torstai, 21. tammikuu 2021

Successful start-up scientist villain

Crazy scientis type villain has definitely undergone a major change in the Elon Musk era. Socially inept, balding and scrawny types appear antiquated. Current popular culture mad scientist is fit, charismatic and most likely stinking rich. He can give a good speech about the solid ethical foundations of his work, although he then invariably slips to the dark side. 

"Beyond good and evil" is a mad scientist trope, but I find this Musk-inspired scientist type to have more understandable motivations than villains usually. Starting out with the noblest intentions, but being blinded by one's own intellect and arrogance makes much more sense than villains that just want to destroy and/or rule the world.

Carlton Drake from the movie Venom, Natham Bateman from Ex Machina, and Niander Wallace from Blade Runner 2049 should arrange to meet. Perhaps they could pool resources and balance each other's ethical blind spots to actually manage to do something good. 

maanantai, 21. joulukuu 2020

The Mandalorian

Got into Mandalorian even though I had - for I don’t even know for how manyth time - thought that it’s finally over between the Star Wars franchise and me. I really thought after the last film of the last trilogy that I can finally put that chapter of my life behind me. Hah. What chance has my puny brain compared to all the might of a billion dollar industry?!? 


This time, through instinct or clever interpretation of marketing surveys the SW franchise, aims expertly and directly below belt: right in my ovaries. Pow kaboom! Short episodes, elevating the struggles of a busy career parent into an heroic storyline and most importantly, the cutest character everrrr seen on screens small or big. It’s engineered for those moments when kids are finally asleep and there’s going to be another workday way too soon but some escapism, excitement and satisfaction is needed. Baby Yoda, oh! Cute appeal bypassing all rational sense, tickling the brain parts that just want to nurture and protect helpless, tiny creatures. 


It’s like the character department managed to create a cross between Baby Groot and the Hypnotoad from Futurama. Baby Yoda makes gruff and sensible Mandalorian ignore the protection of the foundling kids in his nest, and nobody begrudges him for it, neither in-story nor in the audience, since it makes complete sense. Any other kids just pale into insignificance compared to the wrinkly green ball of adorableness that’s Baby Yoda. Those little nose wrinklings and his little hands that don’t even reach the top of his head, awww! Are Yodas actually sort of cuckoos that prey on the nurturing instincts of humanoids? It’s lucky they are so rare. 


No wonder the Empire is after him as well – if they have Baby Yoda on their side, everyone will just follow him and they’ll hardly even need stormtroopers and all that machinery anymore. Fear and lust for power is a powerful motivation, but there’s much to be said for harnessing the power of cute. A baby Yoda dictator could bend a nation to his will just by looking a bit disappointed. Don’t cry, baby Yoda! I will kill the insurgents! I will bomb the civilians if you just smile a little bit! Anything to make you feel happy and safe!

torstai, 10. syyskuu 2020

Solarpunk and other genres based on the premise we'll avert apocalypse

I've been looking for speculative optimism reading material for quite some while, and found some stuff but not yet exactly what I want. This year must be an all-time market opportunity for an uplifting near-future story, where humankind finds a way to live comfortably and somewhat pleasantly within the confines of planetary boundaries. 

So far the best contender for this prize ("Auroora Lamminlaine Recognition Award for a Plausible Story Where Everything Does Not Go to Hell in a Handbasket") has been L.X.Beckett's Gamechanger (2019). It takes into account that it's not going to be easy and effortless to change our society and infrastructure into something sustainable. It's got detailed worldbuilding, including extrapolating gig economy and digitalisation. And yes, I've been asking why games are so rarely featured in SF stories, when they are such a large part of our world today. But it's got some issues too. First, I found out I can't stand hashtags in literary text. It's like little coctail sticks poking my eyeballs on every page. #justno. Secondly, there is a major "stop the press" plot thing that should change everyone's worldview, and ... nobody seems to care much. No-one is really interested in this mind-blowing thing. This makes it hard for me to understand the characters or anyone in the book. Admittedly there is a lot going on, but still. I mean, well, I don't even know if anyone's reading these ramblings, but just in case, stop reading now if you don't want spoilers, but aliens. You can't have first contact and then just be like it's an event just on the same level of importance as a regular all-human conspiracy. At least one character must be absolutely awestruck and abandon everything they are doing to start speculating about life in the Universe. If you want to win the Auroora Lamminlaine Recognition Award, that is. I hope this author keeps writing more, going to follow them, just wish they abandon the hashtags. 

