Category Archives: sci fi

The End of World Cinema (Common House, Bethnal Green)

EndoftheWorldCinemaThe end of the world will come, no doubt, with a whimper and not a bang. But the disappointing reality of catastrophe, its everyday-ness, it’s lack of entertainment value, leaves us cold. Which is why in place of the slow violence of the end, The End of the World Cinema presents a monthly double feature of some of the best (and worst) apocalyptic films to ensure your final days are nothing less than spectacular. Apocalypse, the end of humanity and the world, disaster, catastrophe, and popcorn.

Schedule – films start at 7pm

July 28th: Running Man vs The Hunger Games
August 25th: Mad Max 2 vs The Quiet Earth
September 29th: I am Legend vs Monsters
October 27th: Soylent Green vs Delicatessen

Where: The Common House, Unit E, 5 Pundersons Gardens, E2 9QG

J.G.Ballard – ‘no great novel has been written in English since – Catch 22′

The much missed J.G.Ballard wrote back years ago after we asked him to speak at a CCS workshop on Cultural Fictions:

BAllard letter

Thank you for the invitation, but I’m afraid that age and the pressures of work mean that I have to decline.

But I wish you all the best – I’m not sure whether you see me as inside or outside s-f, and either way a victim of its overreaching success. In fact I think you’re rather stretching definitions if you include recent novels like Super-Cannes and Millennium People as s-f. But calling something s-f is a traditional way of defusing the threat, and academia, especially the Eng Lit departments, has a lot to feel threatened by – its beloved mainstream is now a parched riverbed – no great novel has been written in English since – Catch 22? – more than 40 years ago. I wonder why?

Sincerely,

JG Ballard

(transcription SF, thanks)

teeth

Since everything must be documented. A dental visit, first time in nearly three years – and the first one ever to not involve any necessary work. Seems my teeth are a temple of purity, except for the cylon bits from earlier reconstructions.

The B-Movie Mind Tricks of David Cameron

What kind of psychosis must it be? David Cameron was already a jittery jumped up bugaboo before he squeaked into power with his austerity for Britain plans carefully wrapped in a not very well disguised Big Society cloak of invisibility. Then the students surrounded Tory Party Headquarters, inundated the roof, and the Police line stood an watched – beset themselves with threats of cuts, playing a long game. David will have been shouting down the phone apoplectic, demanding Met chief Paul Stephenson deploy his forces to protect the HQ from the riff raff. Several hours later, a few arrests - surprisingly few for a major security incident at the Death Star.

Just over a week later, the Police tactic was pretty transparent when a droid police van was left in the middle of Whitehall to be trashed in what both sides of the anarcho-cop line probably felt was a justified  show of cathartic rage. It certainly made for good press photography, but when soon after the Galactic Prince and his ride were taunted by a raiding party in the high street, there would have been more shouting: where were the police. For all the talk of massive numbers of coppers drafted in from far-flung counties, Cameron will have been on the phone again demanding to know how Stephenson could let this happen?

This pattern becomes farce when we consider the events of August, 2011. Police surely by now know the routine when it comes to deaths in custody. They have set up, after all, the judiciously names ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission and no doubt have rules and procedures to follow for just the sort of circumstances that appeared to be at stake in the death of Mark Duggan. There will be those who think it was incompetence, those that imagine far more sinister plots, but it certainly seemed that the deployment of Police that day, and even more so in the evening and night in Tottenham was, shall we say, lackluster. The next day, despite talk of still greater escalation of the defense shield for London, general chaos. Only when the rebels formed an alliance and targeted richer suburbs like Ealing did we see Cameron get to use the force in the way he will have wanted all along. Of course he was elsewhere on the planet at the time, flying in on day three to join task force Cobra. On touching down at the airbase we can be sure he was breathing heavily, seeking revenge:

‘Acting Metropolitan police commissioner Tim Godwin has hit back at the government’s criticism of his force’s handling of the riots, saying ‘people will always make comments who weren’t there” (Guardian August 12, 2011)

What we have seen under Cameron is a power play with people’s lives: this inconsequential ‘little too short for a storm trooper’ wannabe Darth PM has control issues and little understanding of wider machinations. The cast includes a media led axis of manipulation with an Emperor orchestrating from afar, inconsequential and futile opposition ‘leaders’, and the liberal democrat C3-PO protocol officer. This space opera has cast the wrong lead, Cameron does not have Jedi training, his destructive use of force just gets people killed, his mind tricks are more suited to Sideshow Bob than any Jedi capacity. In this version the wookie is already an ewok, Hans Solo is encased in Jello but still can’t get out, and Princess Leia is more worried about her horses than the destruction of the News of the World/Alderaan (give her to Jabba). I could go on…

