sunnuntai, 15. lokakuu 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review for those who've already seen it

Take the photo book CCCP cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed about abandoned futuristic ex-soviet buildings, add mid-80's to early 90's computer case design, eerily decayed locations and various snowy-rainy-sleety alienating but photogenic weather conditions. Maybe a dash of Rahul Jain's documentary Machines too. Mix with profound sense of isolation and effective soundscapes that make viewers' bones shake. Sprinkle with obscure symbolism. What do we have? A sequel to sci-fi classic, which does honor to legacy of the original but also tries a little too hard. Also, approximately hundredth thousandth chapter in long-running series "rootless man feeling lonely", so many times explored in Western culture.

It IS a good movie. Worth seeing. Maybe twice, and again when it comes to Netflix. But it's not the best movie of the current century.


80,000 morally questionable hours of your life

The most universal emotionally resonant aspect of the film is being compelled to do abhorrent things as a part of a faulty but inescapable system. "K" has to hunt down and kill his own kind, he literally can't say "no" to his boss. And it's the same for Luv, Wallace's replicant assistant. She knows the things she has to do for him are wrong, but no choice exists. And it makes no difference that Luv is corporate and K works for government, both can't help but do their utmost to perpetuate the sad state of the world. Exploited children, enslaved workforce of replicants and a ruined planet where nothing prospers except for Wallace corporation.

This is how being part of an economic-political global system aiming for maximum profits regardless of consequences or immediate suffering feels like. Obviously people living in a western democracy are not forced at gunpoint to their jobs, but feelings of helplessness are still real. It's so easy to end up working for causes one finds morally questionable, just because working for good causes hardly ever pays. Just being a consumer makes one complicit in who-knows how many terrible crimes. Perhaps there are alternatives, but finding them takes time and dedication, and there's little left of either after a hard working day, and the obvious choices are presented conveniently within arm's reach (carefully positioned right there by someone else working for causes they don't in their heart of hearts support OR who rationalize like hell).

Replicants are effective workers, ideal workers even, and it is established several times in the movie that humankind's road to stars can't be paved with anything else than this disposable, obedient workforce. And we must go to the stars! Really, there is no other way to ensure humankind's survival, after all natural life is wiped out. Wallace is obviously evil and in throes of hubris, but he has a point.


Is your hammer or knife longing for love?

"K", nearly human, longs for love and affection, but his job taints his whole life. Other replicants despise him for hunting his own kind, and to humans he is at best a convenient tool, at worst a disgusting abomination. Being treated as a tool is contagious: "K" fulfills his very understandable longing for connection with a purchased simulated companion. Joi does not even have what little freedom replicants have. She is programmed to love whomever buys her, or at least to give the appearance of love. She can't even evade implied expectations like "K" does with his boss. She'll do anything that would make him happy, up to and including hiring prostitutes for proxy lovers. But perhaps she's not conscious at all. We don't know.

The men in this movie have to let go of their loves. Deckard loved Rachel, even if it was perhaps pre-programmed, and so he won't accept a substitute. "K" in some way truly cared for virtual Joi, and in the end he has to face how hollow their relationship was.


A true loner has no oblgations besides what he chooses

Oh, poor "K"! There is a point when he thinks he has *something*: romantic love, even as an illusion, and an echo of a family, and a slight hope of not being created solely to be a blade runner. But all of that disappears. Luv destroys Joi, with visible menace and pleasure (is it an act of mercy on Joi, though? Perhaps she feels a kind of sisterly empathy towards another female in this universe where they, bar a rare case, are still valued by their ability to either produce offspring or inspire a man's lust or love). Deckard is someone else's father, "K" is no blood relation to anyone. And his hopes of being an exception, something other than just a serial number are shattered. Even his boss is dead, the one who once hinted at how she could force him to a relationship with her, but did not push the issue after he showed no interest. He is not even a blade runner anymore. Nothing tethers him to the world, his rootlessness is complete, he is at last free.

(Is this fantasy of being completely cut off from any binding relations the part that has made male reviewers give 10 sparkling stars and announce it to be the best movie of the century and which to me feels a bit childish? But maybe it's just that I find it hard to relate to a character with Ryan Gosling's face. Perhaps if "K" had been played by someone else I'd be out there singing the praises of the movie too.)