There are a couple of solarpunk anthologies I've borrowed from library and am still reading, they are of uneven quality - some of the stories are quite simple formula of not-very-plausible green tech thing that saved us from catastrophe + young person finding their way in life, which leaves me unsatisfied. The best ones seem to either be more evocative, mood-based, poetic things or then something like a detective story set in an acceptably hopeful future. 

Other than literature, I actually enjoy speculative (green) architecture a lot. All these concept illustrations of skyscrapers dripping with green! They of course don't need to build a coherent explanation why this all works and how's democracy and where's the energy coming from etc. But on the up side, some of those concepts have been actually turned into reality. Just google Verde 25 Torino. That looks like a movie set but is really there. Someone is living within those green and rust walls. (I wonder who takes care of the plants? Is there a building gardener? Do the inhabitants take turns clipping and fertilising?) Perhaps we need to take the aesthetics route and build from there. 

EDIT: Writing this post in a beautiful non-commercial space with actual trees inside (Oodi library in Helsinki), where I had arrived on my rusty but trusty bicycle, after eating a subsidized vegan lunch, makes me quite hard to satisfy as far as utopias go. I think I live a fairly utopian life, only too bad the energy and resource underpinnings of our society are not long-term sustainable. I haven't been able to find even professional future scenarios about how a sustainable lifestyle is actually goign to look. Is it just so hard to envision, or is it actually impossible?

tiistai, 1. syyskuu 2020

Akira (1988)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Japan wanted to host Olympics in 2020, and Akira is set in 2020 and they are preparing for hosting Olympics. Who would have guessed fact follows fiction in that the Olympics need to be cancelled. I don’t know which is worse, global pandemic or kids with immense psi forces. The latter is quite destructive, but the damage is still local. 


Akira is the story of a bullied kid. Power is represented by reversal of gravity. Consciously lifting heavy things and throwing them and also sheer unintended runoff force that makes small stones levitate. I kind of think (tentatively) that gravity is a symbol for “normal order of things”, including the social system. Tetsuo breaks free of the pecking order that’s been constricting him since childhood, of course it turns out this constriction has also kept him contained and given him form. In the end everyone cares for the survival of Kaneda, no matter that he’s a bully, annoying, has no special great qualities except for physical and social skills. In contrast, Tetsuo’s girlfriend gets crushed by Tetsuo’s uncontrollable bulk and nobody but Tetsuo cares for her death, even though she’s absolutely innocent to the destruction and mayhem. This is what happens, the defeated inner story of the bullied kid says. If there is someone foolish enough to care for me, they will perish alongside me, while the successful and popular ones get everything they wish for. 


Random observations

Weird thing in Akira is that the city is supposed to be built only 30 years ago, but it looks very run-down and used. Could this level of wear and tear happen in 30 years? Maybe if it’s not maintained at all…


CD jukebox in the bar was super cool. I would have thought CD's were already normal technology by 1988 but apparently they still had the wow factor.


I just remembered I found Yamagata’s messy hair quite attractive back when reading the manga in mid-90s. Too bad he got blown up by Tetsuo.

sunnuntai, 12. tammikuu 2020

Frozen II (2020)

A young woman with magical skills has to cross mighty waves of an ocean by herself, tame a dangerous wild creature with a beautiful mane, and her grandpa is evil. 

Sounds like Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker but is also Frozen II, another popular Disney franchise. I wonder why raging sea is featured in two mega movies recently? Is it because of some new 3D program addition that makes rendering waves easier? Or is it because the concept of dangerous sea is these days linked to sea level rise and climate change (and thus more likely to trigger distress in women)? Mere co-incidence possible but highly unlikely.

The latest Star Wars was OK but I found myself thinking at times that I may have lost the ability to be emotionally moved by cinema. However, Frozen II reminded me it's not that difficult to press certain mental buttons and produce an emotional response. I mean of course it takes skill. But I was not particularly emotionally invested in this animation, and yet was made to feel ... I'm not sure what's this emotion, it's just there in the body, mixture of slightly teary/excited/moved.
I don't exactly like being made to feel emotional like that, from a combination of high-pitched sounds, fast paced movement and certain keywords/themes (motherhood death loss forever nostalgia memories child lonely breaking free). It's just a reaction, like adrenaline rush after being jump scared. I sort of feel Frozen II did not earn the right to manipulate my feels like that, though I can't pinpoint why not. It had as much content as one can demand from a sequel of a popular animation film, even more actually. And those feels are what people generally go to see movies for. Ehh, I'm just being difficult.