro 07, 2018

Don't Panic! Arthur Dent Will Travel: "Space Heavy" by SpaceX, Elon Musk

(snapshot from the Tesla Live Feed)

"For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do"

Space Oddity by David Bowie

The point of this launch was not to get a car into space, it was to flight-prove an interesting new rocket that should cut the cost of getting heavy cargo to LEO by 90%. That's why people are excited. What’s wrong with doing as much exploring, inventing and improving our lives while having a nerd’s heap of fun? It doesn’t get better than that. One day we all are going to die. Eventually, our species will become extinct, regardless of which planets we’re on. All species run out.

It's brilliant how a rich engineer with a vision can within 15 years create a Space company employing 6000 engineers, and create pioneering rockets that are reusable drastically cutting costs for governments & companies who want to put satellites into space (often ones you use every day). Then that same company has created a heavy lift vehicle that can one day return man to the moon and create enormous possibilities for scientific exploration of the solar system. The point of the roadster is actually pretty captures the imagination of a large number of people who love science but aren't scientists. For way too long, those engaged in scientific endeavors have focused on the nuts and bolts of exploration in medicine, engineering, physics, etc., and have ignored the art of all these activities. We graduate people who can do these wonderful activities but cannot talk about them. Hence, financial resources shrivel and disappear, and pure research is underfunded whereas applied research as it relates to corporate interest is the only game in town. If we want to go to Mars, we need to go together, and that will take funding, and that funding should come from the desire to do great things.

I expected the images to be good, but not this good. They are overwhelming, as stunning as they are spooky. But how long with the live feed last? Will we ever see images of Mars from the car as big as those of the earth that it is seeing now? The Hohmann transfer orbit should reach the Mars orbit distance in 6 months. The best time to watch the live feed is now (picture above), because the earth is getting so much smaller by the day - remember how Apollo astronauts only needed 3-4 days to cruise to the moon? But if getting to the moon is like walking across your living room, then getting to Mars is like walking a mile down the road to the pub in relative terms. It is so relaxing to watch the car serenely turning in barbecue mode, the shadows and the glints of sunlight are different with each spin, it's rather like watching goldfish in a bowl. But how long will the cameras endure? How long will it take before the aggressive direct sunlight starts to blister the paint work and bleach the interior of the car? The car must have some kind of stabilisation system, but when will it run out of propellant? Are there any other secrets lurking in the car?And is the driver really a crash dummy, and not some kind of robot that might start surprising us with a few gestures? It is remarkable to think that a space suited living person strapped into the driver's seat would actually have survived the experience of the flight, and maybe also have lived on for a few weeks at the wheel, given enough water and oxygen under the bonnet and in the boot...

Having watched NASA utterly flounder around for decades with a constant stream of failed "post shuttle" projects, it's something of a relief to see some vim and vigour injected into human space. The obsession with SSTO (single stage to orbit) just ground project after project into the dust. 
X33 which died in 2001
DC X which was not a million miles from Falcon 9 but lumbered with the nonsense SSTO configuration.
X38 with virtually no real mission and cancelled when ISS went way over budget
X30 another bloody minded SSTO killed in 92
Orbital Space Plane although may have found some life as the mysterious X37
Crew Exploration Vehicle 
Project Constellation who just seemed to think that money would never be an object or objection
Space Exploration Initiative, another meandering megabucks project that seemed to have little idea what it was and dubbed "Battlestar Galactica" by the press.

There are bound to be a few more I have forgotten, I am sure there was one CIA\ USAF SSTO space plane I have forgotten. To actually have something that thinks "cost" first, that looks like it will attract paying customers and has a near ready to fly human vehicle, the first new one from the US since the horribly failed STS that seemed to think returning 20 tonnes from space would be worth a fortune and that there was no real cost in ground crew for refurbs of the fleet.