It is an abundant movie, of which it would be easy to write text enough to fill a book. Probably I've missed a lot. It definitely encourages a second view. Once for the plot and another time for the design and why not a third time to see if the mysterious bees finally make sense...

sunnuntai, 8. lokakuu 2017

Kukasta kukkaan / A Drabble

Ihmisohjausta kaipaamatta alukset etsiytyivät asemalle ja laskeutuivat elegantin erehtymättömästi.
Ne suunnistavat tähtien mukaan, selitti apiologi maisemabaarissa. Kuulijakuntaa riiti, eikä kyse ollut vain hänen kuusikulmaisessa pöydässään tarjotuista loppumattomista Eau de Lavender -coctaileista. Hänelle raha ja maine olivat tehneet yksinomaan hyvää.
Ihan lajityypillistä elämää, apiologi jatkoi, lipaistuaan tahmeanmakeita huuliaan. Vaikka joitakin käyttäytymismalleja oli pakko typistää. Ymmärrätte varmaan, ei viestitanssille ole tilaa isollakaan asemalla. Hänen seuralaisensa nauroivat; ajatus kilometrin mittaisista avaruusaluksista värisyttämässä peräosaansa oli riemastuttavan hirveä.

Ihmissilmään aseman laskeutumisalue näytti metalliselta suppilolta. Alusten ultraviolettivalolle herkissä sensoreissa se näyttäytyi pimeyden keskellä kelluvana runsasmetisenä kukkana. Sirosti ne laskostivat siivekkeensä ja ojensivat imukärsänsä kohti kukkapohjuksen polttoainevarastoja.


The ships located the station and performed efficient, elegant landings without human guidance.

Constellation-based navigation, the resident apiologist explained in the view lounge. Her hexagonal table was crowded, and not only because of unending Eau de Lavender cocktails. Fame and riches suited her.

It's all instinctive, she continued, licking her sticky sweet lips. Although we had to limit certain behavior patterns. There just isn't enough space for waggle dance.

Laughter was genuine; kilometre-long spaceships rapidly shaking their aft was a deliciously terrible idea.

Landing funnel was dull metal to human vision. To ships' ultraviolet sensors it was a nectar-promising corolla. Wings folded, ligula extended they entered the flower.


Just could not squeeze it down to 100 words in English! No wonder drabbles are popular form of fiction in Finland. So many precious words are wasted on "the" and "a" and so on... For a drabble writer, finnish is easier.

Deciding between he and she was also somewhat annoying, as I don't really have a stance on the gender of the apiologist. It's not important here. When I was learning English as a kid, gendered pronouns felt like a stupid joke. It was so arbitrary. Why not have a different pronoun for kids and adults then? Or brunettes and blondes? Living people and dead people? Marain Finnish is so much more sensible in this regard. Pronouns deliver pronoun information and that's it. Although I admit at times it's convenient for a writer. But mostly not!

maanantai, 2. lokakuu 2017

Convincing Accounts of Zombie Outbreak and Sci-Fi Mystery

Attention: contains spoilers, read at own risk.

The reports appear quite official: Zombie plague spreads from remote village in China across the globe. Huge metal body parts are discovered buried deep underground, way before human civilization had means to manufacture anything in such scale. Add newsclips, interviews, but no narrator to frame the story as a story. World-changing events unfold, for the reader to parse from seemingly documentary accounts. World War Z and Sleeping Giants both make use of this story format. It's the same literary device that has been made popular in genre fiction by Stand on Zanzibar, and arguably even 19th century letter novels like Dracula are predecessors. In movies Cloverfield made good use of 'found footage' technique. So it's not new. But it becomes fashionable every now and then, because it is effective. I'm tempted to try it myself, though I'm uncertain if I could make it work in a short story.

