Thursday, September 23, 2010

TVOD: Fringe and the SciFi Singularity (UPDATE)

I'm not exactly sure why, but my passion for and preoccupation with sci-fi has become practically religious over the past few months. A lot of you might be scratching your heads and asking, "how is this news?", but it's gotten to the point that if a book or a film or a TV show doesn't have some sci-fi or fantasy element, I have no interest in it at all.

I totally blanked out on the most recent season of Rescue Me (a show I used to like quite a bit) because I sat down to watch the season opener, and even with Tommy's hallucinations it seemed so irrelevant to me. Halfway through the show I said to myself, "this should be in space." Out loud.

I think the prevalence of reality shows and documentary film has a lot to do with it. People are so willing to put their real-life dramas on screen these days, that it makes all of the make-believe drama seem pretty trite. It almost starts to feel as if these dramas and comedies are just mockumentaries, but a particularly lame variety of the genre.

Gibson's recent novels tell the same stories as his Cyberpunk classics,
he just uses different brand names

Moreover, it seems like a comforting clinging to the past, when the future is very much in doubt. As I've said before, I'm stunned by how much 2010 reality reminds me of William Gibson's 80s novels. So many of the problems we are dealing with now are simply a fulfillment of prophecies I read in sci-fi novels. Even Walter Russell Mead, one of those luminaries of the real government, noted how sci-fi is more relevant than ever (even if a lot of the authors he cites are not):

"Taken as a whole, the field of science fiction today is where most of the most interesting thought about human society can be found. At a time when many academics have become almost willfully obscure, political science is increasingly dominated by arcane and uninspiring theories and in which a fog of political correctness makes some forms of (badly needed) debate and exploration off limits, science fiction has stepped forward to fill the gap. In the work of writers like David Brin and Neal Stephenson there is more interesting reflection on America's place in the world than you will find, I fear, in a whole year's worth of reading in foreign policy magazines.

This paragraph seems a little too hopeful- young people don't seem to be reading much of anything:

The biggest single task facing the United States today is the unleashing of our social imagination. We are locked into twentieth century institutions and twentieth century habits of mind. Science fiction is the literary genre (OK, true, sometimes a subliterary genre) where the social imagination is being cultivated and developed. Young people should read this genre to help open their minds to the extraordinary possibilities that lie before us; we geezers should read it for the same reason. The job of our times is to build a radically new world; speculative fiction helps point the way."

Unfortunately, speculative fiction isn't pointing the way; unparalleled greed, power-lust and religious fundamentalism are building a radically new world for us already. But maybe when all of the death-crazed alpha males bring the whole damn world crashing down upon our heads (which will be sooner rather than later) then sci-fi will offer us a road map back to civilization.

Finishing what Roddenberry began- the last real Trek

Like all great sci-fi, Fringe is sending out warnings about the dangers of science run amok, or dare I say it, science without spirit. The best - and most resonant - sci-fi is deeply spiritual, but as a matter of fact, not tied to some loathsome sect or creed. It answers a lot of the questions religion can only ask, and can immerse people in that new reality (Avatar, for instance) For a lot of people, it might be the only spiritual entertainment they consume.

It all goes deeper than that, but I can't quite explain why right now. In the meantime, check in with your reviews of the season opener later on tonight.

UPDATE: So, Fringe.

Well, it's fascinating that they spent the season premiere erasing Olivia's personality and replacing it with the new, kickass alt-Olivia. She'd become kind of a fifth wheel in the second season, not only because the writers realized what a goldmine they had in John Noble, but also because her personality really wasn't very interesting to begin with. So now we have alt-Olivia in both worlds, which is more than fine with me.

There was also a very subtle critique of the first season, with its team-building corporate mentality and paramilitary ambiance. In other words, we flashed back to the old Fringe Division but they were all dressed like Death Star officers. The series really didn't show signs of life until they did away with all of that tired cop-boosting that you can see on any show and really caught fire when they basically took the X-Files formula and ran with it.