Sending the Tesla into space is just brilliant. Science and technology is supposed to be fun. These are not the days of the white shirt pocket protector engineers of the moon landing. Choosing the Tesla over a block of concrete for a payload as is usually done in test flights of prototype rockets is just plain…fun. This however was not done without thought. Tesla was named after the Nikola Tesla. Tesla was never given the acclaim for all of the technology he has given us. Kudos to Elon for making the name of Tesla known to most people on the planet. Elon also has said that the "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" series of books made a deep impression on him. This series of books blends great British humor with science fiction and are great fun. They have meant a lot to me as well, I still laugh whenever I think of them. One of the many notable phrases in the book is “Don’t Panic!”, which is displayed on the dashboard of the orbiting Tesla. As far as this being a publicity stunt for Tesla sales, Elon’s problems are not sales but production. This would be more aptly put into the category of “Honor your father and mother….”

SpaceX and Tesla, at least where the design engineers sit are located, in buildings next to each other. The engineers from both companies speak to each other. Another brilliant move from Elon. Having more people able to think and share problems is what is needed to develop technology quickly. It also may have been instrumental in the decision to use the Tesla as a payload. I don’t know where the Boring company engineers are but I would imagine they are also in Hawthorne California with the SpaceX and Tesla guys. Who knows maybe when SpaceX launches their BFR (Big F..king Rocket) they will put a boring machine as its payload. Not quite as fun though.

After everything is said and done the launch of the Falcon Heavy was inspirational. It may not have been the moon landing but we are starved for the technological leaps we had been anticipating since then. Viewing the simultaneous landing of the boosters did give me those feelings I had with the moon landing. The marvels of what we can do but more of what we will do. Elon has brought this emotion back. A radio show I was listening to had a caller say the Falcon Heavy launch has just created 30 new future astronauts. Viewing the shuttle in a space museum is nice but sad for a dream mothballed.

The SpaceX guys are great. I think all of us, or at least, I am, just about envious of those who work for SpaceX. I live in Los Angeles and have seen the boys out on numerous occasions. I was at my favorite Pub at the beach in Venice when their crew rambled in one day in the late afternoon. They had been on a pub crawl since the wee hours after the first successful docking of the Dragon to the ISS. The enthusiasm and the dedication was just admirable. These guys ARE the new Skunk Works.

What about space littering? The car is a trivial object. It's just an art installation in space. It may not be art that conforms to our measure of ideological purity. Space Geeks knew that the chances of the Falcon Heavy making it into space was at best a 50-50 chance. Why risk any important payload of expensive equipment on those odds? Sure Musk turned the need for a dummy payload into a publicity stunt, but then what entrepreneur wouldn't? If nothing else it's got people chatting about space exploration again because thankfully not everyone is so fatalist about the future. As for the littering the galaxy, we shouldn't be preposterous. The entire mass of the Earth converted into pebbles wouldn't be enough to litter the solar system let alone the galaxy. There's trillions of tons of dangerous rocky flotsam out there in the solar neighbourhood as it is and unlike Musk's Tesla we've no idea where much of that is. Couldn't they have lured Trump into sitting in that car as the first man to ever drive a car in space and sent him on? What a missed opportunity! I am sure he would have loved the idea of going in the car thinking he'd return to the earth...

Getting a big load into space is the easy part of a Mars mission. Landing big loads on Mars is very difficult with a high failure rate. Once on Mars, humans have to be in a physical condition to do useful. long term International Space Station astronauts need weeks or months of intensive therapy to get back to fitness in Earth gravity. They would have to prevent themselves dying for long enough to do useful things. Exactly what kind of useful thing that is beyond the capability of robot explorers has yet to be explained. People can walk faster than a robot but need to breath, drink, eat, sleep, pee, poo. I wonder at the actual active Mars exploring time of an individual would be over three months. A team or swarm of robotic explorers could be self-rescuing and self-repairing and under the control of fat geologists safely on Earth, in no danger of running out of oxygen. A geologist might wander into a Martian valley, spot an unexpected, curious exposed rock strata in the corner of his eye, on his own initiative he can scramble up to the rock face, reach up with his hammer and hack out a small sample for return to the lab. That action is currently beyond all operational rovers. AI is still too primitive to be any use and remote controlling is still much too slow. Your robot swarm is pure science fiction. We're talking about what it's possible to do right now. I'm not convinced of the need for permanent residency on Mars, at least this early in our technological adolescence, but there would be genuine benefits to sending some researchers to visit. It is bloody expensive, but Musk might well be opening the pathway to doing it on a budget a fraction of the size the space agencies were anticipating. You can think of it as investing more money upfront for a quicker return payment in science. Of course it won't be Humans OR robots. It'll be both.