I only wish this were an allegory, but I am afraid it is the game plan of the Tories. Fear is the path to the dark side. This bumbling danger must be airlocked, since despite his apprentice-like appearance, his fooling around with force still amounts to a defense of Capitalism as usual, and even if this time it is cloaked in robes of cheese, the Big Society fiasco is still putting gold in the wizard’s pockets . Do we really want to endure more of such nonsense ? We could say we don’t need to see his identification … that he can go about his business… But laugh it up fuzzball, no, that would be the sunday matinee and its only a fiction. Time to switch to the news channel again.

Whittington’s Cat notes for Panto Terror (redux)

Punch and Judy (redux from 27.08.08). The grim and glum reality of opportunism is today more and more prevalent, more and more accessed, acquiesced, more or more or less bad, worse than before. We are confronted on all sides by both overt and covert ‘research’ groups, by think tanks and lobbyists, who have decided – in a climate of total war – that we need to attend to (the control of) the global public sphere. The tanksters are interested in ideas, in projects and in strategies, they are interested in the management of feelings, the orchestration of responses, they are interested in refining a certain clarity of message. They bring us bread and circuses – both stale.

Their boosterism says nothing. The climate they encourage thrives on the sentiment of abstract disengagement – alongside the promulgation of procedure and the ‘dictatorship of the secretariat’ – they persuade us that we abjure our interest or involvement in political questions because a) things are too complex and b) complexity needs to be controlled.

These people are sceptics who rail against scepticism. They present themselves as those who present answers, but the way they do so cynically narrows the space of answers to a tightly controlled furrow. The engagement they favour is disengagement except on their own studiously abstract terms. There is no room for the questioning of sceptics in their cynical world.

And then they sometimes claim they are for democracy – but not broadband democracy or open debate – rather a pay-per-view, programme management, narrowcasting, niche-market democracy. Their democracy excludes debate, questions, objections and alternatives. They have long ago vetoed the possibility of thinking outside the box, for there lies danger, difference, a multiplicity that cannot be corralled. The box must always have a brand mark, a slogan, a font or a strapline – sometimes just a colour (the colour is always drab).

They promote their insights as research, as scholarship, as traditional values and as wisdom – but they are faceless, passionless, automatons – going though the motions (jack boots are not far away, but they forgo them for frequent flyer miles and airport lounge privileges).

I do of course think there are more than two sides – the lines shift and the players change, sometimes swapping, sometimes double agents. But there are some, the best you can say of them is that while they are one of ‘them’, they do at least talk like ‘us’. We should carefully watch these ones especially.

Who are they? In fact they are us. Turn again Dick Whittington, Turn again.

———

And why Dick Whittington? – see here for both the real and the Pantomime story, where a cloth-merchant adventurer pilfers some gold, travels to the orient to get rich, and returns to London to become Mayor. OK, this all happened 700 years ago, but the cat seems to have nine lives. These are notes for Pantomime Terror – inaugural on 30/09/08 (5.30, IGLT Goldsmiths).

Working notes for a sci-fi novella (after accelerationism):

Working notes for a sci-fi novella (after accelerationism):

Theme: The romanticism of those who would escape to a world without Skynet is Skynet’s greatest weapon. A boys-own fantasy for which foot-soldier anarcho-neo-cons are fully trained and computer literate, knowing the blue pill will bring on an Armageddon for which they have prepared all their lives, in which they will be heroes, have warrior wives and send loyal lieutenants to certain death. Of course what they really want instead is the red pill of an endless deferral, in which they have all the time in the world – indeed, more than all time through the recombinant feedback loop of time-travel-altered futures, with Eloi-friendly-replicants sent to protect and serve, displacing inevitable Borg dominance one episode at a time… The John Conner god complex requires a transcendental observer using the force to manage the time shifts – Guild Navigators or the Weyland-Yutani Corp itself perhaps – happily ventriloquizing conspiracy theory with theological Jedi-speak and Deleuzo neo-liberal buzz words.