World War Z by Max Brooks has no central characters, although some people pop up in several fragments and their story can be followed throughout the book. Max Brooks has really racked his brain for various and varied zombie scenarios, although it's not just an exercise in treating an imaginary threat as realistically as possible. WWZ is making an anti-cynical statement about human nature, despite the obvious gore and gloom. There are cowardly people and selfish people and people who profit from others' misery and also surprising heroes and just general human resilience even at the most dire circumstances. There's some political commentary too. Secretiveness, keeping up appearances, pride and arrogance are the sins of overbloated hierarchical institutions, be it Chinese government or US army. Only lean, mean institutions/organizations focused on survival save lives etc.

Zombies (not the haitian traditional kind, but the ones in popular culture) are – perhaps together with serial killers – the only true urban monsters. Vampires, werewolves, and so on are village monsters, suspicious individuals threatening the social cohesion of a small group. It has no emotional resonance for urban dwellers, whose visceral fear is to lose their individuality among mindless masses. Even lousy zombie fiction is interesting because of the psychological aspect. But WWZ is definitely good zombie fiction, even if the book gets a bit heavy at times.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel, on the other hand, is an easy and fast read, it practically melts away. Chapters are short and the language is straightforward. Unlike WWZ, Sleeping giants has central characters, who get tangled up in mystery of giant body parts found all around the globe. Rose used to be a shy, self-absorbed child, but has grown up to be motherly research team leader, Ryan is a perfect-son-in-law type dude who falls in love with top pilot Kara, Vincent is a genius linguist with a difficult personality and then there is the mystery man conducting the interviews. His identity remains to be solved in the next books.

As the huge mystery hands and feet etc are assembled into a giant robot, another nameless character is introduced, who blurts out the von Däniken inspired origin of the robot – which was the weakest part of the book, I would have preferred a subtler and more drawn-out revelation. I always wonder about these secret histories passed from generation to generation. It's awfully good luck no-one during the long centuries decided papa's or mama's weird stories were delusions or just unimportant folklore, not worth burdening one's own kids with…

Kara Resnik shares other attributes besides first name with Kara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica. She's talented, hot-tempered, anti-authoritative, physically fearless, prone to fights and emotionally troubled but also drawing guys to her like a flame draws moths. And just happens to be exceptionally pretty too. (One day I'll write a story about a tough but lovable female top pilot who has a wart on her nose and thick waist, I swear).  But I get it, we all have our fantasies, and one not uncommon is the ultra-low-maintenance wild girl: She'll break your heart and your nose and looks damn hot while doing it.

Romance fan as I am, I find ancient mega-robots and galactic alien civilization fascinating enough on their own. Romance seems a bit forced here. Whether wild and reckless Kara ends up with nice guy Ryan or enigmatic Vincent, feels unimportant on the scale of things. Just get the robot moving! There have been plans to make Sleeping Giants Hollywood movie, and perhaps the love triangle works better on the big screen.


Sleeping Giants is recommended for beach read, it was competently written and fun to read. WWZ is recommended for people who tend to obsess over imaginary threats or suffer from unfocused fear for the mankind's future.

torstai, 21. syyskuu 2017

Meandering chat about Expanse (up to and including Paradigm Shift / Season 2)

For once I have found sci-fi audiovisual entertaiment I can honestly praise. (Haven't read the books – yet.) It's got big spaceships! It's got politics! It's got mysteries and romance and space fights and moral dilemmas and interesting characters and a satisfactorily plausibly built near future. And it's got Chrisjen Avasarala's fantastic wardrobe. All of it looks gorgeous and it also makes sense as fashion. Her outfits are definitely classically Indian, heavy embroidery and silk/gold weaves, but subtly different from current fashions. The way her sarees are draped...

Anyway. I haven't enjoyed a tv scifi series this much since Star Trek the Next Generation back when I was a kid.

And did I mention how much I adore the way gravity or lack of portrayed quite realistically (at least as far as I can judge)? Very science-y, without stooping down to explain too much. The only fault I've been able to catch was in Paradigm shift, when pieces of space mirror and shot-to-crumbs spaceships fell straight down to Ganymedes... but now that I think of it. probably it was just a portion of the debris, which was scattered by explosions in all directions. Yeah.