Cheers to Elon Musk, a man who really knows where his towel is (Read the "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy"). At first I thought it was a stupid thing to do, but I have grown to appreciate the absurdity of having a Tesla in Orbit. If nothing else, it makes a nice visual for all the "Flat Earth" morons, even though they probably are already claiming it's all CGI and "FAKE". Maybe we can convince Musk to use a few Flat Earthers as ballast for the next test. Give them some oxygen and a GoPro for their last post on YouTube. I thank Elon and SpaceX for the pride and inspiration they give all of us. I look forward to buying Elon and his crew a beer…on Mars.

Let’s leave as much of the other earthlings around as much as we can. Let’s go for our own outer limits, whatever that may be. When the sun blows, we’ll be the long gone crazies. What a trip!

NB: I really hoped to see Elon Musk running out onto the tarmac as the rocket took off, shouting "Stop. Stop. I left my fucking wallet in the car!".

quinta-feira, fevereiro 01, 2018

Star Wars Felt Figurines: Darth Vader and Stormtrooper

Darth Vader and Luke are having a row. All of a sudden Darth Vader hides behind a door and says "Luke! I know what you are getting for Christmas!"
Taken aback, Luke says "what do you mean?
Darth Vader says " I know what you are getting for Christmas!"
"How do you know that?" asks Luke.
" I felt your presents...."

May the farce be with you....


domingo, janeiro 28, 2018

“Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne”: “A Chave Perdida” /”The Lost Key” by Flor da Boca - Projectos

Ironically, a better philosopher skewered the idea of truth a while ago.

What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms -- in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors - in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all...

Even more ironically, although Nietzsche  (and Álvaro Cordeiro aka Paulo Vaz as his on-stage persona) avoids applying the word "truth" to it, he is presenting this as ... truth! Whenever I have tried to read Nietzsche I have got the impression that he presents his subjective views on social and psychological matters as philosophical truth. Basically, for Nietzsche, truth is what Nietzsche says. On this play, truth is what the characters in this play say.

We do not live in a post-truth world; we live in a world of competing "truths" because people do not agree on what our criteria for and sources of truth should be. For many, truth is defined by their own experience and self-perceived identity, rather than with reference to others or history or philosophy or epistemology or science or faith. As a Christian I believe these are vital issues. As someone in the gospels is reported to have said: What is truth?

As a Computer Scientist and Maker, I can confirm that Philosophers and Creative Artists (including artists) give us a different kind of truth to what Scientists do. The purpose of Science is to uncover empirical truth, which is undoubtedly very important for us in order to distinguish fact from myth or other falsehood. However, "Science" has only been around for a few hundred years, whereas Philosophy has been around for Millennia. Much of our fundamental philosophical thinking is derived from times pre-dating Caesar. Indeed the development of the Scientific Method came about through Philosophical means. Philosophy asks the questions: Science (mostly answers them). However, the question is often far more important than the answer. You need to understand how/why the question was asked in order to understand the significance of the answer. This is why Philosophy is far more important to the critical questions of life. How do we live? How do we treat others? Science can definitely help us sort through the details but cannot provide the answers to these most fundamental of questions. Philosophy provides some answers, correct or otherwise.

And Art? Well that's where we get our imagination from. And why do we need imagination? So we can ask the right questions. So Art, and Theatre in particular, is perhaps more important to truth than Science is (and yes, Science is VERY important in this regard). As a simple starting point, the denial that there is truth is itself either true, false, or meaningless. If it is true then it is self-contradictory and therefore meaningless. If it is false then there are truths that we can ascertain. If it is meaningless then we can use the claim as an opportunity to explore why someone might want to make the claim, and this might help our understanding of the complex issue of truth. Some claims are quite easily demonstrated to be either true or false. Other claims may hold some truth, as established by experience (and science e.g.) and the true elements need to be teased out from the false and the irrelevant. Some claims may hold no truth whatsoever, but represent some indirect aspect of the claimants experience and this may be worth the effort to examine, especially if the claimant shows some prospect of being open to demonstration of the truths relevant to their claim. Some claimants show little or no capacity to be.