At best this is concrete poetry with a phraseology that signals its own black humour. At worst, the new horizon has three levels of myopia: first, an unapologetic ethnocentric and Eurocentric metropolitan class privilege in which the non-west is always an undifferentiated dystopian slum gridded over with vectoral finance flows and gap-year flexi-workers on the make. A second affliction is the abstract esoteric framework disconnected from agency and any semblance of political organization – the untermenschen believe and know the movement will be there for them, and will creatively transform and terraform all, but they can do nothing to make this happen but wait upon the coming of Lensman Thead. And thirdly, the clerical crypto fascism of the god complex, grinning at the coming conflagration with no idea how to oppose a Capital with tanks that will only ever change when compelled by struggle.

And in the time before Skynet, which is always yet to come, there will be 8ft pixies and a forest enhanced with fairy lights. Perhaps a point-of-view android to sucker in the kids. Hey Boxey.

Borg USA

The winner of the design for the headquarters of “compelling all nations to adopt the bourgeois mode of production” is a thief. KieranTimberlake seems to have copied the idea for the building to house the London US Embassy directly from the lovable integrators of Star Trek fame – its a Borg Cube! Where is Captain Janeaway when we need her? (no, not that crazed Mentat. We are doomed). In all other respects the building is a great idea – yup, lets build a postmodern castle with a moat, just to emphasize how unlovable US bureaucracy can be.

Avatar and Bougainville??

Avatar and Bougainville: A Parallel History? « Tubuans.

http://www.criticaltimes.com.au/news/international/avatars-secret-history-lesson-on-our-doorstep/

http://www.face21cn.cn/renleixue/anthropology/article-Avatar-pop-culture-anthropology-ethic.html

http://savageminds.org/2009/12/24/avatar/

http://itsgettinghotinhere.org/2010/02/23/james-cameron-the-oscars-and-the-real-life-avatar/

Avatar Anthropology (at War)

And there I was thinking a sweet little love story between a couple of blue pixies on the Ewok planet might not be yet another Star Wares space parable of the pervasive militant fascism we cannot ever admit to having here…

Of course not..

David Price makes the salient points:

Fans of Avatar are understandably being moved by the story’s romantic anthropological message favoring the rights of people to not have their culture weaponized against them by would be foreign conquerors, occupiers and betrayers.  It is worth noting some of the obvious the parallels between these elements in this virtual film world, and those found in our world of real bullets and anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 2007, the occupying U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed Human Terrain Teams (HTT), complete with HTT “social scientists” using anthropological-ish methods and theories to ease the conquest and occupation of these lands. HTT has no avatared-humans; just supposed “social scientists” who embed with battalions working to reduce friction so that the military can get on with its mission without interference from local populations.  For most anthropologists these HTT programs are an outrageous abuse of anthropology, and earlier this month a lengthy report by a commission of the American Anthropological Association…

From his text in CounterPunch here.

the perfect job

mrBangou

spoiler alerts for the final BSG

dylan-cylonSee the link below for pretty good-fun piece by Antonio Lopez on the final BSG (one among many – though I think people are holding back so as not to SPOIL it for others) – anyway, linking shamans and Hendrix and media and Dylan (but a pity the whole thing with the subterrainean cylons routine is lost)…

But really, the ending of the final episode was shit. I admit I loved the idea of a Lampkin Prez, and as someone suggested his mutt was going to have a great time munching antelope in Africa (see here). But you gotta agree the last half hour was awful. Yes, as expected they land on real earth …. gnnng… So, hunter gatherers who do not have language is anthropologically absurd. But hooray, the fleet will offer them language and sex – like some sort of twisted overseas aid program. Many set out to build bourgeois homes – Helo and Athena are going to start an Ikea store. Anders for no reason destroys all the floating mecano set – despite the Lego TM functioning FDL drives. Starbuck disappears right out of the film – does she join Bilbo Baggins and the Elves after leaving middle earth? Gaius becomes a film producer on sunset strip, not and angel, and though he hangs around till the 20th century, he has a job as an ad exec for Sony and is killed by double agents pretending to be anarchists protesting the G20 summit. Tyrel is just forgiven for killing his ex – and lives alone forever rewriting the chord progressions for cover songs by Nirvana, building another invisible viper and eventually becoming head of Exxon. Tigh and Ellen are what – going to live together on earth forever, making highland single malts or something? Adama is going to become Daniel Boon, selling stims to tourists outside Frontierland in Florida.

After all that death, what a surprise. Up till that two-thirds point I thought the last episode was superb. But then they end up in, I dunno, Happy Valley or something! Antonio is right to note ‘the ridiculous coincidence that the scenery looks like Window’s XP’s desktop pastoral landscape’ – see his screed on Reality Sandwich, and stay tuned for my chapter with Laura King, called ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Gaius Baltar’, on which we recently did the final edit, and which will appear in a US book next year.