The alt-Universe vibe is very well rendered, in fact I hope they do a lot more over there. It reminded a lot of Caprica in many ways, and reminded how nervous I am about that show's future. I'm not sure how it's all going to play out since it looks like Earth I's Olivia is going to be doing the standalone investigations, but I have faith in the writers.

CODA: A lot of people have been asking me if I saw The Event, but I haven't yet. There's something about that reminds me a little too much of Flash Forward- in other words, taking that suffocating network drama vibe and applying it to a mild sci-fi concept. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on it, and will probably give it a look over the weekend.


  1. I was listening to some C.C.R. this evening, do you remember the words to "It Came Out of the Sky"?

    "Oh, it came out of the sky, landed just a little south of Moline.
    Jody fell out of his tractor, couldn't believe what he seen.
    Laid on the ground and shook, fearin' for his life.
    Then he ran all the way to town screamin' it came out of the sky.

    Well, a crowd gathered 'round and a scientist said it was marsh gas.
    Spiro came and made a speech about raising the Mars tax.
    The Vatican said, woe, the Lord has come.
    Hollywood rushed out an epic film.
    And Ronnie the Popular said it was a Communist plot.

    Oh, the newspapers came and made Jody a national hero.
    Walter and Eric said they'd put him on a network TeeVee show.
    The White House said, put the thing in the blue room.
    The Vatican said, no, it belongs to Rome.
    And Jody said, it's mine and you can have it for 17 million.

    Oh, it came out of the sky, landed just a little south of Moline.
    Jody fell out of his tractor, couldn't believe what he seen.
    Laid on the ground a shakin', fearin' for his life.
    Then he ran all the way to town screamin' it came out of the sky."

    Even has a 17 in there for yuh.

  2. In the last thread you mentioned that you're starting to find non-genre-fiction irrelevant, and I was thinking about that some more.

    I think the core issue is that a lot of good genre fiction is both romantic and relevant.

    "Genre" fiction is among the more popular current forms of romantic fiction. The characters, set, setting, and story mean something. They transcend their embodiment.

    In other words, the most compelling thing to me about a lot of genre fiction is that the genre elements actually kind of fade into the background and there turns out to be something truly profound beneath them. Yet the genre elements are critical, because they are archetypes that point the way to the underlying ideas.

    By contrast, a lot of pop and mainstream fiction seems to have nothing under the tropes. Another love story? Another period drama? Another canned PC political allegory? It's all been done.

    Seriously. Why should anyone ever write one more conventional love story or conventional tale of political maneuvering? Every possible story of conventional human social interaction has been told.

    If the transhumanists, posthumanists, etc. are right, then think about it. The core thesis is that humanity as we know it is winding down and something else is growing to replace it. That's what I see here. All the fiction I see about conventional human issues has a "been there, done that" feel to it. Homo Sapiens is "been there, done that." We are over.

    By contrast, romantic genre fiction is talking about and grappling with what is emerging. It's far more relevant. It blows me away, for example, how prophetic Gibson was in the 80s. That was relevant.

    I don't think we know what is emerging, or even that we can know. Evolution is fundamentally unpredictable. Part of what this fiction is doing is helping us get our minds around what it might be... and since you can't observe a system without affecting it, maybe also helping give it shape. It's part of the process of metamorphosis.

  3. To go along with Adam's comment on genre fiction, as you may well know some of the most popular genre fiction in the past decade has been laced with Sci-Fi elements.

    Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, which is typified as historical romance fiction, has elements of SF in the time-travel aspect. My wife devoured the now 6 epic-sized books in the series inside of a year, raving about how much she loved them. Although I haven't read them myself, apparently they have quite a bit of spirit as well, hinting at the failures of modern technology and fundamental benefits of holistic healing techniques from centuries ago. (From what I was told, the original protagonist is a female doctor from the present time, warped back to the 17th or 18th century while visiting a henge circle on a Solstice or full moon or something) And then there is the Time Traveller's Wife and I am sure plenty of other knock-offs.

    But as your post addresses, shows like Haven and Fringe with SF elements and particularly their female protagonists, it seems someone, somewhere is dialed into the accepting market now for SF elements and underpinnings: Women!