Abel believes the old argument that "So long as I believe it to be true then it is true." Liars and conmen have been using it for a long time. Whereas theirs is the possibility of bias in regards to one’s personal experiences, especially when conflicted with the desire to remain the dominant or positive influence in a group encounter, the reality is that those people that have "forgotten" the events have really forgotten the lies they used that day to point the blame elsewhere. Those people also usually fall into the "Say sorry to Dog before I die" category. But then try desperately to make amends with the party/ies they wronged all those years ago.

This plays showed me there is trouble with this take because we're not as reasonable as we like to believe, and we're increasingly faced by unfathomable complexity. Digestible, easily communicated, 'truths' aren't really present at the level of politics, regardless of whether philosophers say truths are possible or not. Inevitably people misunderstand (I’m not sure how many people present in the audience misunderstood what was taking place in the play), and others who are aware of the difficulty of grasping truths, exclusively utter ambiguities, which is a fair way to behave considering they're liable to be crucified at the first opportunity. It's nonsense to believe that the social world can consists of established truths; it's only ever pursuit of 'truth', a larger consensus, satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the results, righteousness, rebellion, tribalism, and headaches.

The sooner we hand over responsibility to the algorithms the better. In the current world, truth is like art. I don't know what art is, but I know what I like. If truth depends on your like for it, or not, then I recommend John Berger's "Ways of Seeing". There is an objective way of looking at art, and there is an objective of determining truth. Those who cannot do that have blinders on, for both art and truth.

My impression is that Vicente Morais’ staging successfully embodies "post-truth", although we are not in a post-truth society. For that to be applicable, we would have to have lived through a truth society. What we have is challenge of establishment orthodoxy; the "truth" that the establishment has demanded be treated as truth no longer remains unverifiable. The mainstream media is suffering because it has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to tell anything approaching an honest description of our world. Rather than post-truth, we are experiencing multi-truth. The fun is in attempting to discover which truth is reality and this play wonderfully depicts this.

In a democracy, the shared understanding is the foundation. If we want to reduce and delay poisoning this foundation with harmful fantasies, we may have to come to some common understanding on how to check the extent of broadcasts and watch more stage plays. Something like, don't propagate any new information if it is not an experience had by someone of 2-3 degrees of separation from you. Perhaps it's just etiquette, like when telephones were introduced, we agreed that you ring somebody, wait for them to say "hello" or "ahoy" or acknowledge in some manner.

I like the ritual of going to the theatre in the centre of a city or town. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation as you converge with others who have made similar pilgrimages from their own neighbourhoods. A theatre in a suburb seems earthbound by comparison. Going round the corner is not an event. The best theatres tend to be blank spaces - like the best galleries - because they focus all the attention on the play. The old Victorian jewel box theatres can be very depressing: shabby, smelly, moldering, encumbered by the distant past, poor sight-lines etc. Mind you, when I was a teenager, I loved going to the Laura Alves Theatre, an historic old auditorium, which charged only peanuts per seat. I was born in Mouraria so this way one of my favourite lairs when it came to watching plays. Everything was painted red, green and gold as far as I recall. Going there as a fifteen, sixteen year old in the 1970s one experienced the same sort of frisson one might have expected going behind the velvet curtain of a brothel. That was some theatre. I had the same experience going to Casa do Coreto (Bandstand’s House) in Carnide to watch “A Chave Perdida”. Fond memories reenacted.

Performance needs the emotional reaction from the audience, and I think we ourselves benefit emotionally and intellectually from the face-to-face contact with the arts in all its manifestations. I know so many people who say they've never been to the theatre, etc. who feel it's "not for someone like me". Schools can break this attitude down and enable young people to realise the arts are exactly for them.