Gaius and the Ten Hour Day

metropolis-1Laura and I finished our article on BSG – called ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar’. We decided we have a whole other chapter on Gaius’s sex life, so we excised this bit. For the record: Robots are sexy – the False Maria, the pleasure-bot in Bladerunner, 7 of 9, and the seductions of Caprica 6 that lead Gaius astray. Gaius in the ménage, Gaius pining, Giaus as parent? Gaius is a flawed hero, and his exile amongst the Cylons after the attack on New Caprica a farcical consequence of his pathetic despot-like complicity. A puppet and play thing of his masters. Aboard the base-star his exile involves him pleasuring himself with his assigned captors, not one but two of the female fashion-mag ‘skin-jobs’ in a sumptuous bed. Gaius imagines he might be Cylon, he might be their leader (he is even more deluded than Louis Boneparte). He cavorts with the sex-bot machine girls in the idle fantasy of teen-male SF fans everywhere. Patriarchal and sexist, in the end we are all rooting for his downfall. Then he becomes a free sex cult god. Go figure. He’ll have to die ingloriously at the end (no, this is not a spoiler – we really have no idea how Gaius will end up, but I expect it will be bad).

[anyone wants to read the piece in draft, send me an email. It assumes you've seen as far as episodes in the third series. Our comments on series four are still in note form, and/or as yet undigested - but since this has happened before...]

Laura

Goldsmiths ‘Staff Hallmark’ newspaper noticed Laura King’s, and my, recent article on the excellent television series Battlestar Galactica, published in the second (print) issue of Stimulus Respond. You can click on the image  alongside here to read the Hallmark story, or click on the Stims link for our original article (the hallmark story has a little item on the previously mentioned nursery ‘expansion’ beneath – have a look and read between the frakking lines).

You can subscribe to Stimulus via here. See the preview here.

Update: We’ve just had a longer essay on BSG and colonialism accepted for a book in the US, but we’ve not yet done the proofs. We will soon. In the meantime, people are are breathless as if they’d been airlocked about the impending end to the series. See here (spoiler alert if you’ve not seen as far as S04e17).


‘secrecy and control are becoming obsessions…’

last-cylon-greaseup-1.jpgThey say…. sci-fi.com will stream the first episode of BSG series four on the 4th of the 4th…

There is a longer promo clip here (well, longer than any of the others I have seen – and I have also been reading the spoilers which [claim to] give away much more than this little snippet). http://www.scifi.com/index.php


Only “Forces of Nature” runs for now. The others I guess in due course… (or are they old).

The newest issue of “Stimulus Respond” is out also – the Utopia issue – with Laura King’s and my piece on comets/bsg for your edification.

Space Money

Given the current fiscal crisis and the nationalization of Northern Rock (and personally, our surprisingly pleasant treatment at the CO-OP Bank where we have shifted our accounts, this guide to alien cash exchange, while not exactly ‘Marxist’, is a handy starter:

“Don’t get ripped off by unscrupulous intergalactic exchange bureaus! Consult our guide to alien money, including exchange rates with the U.S. dollar. Click through for a listing of currencies from Dune, Red Dwarf, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and others.”

See the guide here.
.

Galactica strikers

This pic shows the now empty set of Galactica where shooting for series four stopped at episode 4.13 because of the Hollywood writers strike. Ronald Moore’s site has some reports on what Galactica writers have (not) been doing for the strike. Pencils anyone? A ball game ticket with the Chief…? Recall his problematic negotiations with Admiral Adama in the strike episode in series three (3.15, discussed here), but before they get to earth, lets sort the workplaces out. Police in UK going out too – for all the wrong reasons, but in any case, Support the strikers.

BSG Razor

So this is Kendra Shaw the adorable space junkie in the Battlestar Pegasus kitchen having a bit of a snack. Its from the new BSG Razor telefilm (which I just got to see thanks to my dealer Terrence or Torrent or whatever he’s called). The film is full of surprises related to the Pegasus and its crew though I’m not telling. You find out Kendra is a powderfiend at the very start, so this is not spoiling – though there are lots of things to spoil, which means I guess I will refrain from commenting on it for a while. I did think the first half was better than the second – but perhaps that’s my preference. Laura K and I have been commissioned to write still more on the entire thing when the final series is aired in 2008 – we get a whole month to polish our chapter after the last episode, which goes to air in the US in August or so (starts April, so 20 weeks from then I guess). We will have more to say about Gaius and the Hybrids seem pretty interesting. Anyway, cute junkie trash as Kendra is, she is no Bill Burroughs, though I do wonder what she might have scribbled in her flight diary, doodling in her rack, ravings of note [stardate 23475.3] – yes, there might hang a tale. And just what kind of happy juice is she injecting into her neck? The Battlestar Wiki [all the spoilers you can eat] does not seem to know. Whatever it is, it certainly seems to ease the pain.