    For the men it seems to be all scary, horror, gore oriented - which doesn't appeal to me at all. I think of Supernatural, Devil, and even the Dresden Files, which I actually kinda liked, despite some of the creepy themes.

    I suppose there is Warehouse 13 and Eureka with their soft-touch male/female co-stars, but they both just seem to campy to me.

    Ugh. TV.

  4. I've really enjoyed Fringe, too. Almost as much as I've been enjoying your last several months of work here...almost.

    Thank you for doing what you do, Chris. You're refreshingly Answer-Free and your questions are 5 star Kobe steak.

  5. It's the intelligent orbs (balls of light) and the Holodeck in Star Trek that I love. Been a long time since I watched si fi. I will have to watch Avatar. You have made me remember how great it all is with this post. Thanks Chris.

  6. Jolyon: I'm a guy and I like character development, likable characters, and even a bit of interpersonal drama provided it's interesting. I even like a touching love story or a great story of personal development. Sometimes my wife likes a few explosions and a bit of action. She even digs cool looking spaceships and good special effects.

    I really really really hate how lame network committees gender-pidgeonhole stuff on TV and in movies. The gender stereotypes really just dumb down the plots and flatten the characters into bland stereotype pudding.

  7. I'm liking where this thread is going! Keep it up, I'll be back to reply later on.

  8. It's funny, Chris, I kind of see you as a more well-adjusted, real-world example of one of Gibson's "nodal point" sensitives. I turn to your blogging for the same dissection of cultural codes that I seek in his novels, and get a similar buzz from it.

    One thing that emerges from both sources is the sense that we're all more or less living beneath the whims and curiosities of uber-wealthy crypto-capitalists... lacking that abundant cash-flow, creative types can at least hope to get glimpses of the game, and maybe even participate, if only they pay close enough attention.

    -Or maybe that's just what all this sci-fi comfort food is doing to my psyche?

    Incidentally, I'd love to have a "to read" or "to watch" list that you'd curated. You have the blog list up there, obviously, but that can get a little bewildering to the relative neophyte. I just want to feel like I'm up-to-date and aware of what's going on, you know?

  9. Hi Chris. Talking about SciFi series. I am quite anxious to read what you have to say about NBC "The event"

  10. Like it was said, things in fiction and entertainment are winding down. And there might be a time very soon that all we take for granted will fail us and we revert back to primitive or more holistic lifestyles. Reminds me of this Star Trek novel:

    Also I like what you said, the youngsters just don't read anymore. Being in my early twenties, I know very few people around my age who actually do any kind of reading at all. Sad.

  11. Yeah for the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon- a fun read with time travel through stone circles and smart lead characters.

    I thought the Event jumped around a lot- the present, 3 days ago, 13 days ago- only the ads streamed on forever.

    And yes Chris, you are a real life Gibson sensitive! That was a great analogy, anony 206.
    Ha ha, my word verification is sperstr- superstar?


    I'm reading Small World - by Mark Bucanan. I think its a big step towards an explanation for a lot of sci fi.

  13. Chris Know-els, It appears the mainstream science fiction tv dramas want your take on this or that. Give them no quarter, tell them to put up or shut up. The Military industrial complex is keen to the modes and gnosis of such non-linear/quantum of such personas as yourself. Clear and direct one must be. Gestalt comes to mind. Do not feed pearls before pigs. Hail Isis. Carl was informed. Dennis from bug tussel.

  14. Wotitot,create your own blog to explain your ideas. Dead ends, and speculation, perhaps you are here to disrupt the wind.? Your take on things seem to me late or malformed at best trying to steal Chris's direction. What the hell is your agenda? Dennis who smells something foul.

  15. Aliens Are Monitoring Our Nukes, Worry Ex-Air Force Officers

    On Monday, six former U.S. Air Force officers and one former enlisted man will break their silence about similar events at the National Press Club, all centering around unidentified flying objects and nuclear missiles.

    Science fact or fiction? We report, you decide (this is coming from FOX, after all...)