- As social animals, with understanding potential limited by our sense organs and brains, we need certain axioms to make sense to each other;

- Axioms are produced out of necessity and shaped out of experience. A man in a remote Amazon community can live a fulfilled life without knowing who the prime-minister of Portugal is;

- Gossip is a means of spreading axioms. Gossips take a trial-and-error approach to networking like our own neural networks. Some are reinforced and some fade;

- Not all reinforced axioms are facts; quite a lot are fantasies that persist owing to human interest in aesthetics (art, and music; it was a clever move on Álvaro Cordeiros’ part to juxtapose both Schönberg and Kandinsky in the play) and exercising emotions (joy, fear, anger, surprise and even guilt; Rita/Sónia was absolutely mesmerizing in the way she was able to show us the two extreme opposites of emotion);

- Before the internet, a trial-and-error branch of a gossip would hit about 5-7 people. What gets reinforced over time and what is dropped was shaped by the experience of people in each branch;

- After the internet, the branch can hit thousand to million nodes (people) easily. Many fantasies (harmful base ones as well as innocuous beautiful ones) survive along with facts. Plus, to rephrase McLuhan, the gossip branch is itself information. Google and Facebook are studying the patterns all the time; go watch a play instead.

NB: “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne” = On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.

sábado, dezembro 23, 2017

2017: My Reading Year in Review

And the year ends once again...

Without further ado, my crème-de-la-crème was the following:

I’ve been reading a ton of fiction in 2017, which has been so good for the soul and also gave me the little kick I needed to start writing some fiction of my own once again. 2017 neatly encapsulates why I believe we need critics. And never more so than now when any Indie Author can epublish any old book he or she's written. Paradoxically, given all the web-shouting about evil traditional publishers who wilfully smother the voices of debut authors, self-publishing has made good new authors harder to find. The wheat:chaff ratio is now fantastically asymmetric. I've read enough to already have a to-be-read list that I will never get through in my lifetime. I have neither the time nor a pair of rubber gloves strong enough to sift through the all the world's self-epublished rubbish to find a pearl that fell into the bin. So if I am to hear about fine debut voices and books, I need well-read critics (praise be some of my fellow Booklikes critics) to do some work for me. 

So my TBR list is now even longer, which means there's even less room for debut authors to get on to it randomly. But if I am persuaded by a critic whose filter I trust, a new author might leapfrog to the top.

This year I finally got round to start (re)-reading some of my all-time favourites: Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, Antonio Tabucchi, Iain M. Banks' Culture Books, Proust, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Homer's The Odyssey, etc. This year I also read two extraordinary non-fiction books, both by Lee Smolin. Also worth mentioning, in terms of Literary criticism, two very strong takes on Alfred Bester and James Gunn, two very important SF authors. James E. Ryan's "Shakespeare's Symmetries: The Mirrored Structure of Action in the Plays" also took me by surprise, when I thought I'd read everything there was to read Shakespeare-wise...Palmer's "Version Control" made me believe there's still hope for SF in this day and age.

Links for some of the above-mentioned reviews (in no particular order):

Can No Longer Bear the Aggressiveness of Poetry: "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)
Complex Patterning: "Alfred Bester" by Jad Smith 
Beyond the Usual Alpha-Beta Search: "Deep Thinking - Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins” by Garry Kasparov, Mig Greengard
Reality and Illusion: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick
I Do Repent, and Yet I Do Despair: "Doctor Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe, Simon Trussler
Beckettian SF: "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick
Representation of Human: "The Odyssey" by Homer (translated by Robert Fitzgerald; read by Dan Stevens)
Goodreads' Censorship: G.R. Reader's Off-Topic
Gaming All-Nighters: "The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks
The Holy Book of Blake: "The Poetic Image" by Cecil Day-Lewis
Darkness Changes Nothing: “Replacement” by Tor Ulven
The Emptiness of Literature: "Requiem - A Hallucination" by Antonio Tabucchi, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
Chiastic Rhetorical Devices: “Shakespeare's Symmetries: The Mirrored Structure of Action in the Plays” by James E. Ryan
All Much Ado about Nothing: “The Trouble with Physics” by Lee Smolin
Causality Violation SF: “Version Control” by Dexter Palmer
Claustrophobic and Baroque Experience: "Swann's Way" by Marcel Proust
Non-canonical SF author: “The Culture Series of Iain M. Banks - A Critical Introduction” by Simone Caroti
The Smallnesses of War: "The Two of Swords, 3 volumes" by K.J. Parker

On with the rest of the numbers:

· Number of words written in the 109 book reviews (*): 108428 (average 994,7 words per review)
· Number of words written in the 31 non-book chronicles/essays: 29630 (average 955,8 words per review)
· Number of words written in the 140 reviews and non-book chronicles/essays: 138058 (average 986,1 words)

NB(*): The book "The Two of Swords" comprises 3 volumes, but only one review (111 books read, 109 book reviews).