Possibly hostile and certainly dangerous alien lifeform is a great motivation to spark a large-scale conflict in already strained geo-political situation, and a good excuse to involve some random belters in high-stakes situations with all the major powers. I like to think finding proof of non-Earth life would throw humankind into a collective feeling of existential vertigo, everyone would stop what they are doing and contemplate the meaning of life etc., but I guess the reaction to this super profound discovery is portrayed in Expanse is way more realistic. Is it a threat, can we destroy it, can we use it for something. Non-Earth life is a strange, philosophically challenging category only as long as it does not exist, when it exists it immediately is just like any old life we are used to. If one is prone to contemplative bouts about life, existence etc., any smudge of bacterial goo growing in one's own kitchen sink should be enough to launch those.

If I absolutely have to complain about something, it's Miller's and Julie Mao's rather one-sided "love story". I suppose guys find it super touching if a brooding man follows a woman who knows nothing about him, to the ends of the Solar system, and they only actually meet like 5 mins before both die. She has about zero agency in the relationship, but his devotion makes up for it? Ehh, I say, but to each their own, and heck, romance aimed at solely female audiences has its own weird issues, so I'll let this one pass. At least there was heroic death etc. IF they died, instead of infecting Venus with protomolecule. Now that would be an ineresting development! Imagine if in season 3 or 4 or something Venus sudenly started to move. A killer planet on the loose!

It's been strictly local adventure for now, but let's see how it goes. Protomolecule came from somewhere far away, and Solomon Epstein ended up somewhere far away, and Solar system is getting too small for all the players... Season 1 title animation showed flight paths all over our galaxy, so I'm pretty confident the series will at least end with humankind expanding their sphere of influence to the final frontiers.

maanantai, 21. elokuu 2017

Near Future Fashions

For the past few decades changes in fashion have been rather tame, if we are talking about the silhouette, colours and overall effect. The way clothes are consumed and distributed has undergone a massive overhaul, but the clothes don't look that different between 1997 and 2017. Some differences, yes, but compared to for example the changes between 1905 to 1925, the changes are minimal.

Fashion is directly linked to what is, in a certain society and in a certain point in time, considered worthy, motivating and a life well lived. It is also shaped by technological constraints and possibilities, though less than one would expect. (Example: Denim jeans continue to be extremely popular wear even though they are in many ways impractical and the original technological reasons for their existence have long ago vanished.) For the past couple of decades, the societal understanding of good life has remained more or less the same and living conditions have not changed in such a way as to necessitate change of clothing styles. We've moved from walkie talkies to cell phones to smartphones, but besides changing pocket sizes in outerwear, those devices do not require changes in attire.

But this may soon change, to the delight of those who long to see something utterly different on city streets. Automatic facial recognition and ubiquitous cameras make privacy control a new concern. CV Dazzle styles are designed to confuse facial recognition algorithms, stopping them not only recognizing a specific individual, but moreover not even recognize there's a face at all. But the styles presented so far are more art works and less something people would actually wear on city streets. I don't have the quote at hand, but I read a journalists experiment on wearing CV dazzle make-up, and it was more or less 'perhaps the make-up makes me anonymoys in regards to algorithms, but live humans certainly stare, comment and remember'. It would take a massive issue to make a large segment of population to start painting black and white triangles on their faces and spiking their hair in front of their face. As a youth fad it is certainly believable.

Even a huge fashion change can happen, if the conditions are right, but still I don't see it at all likely that make-up and hair arrangements that take about an hour minimum to create correctly becoming popular. It's just too much work and does not line up with today's take on the good life (taking an hour every morning to do something to increase sex appeal is believable, but just for privacy... the dangers associated with privacy loss would have to be far greater than they are now for this to happen). Disposable stickers are a possible solution, which would enable for example going around in town algortihmically undetected and then appear quite normal at work etc. For less obviously anti-recognization tool, perhaps skin-tone patches to change outlines of face, apparent distance between eyes etc. But all of these are a lot of hassle to put on and take off.


So, most likely the privacy solution is going to be a hood, veil or scarf of transparent material, with a print designed to fool current recognition systems. Something like the 'Universal adversarial perturbation' image above, that Moosavi-Dezfooli, Fawzi et al from Universite de Lyon have suggested for making neural network image classifers mistake photographs. Just on a translucent fabric, thin enough for humans to recognize each others and see expressions. It could even block out harmful UV-rays! All-round winning system!