A Comet for Utopia

[Wrote this with Laura King, for Stimulus Respond - out in the next issue: the piece is called: A Comet for Utopia].

“One cannot imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which has not first thrown off Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet”
Jameson 2005: xii

Earthlings experience dystopia in a variety of ways. Yet we all have visions of a utopia which is in some way designed or designated as ours and for us. Fear and hope. Hope and fear. No doubt, we get such things from TV. One way of understanding the constellation of the dystopic, and therefore the utopic, is to go searching among the stars – a projected vision launched from the living room, blasting up up and away towards science fiction (SF) futures.

The fantastic future as utopia/dystopia is an old routine, but nowhere in popular culture do we find the recurring (neo-colonial) atrocities of today, and the subsequent escape to paradise, explored in such depth as in the re-imagined version of the television show Battlestar Galactica (2003, USA). This series delves into the need for refuge and redemption, conjuring the idea and ideal of a safe home, the Earth as sanctuary. The basic premise of the show is that the robot creations of humanity evolve and return to destroy their creators, who in classic SF fashion, had tried to restrict the autonomy and rights of the previously servile machines (called Cylons). After the Cylon revenge attack, the few survivors take flight in a rag-tag fleet of space ships and are hunted through the galaxy. Among the refugee survivors a flawed genius-scientist battles for political leadership with a former Government functionary of the now destroyed home worlds. The military commander, of course, remains ostensibly neutral but plays his part in both political intrigue and the family-narrative that drives each episode – heroic soldiers/viper pilots Starbuck and Lee Adama (the Admiral’s son) play out the conflict as last ditch heroic defenders again and again. The Cylons’ mission is to destroy. The human mission is to find the 13th Colony of Kobul, which is, of course, the mythical rumoured but unknown planet called ‘Earth’. Amidst the fleet, fear, anxiety and paranoia reign – the escape is threatened from within, the search for home, safety and the future-perfect family hang in the balance (sit-com style relationship dramas and the commander’s marital redemption also anticipate the ‘utopia’ of a reunited humanity). But its not on this show that we’ll find a harmonious Borg-like vista of all people joining together in one struggle, Galactica takes us further and projects a unity in fear that strives for its opposite. The utopic is defined by and thrives upon its antithesis, and is thereby unachievable. The search for Earth as a refuge from terror reproduces terror itself.

In such intergalactic dreamscapes as this, utopia exists as a reverse-tooled set of vampires and villains; slaying one leaves a void in which new enemies must be invented. Rather than an attained, liveable, realisable utopia, utopia itself dwells only in its own imagining. No-place. It is this that we find particularly evident in Galactica; unachievable goals are the prime drive for the human fleet, and it is this same drive that keeps the Cylons at the chase. The robotic ‘bad guys’ do not give up because they fully recognise that humans are no good, they must be redeemed and restored to the machinic-digital ideal, and so because of their destructive ways, they must be destroyed. This impeccable but contradictory logic justifies human efforts not only to escape and survive, but through a dialectical embrace, to return and fight again.

The first premise of Galactica – that Cylons rebel against their creators – is born of the same concern that drives science fiction utopianism from its earliest beginnings, and perhaps its highest point of articulation is found in the work of Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics. Thus we remember Asimov would have robots always help humans without complaint:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
(Asimov 1940 I, Robot)

Helpful robot heroes of SF begin with The False Maria of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. We might also think of Roy in Bladerunner, more human that Deckard by some distance. And the character Bishop in Aliens, played by Lance Henrikson; or Cal in Alien Resurrection, played by Winona Ryder. Think again of the Borg (go team), willing to improve humanity by way of assimilation. We may wonder why these beings are given such a hard time. Is it because our concern is that as artificial intelligence exceeds human thought we are doomed as obsolete and redundant? Or is it guilt at the residual slavery narrative that lurks behind these future space-scapes? We suspect something more sinister is really behind the fear of manchines. The future cleansed of all danger and threat, the dark misogynism that quakes at the idea of human-machine intercourse, the Cylon baby, the new evolutionism, are all symptomatic.