Number of books and pages read: 

Number of Books Read Per Publication Year (1900-2017): 

Ratings Distribution (2017):

My 2017 Reading Challenge:

My All-Time Booklikes' Profile as of the end of 2017 (489 reviews in total):

NB: 489 reviews. Shy of 500...

Number of followers and Follows on Booklikes:

2017 Average Rating:

NB: 3.7 in 2016 (the same; clockwork on my part...).

All-Time Most Popular Pages from My Blog:

NB: What a surprise! My Shakespeare pages comprise my TOP3. And my musings in German in 4th place! Wonders will never cease...

My All-Time Rating  Distribution (3.3):

My All-Time Physical Properties (Number of Pages Distribution):

How High is My Book Stack:

NB: My value at the end of 2017 is 288 meters (945.3 feet). Higher than the Big Ben and the Washington Monument! The Eiffel Tower is just around the corner with 324 meters (1063 feet)...

If all the pages in all my books were laid end-to-end:

My All-time Author Gender:

My "Dead or Alive" When it Comes to Authors:

My All-Time Dewey Decimal:

My 8XX (Literature) Dewey Decimal:

Number of Books Read on My Bookshelf:

2017 Shortest, Longest Books (and average): 

2017 Most and Least Popular:

2017 Fiction vs Nonfiction vs Poetry: 


NB: 49 SF books out of 65 fiction books. Not bad...

All-Time Blog Hits Around the World (BookLikes):

All-Time Blog Hits Around the World (the blog you're reading now):

NB: Around 38K new hits in 2017; 3167 hits per month in 2017):

All-Time "My Map of the World" (1280 places) :

All-Time Number of Posts Written Between August 2006 and December 2017:


Because this is my final post, a coda is in order.

I read for the same reason Mark Renton did heroin in Trainspotting, sometimes I subconsciously crave a wee bit of silence. Write - you have to. You begin .. you are going into the area. The area you need to turn into a garden. It is overgrown with weeds and everything ... you start ploughing away. Tons of words that don´t add up to squat. Word word word ... they trail off like comet trails over the horizon. Only not as good as comet tails because they have no light. You keep going, flabbergasted, flabbergasted that you were so full of bullshit. You are as far from a good haiku as is Costco from a tasty tomato. Read - you have to - something tells you that over there, in there, between the covers, there is a soul. An unquiet soul. With something to say, report, scream, murmur, tell. You read, you have to ... and then, when the intensity of this, the reading and the writing gets to be too much, you go outside, or over there where others are, you speak. 

Older now, I still find myself with a book permanently in hand. These days it is just as likely to be non-fiction (physics or computer science in particular) or a SF novel. I can't imagine ever making it through life without a world to step into away from the madness. But then, I also can't imagine a SF world without K. J. Parker. If it came down to a choice, I'd pick the manuscript over the man. There was no such thing as "literature" in the second millennium BC. Novels are stories, but stories are not just novels. Stories do not offer a "contained" world with a beginning, middle and an end. All storytellers (and Shakespeare) know that stories never end, they just pause at the beginning of the next story. If you ever find yourself silent reading, note that this is a remarkably modern phenomenon and not at all common in classical times. Jorge Luis Borges describes the moment when St. Ambrose astonished his colleagues by reading without mouthing and sounding his words - I’ve forgotten the essay's title - and suggests this is the first time it is recorded in history. Did reading give people solace, or rather the hearing of stories, whether spoken by others, or by oneself out loud, or silently as we can now do it? I think it is not the written word that is important here. It’s what you make of what you read that’s paramount. Please, don’t you ever stop reading.

I'm off to the snow. Yes, I know, I'm nuts...

See ya.

SF = Speculative Fiction.