Isn’t it also perhaps a worry that there might be something about machine knowledge (collective intelligence, techne, logic, wisdom) that extends the organisational capacities of an individual mind, and thus suggests the collective rules. This might also be taken as the utopian drive buried within the circuitry of A.I – the design society, the sleek sharp curves of both a Centurion or a Sharon (the first Cylon to switch sides). The planned economy is targeted here also. If we allow that science fiction is a fantasy projection of real world concerns into space, one other consequence is that the collective might be a potential brake on rampant individual profiteering. If so, isn’t it the case that fear of robotics is merely the distorted manifestation of fear of an organisation of life and labour that would harness the general intellect for the good of all? To worry about this is a bourgeois anxiety, but to actively fear it and project it off-world is perhaps already an ideological concession that abandons both individualist and hierarchical thinking: and so no longer promotes the good of one over the well-being of all. Admiral Adama leads the fleet in the chant: ‘And So Say We All, So Say We All’.

Thus the Cylon quest also questions what it is to be human even as it is the humans who are searching for Earth. It is never a precise search – the human utopia exists only as an oblique reference in an obscure religious text, and is fuelled by the rallying hype and lies of the pragmatically wise military leader, Adama. Utopia here is by definition unreachable, uncertain and false. The effort to find the new non-hierarchical terror free terra firma is, however, tangible, and it provides the humans with an abstract but motivating goal. We are intrigued by this new fold in the survivalist text; and we suggest that it is rare in SF for utopia to present this as possible only in the imagination. Ever since Things to Come (William Menzies, 1936, UK) utopia has been posed as a spectacular achievement which must be defended; it has been realized, but it is under threat. Here it is an aspiration.

Yet the promise of Galactica is dark. Utopia cannot be achieved, it alienates. Utopia becomes viable merely as an appearance of coherence and wholeness that is to come only after a violent resolution that will destroy the motivation of all. This repetition recurs throughout the (ongoing) series of Galactica. Appeasing all politics, all morals and all desires is the never-ending impossibility of our protagonists. Earth as destination becomes a fetish, it is the mirage of a united front. Thus, there is also a certain dystopian pleasure in this for us as viewers who ‘already’ live on Earth since we know that the Earth we have now cannot ever offer the fleeing Galactica fleet sanctuary (the State would build a detention centre somewhere in Kent perhaps…). That this planet can be (re)imagined as a place of asylum is cleverly knowing – we are fully aware that this neo-colonial war-ridden, pollution-choked, automotive-industrial-psychologically unstable, inhospitable planet cannot provide anyone with the utopia they desire, and therefore the show underlines for the viewer the prospect of their own impossible utopias….

Our politics are thereby deferred, as in episode after episode we see the good guys and bad guys change sides with alarming frequency. Our heroic leaders may turn out to be Cylons in the end, our president of the colonies bans abortion, and just as we begin to find hope and heroism in the military, they go and shoot into an unarmed crowd. The Cylons also share such schizophrenia; we should hate them for their destruction, their violence, their cold calculus, but then they surprise us with philosophical interjections that demand a rethink. The Cylon vision of utopia lies both in the annihilation of the human race, and the creation of a hybrid human/Cylon child who can lead them towards another version of this same denouement. Such an obvious dystopia to the humans, a prospective resolution that cannot be countenanced, a hybridity too far, it seems the only solution. Yet both Cylon and human visions drive each other on exponentially and Earth remains out of reach (at least as of series three; the final series screens in 2008). The blue planet does not appear on ‘dradus’ (radar) and we have a sneaking feeling that if the Cylons in the end prevail, this would not be all that bad…

Fear and revenge animate televised ideals. Galactica’s search for Earth would not exist without a dystopic threat that includes the destruction of civilization; the path to freedom must pass by way of violent death for most, breeding farms for the rest (the population must grow). Conversely, the Cylons are concerned that the possibility of the fleet reaching Earth would mean a disruption of their well-made plans for human destruction, in turn spurring them towards a more comprehensive terror. The imbrications of dystopia and utopia find their places within each other, both becoming unachievable as the one cancels out its opponent. As the series themes it: ‘This has happened before, it will happen again’.

References:
Asimov, I. 1968 I,Robot, London: Grafton Books (short story ‘Runaround’ from 1940).
Jameson, F, 2005, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, Verso Press: London

And if your so frakked up must needs want Galactica Slash, try here.

Fifty Birthday greetings from Gaius Balthar

A little more of the unfolding Eighteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar, a piece co-authored with Laura King on Battlestar Galactica (New Razr snippisodes are out now).

This posted in honour of the 50th birthday (today, Oct 4) of the little RED Soviet tin ball that could (and was part of the provocation that got the Americans to move the Cold War into space (for sputnik, pictured, see the link at the end). Do not get me wrong, its clar the Soviets started it – ha – and though Yuri Gagarin did ok in some senses, it was not all easy, the Soviet masses no doubt contributed, as did our canine friends, a certain Leika for example. Still, the consequences now, with satellite sniping not far off, are well and truly well past any dogged calculation of beginnings. Systems are go Virgil, but international rescue seems stalled.

We are all Cylons, we just forget that we are.

Marx writes in the Eighteenth Brumaire that; “Unheroic as bourgeois society is, it nevertheless required heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war and national conflict to bring it into the world” (1852/2002:20). The wars fought and blood shed by the expansion of Western states is a repetitive ‘heroic’ action of the self-interested bourgeois; not content with ownership of the lives and livelihood of people near to them, ‘sacrifice, terror and conflict’ must be produced in order to create control and have those others brought into the world. Where Marx discusses the ‘bringing into the world’, we can consider the ‘remaining in the world’? In order to continually hold its power, and remain as a constant presence, the unheroic bourgeois need to create heroes for itself by way of creating conflict. Elsewhere Marx had already declaimed, this time with Engels, that capital ‘It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production’ (Manifesto 1848:?? Chapter 1). For us, this mode of production has become digtal-genetic-machinic and military, and the Cylons are the manifest heroes of this mode – in a honoured tradition of SF, from the false Maria of Lang’s Metropolis, through the replicants of Bladerunner, to the clone/machine armies of Star Wars and Terminator.

The struggle of the Cylons with humanity is also part of the ur-story behind Galactica in the very first place. The war between machines and humans had come to an uneasy détente, and the Cylons had left the field of battle. Perhaps we might even consider the context of the first or original series of Galactica, the television apotheosis of Lorne Green as Admiral Adama – which ran amidst the last years of the superpower rivalry between the USSR and the USA. It seems appropriate to return today to new demons which must be manufactured, new clone armies to rouse the troops.

Can we argue that where Bladerunner and the later Alien films displace race issues into a blaming of the corporation (Tyrell Corp, The Weyland-Yutani Company) for greed, opportunism, evil, Galactica instead illustrates a later digital mode of the same argument, with corresponding post-apocalyptic mode of production and power? The reimagined, digital new model Cylons have potentials that belong to what many would call totalitarian, but with a general intellect, a planned total economy, decision making by think tank cabals, and shiny slick friends… spuriously called toasters by the obsolete humanoids. The question for the humans faced with extinction then has to do with Deckard’s old fashioned bad cop complicity/opportunity syndrome – do you kill all replicants without remorse, or look for your chance to escape on your own (with Rachel)? What Galactica does is add a gods-bothering dimension to this A.I. – which for mine is the equivalent of touching faith in open source. The parameters of individualism and hierarchy are not thereby disrupted. Maybe we are obsolete. The survivors on New Caprica, struggling to breed and scratching in the dirt, are dehumanized, life becomes barely worth living, suicide attacks become plausible (when the Cylons occupy). Only the organised rebels have agency, and yet they too send their own to death.

New Caprica became a nightmare refuge – the escape from Cylon pursuit was soon visited by occupying power. In a reversal of the game, President Gaius Balthar had led the fleet to a seemingly secure and shielded planet, only for the Cylons to finally track the settlers and arrive with plans to ‘manage’ their settlement ‘democraticaly’. Gaius becomes a compromised and proxy president, reluctant at tmes, but generally coerced into doing what the Cylons want. New Caprica becomes a police state, complicity thrives, alongside a resistance. There are suicide bombings – on the part of the resistance. Things are grim.

We understand this in the utopia/dystopia category as hinted above – a category we frame as first set out by Jameson where he comments:

“The Utopian calling, indeed, seems to have some kinship with that off the inventor of modern times, and to bring to bear some necessary combination of the identification of a problem to be solved and the inventive ingenuity with which a series of solutions are proposed and tested” (Jameson, 2005, p11).

But acknowledging that Linda Ruth Williams responds (to an earlier formulation by Jameson along such lines), that:

“Utopias operate dialectically by neutralising the (dystopian) world from which thy sprung. This is in keeping with a wider tradition of utopian criticism, but dystopias function in a similar way’ (Williams 1999:157)

Here, fear of others displaces a fear of the self that abuses power (over others). Jameson points out that often dystopian vision is a critique of those who wish good upon the world. Williams points out that the good, or the escape from evil, is deeply conservative. For example, in Nineteen Eighty-Four Julia’s protest against Big Brother is to dress up in a feminine makeover 1950s style as ‘Real Woman … cast by the film as only the latest act in a long line of rebellions’ (Williams 1999:167). Winston is our necessary hero, but his rebellions are meek and predictable, his ultimate defeat, and betrayal foretold. We can also see this over and over in Galactica as the heroes of the fleet – Admiral Adama, Lee Adama, Colonel Ti, become their worst enemies, both turning themselves and their democratic ideals into a military-fascist order, or, with Gaius Balthar, and the class that invented Cylons in the first place, creating technological systems that they fear, rightly, surge out of control and wreak awful revenge upon their creators.

So, though it remains a commonplace to say that SF works through the contemporary by projecting present problems into space, we can see that herein lies the foundation for repetition; the cycle of destroying an invented enemy leaves voids in the public psyche which must be filled. We must remember that this is our invented enemy, our invention as such (Saddam was a US puppet, Al Qeida and Osama bin Laden a part of the US funded anti-Soviet mujahideen). After all, once the war on terror has been ‘won’, and there is no more ‘terror’, who else is left to fear but the instigators of oppression? Remembering that Gaius Balthar remains president only through the compromise he makes with the force of the Cylon army – and we have not even begun to discuss the ways this army itself is bifurcated – there are reasons to concede that the twists and turns of political play leave both sides in disarray. Is there a parallel with what has happened in Iraq here – a compromised president (Talabani) struggling to manage the factions, and an escalating resistance, assassinations, torture, compromised military, constraints, betrayals? There is no Galactica Battlestar to swoop in to save the situation now – there is no quick exit that Bush is willing to contemplate, however much the US Congress should wish that might come to pass. To see this as a rerun of the Vietnam defeat would be difficult for the present administration, and so a new threat is pending – Iran? North Korea? (France?). Of course this leaves us guessing who is next on the hit list? In the messy aftermath of the Fleet’s subsequent escape from the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, there are reprisal killings (of Ti’s wife for instance) and Gaius’s sanctuary upon the Cylon base ship is brief …

Other Gaius bits here and here

For Sputnik birthday stuff see here.

Beep Beep Sputnik

Beep Beep – 50 years ago today. Happy Birthday.

From the fine folk at Needham High School’s History Crib

The Launch of Sputnik
“Never before had so small and so harmless an object created such consternation.”
- Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Democratic Experience

The launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, brought the dawn of the space age, and increased conflict between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The people of the United States had begun to feel as if they were unsurpassable in every aspect of life. However, the launch of Sputnik alarmed society and created a wide spread panic in suspecting that their country was vulnerable and could be outshown.

The Story of Sputnik

Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, was launched on October 4, 1957 by the U.S.S.R. It was little more than the size of a basketball and weighed 184 pounds. Sputnik was not equipped with any scientific instruments, but orbited the earth once every 98 minutes. It contained a single radio transmitter, which did little more than issue an incessant beeping that allowed even the most primitive instruments to track it. As an instrument used for gathering data, Sputnik was relatively insignificant. However, Sputnik did usher in the new age of space exploration, and initiated the U.S./ U.S.S.R. space race that would lead to the creation of the manned space shuttle and utilization of the space station.

Why the U.S. Did Not Beat the U.S.S.R. into Space

Conflict between military branches had hindered the progression in creating a satellite before Sputnik’s launch. Also, it was not until the U.S.S.R. got Sputnik launched that the U.S. saw their own space program as something more than a leisurely hobby. Satellites were predicted to have no military value to the U.S., and so sufficient funds were not put into the Vanguard project. A lack of qualified personnel contributed to the slow progression of the U.S.’s satellite projects as well. After Sputnik’s launch, however, money was pumped into education and satellite projects.

….
continues here if you want to read what Eisenhower did next.

but better might be to seek out:
“Soviet Claiming Lead in Science.” The New York Times. 5 Oct. 1957: 2.

Happy Birthday, ball of tin. Erm, RED ball of tin. Yaay!

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