  16. That's enough of that. Anyone who brags about all of the blogs they've been banned from is not welcome here, especially when they're just coming here to pick fights and talk nonsense. Comment moderation is back on and will stay on.

    Think of the comments section as a dinner party. Debate is welcome but please refrain from personal hostilities. We had a very nice discussion going on- let's get back to it. Dennis, I admire your zeal but please email me if you have a problem with another reader. Wotie is welcome here as is everyone who wants to have a civil discussion. Let's try to stay relatively ontopic and realize this is a place to make new friends as well as share ideas.

    So anyone who wants to pick fights and slag people off, don't even bother.

  17. Drew this is off topic for Chris's blog. You have much to offer. You have discovered an alternative way to view the human condition. I am a humble re-tired treeplanter from Oregon. My hope is for The Secret Sun to wake-shake-up the American proles. I am a fan of this web site. For people to have an agenda other than what Chris put's forth is to me disrupting his speak/ideas. No better way to get more readers for your blogs is to steal his readers. I am a humble student of comparitive religion. I do read many blogs. This blog is resonate with my studies. Drew please consider me a comrad in knowledge, no ego to defend. Pure and simple , Drew, I love knowledge. Please excuse me if I am crude or callous towards your views. I am only seeking the truth. Dennis

  18. Let me just say this is a great round of comments. I'm sorry about the nonsense, especially since you guys were really hitting a groove. Back to business...

    Nick- That's great. It's like the sequel to Mr. Spaceman. And you just reminded me- there are a bunch of 17s in tonight's Fringe.

    AdamI- Fantastic. I don't have anything to add- you hit all of the bases there.

    Jolyon- Yeah, SF is very much a coed thing these days. Which is great. I hadn't heard of the Outlander series- I'll look it up. As to the shows- Dresden Files was awesome- I am so disgusted it was cancelled, especially when W13 and Eureka- which are teeth-grindingly unfunny- are hits. I hope someone tries again with TDF.

    37- Wow, I am flattered. Thank you.

    Wotie- Those noncorporeal beings are all over the Trek. And I just watched a fascinating TNG that allegorized abduction phenomena.

    AdamI- Your 129 comment makes me think of V...

    206- You mean I'm the real life Colin Laney? That's awesome- thanks. As to tthe onrushing black iron prison, I think we need to worry about escaping it, not participating in it. I'll try to work on that list, but I'm not sure being up to date is worth worrying about, given how terrible everything is lately.

    Mars- See the update.

    Grey- Whatever everyone else is doing needn't concern us. Things fall apart and then are put back together by the people who are tuned in. Devour everything you can find that feeds your soul and being a giant among pygmies.

    Delorus- Thanks for the info- and for the Gibson bit- I think I like that!

    Wotie- What can you tell us about it?

  19. 808- We did that yesterday- scroll down.

    Dennis- Tell me about what you're studying- I'm interested to see how it ties in. And there's nothing more lovable than Knowledge....

  20. Dennis - they are just comments. No agenda here.

    Small Worlds? - I haven't read it all yet but I'm enjoying reading it and thought it was worth a mention.

    On the cover (packet) it sates - "Buchanan excels at making 'abstract science' real and easy for the general reader to understand".

    It looks at the similarities (mostly mathematical) between networks that are found in nature and in the world around us (including the inter'net' and social networks) the similarities it puts forward are spooky.
    If the network of ley lines people are now discovering are roads for spiritual beings they may incorporate the existence of other dimensions - then this is where sci-fi ties in. Not only sci-fi but it also combines religion and magic, and many other things - just my opinion - take it or leave it.

  21. Check this out for the latest "Sun of God" Chris (if you haven't already);

    Sci-fi singularity symbolism, love it!

    "The Empire never ended."
    -Philip K. Dick

  22. I started watching Fringe Season 1, episodes one and two. I thought the show was horrible. Poor writing. Major plot holes. Unfunny comments from Joshua Jackson.

    Why is an idiot like J.J. Abrams earning so much money?

  23. Since Sept. 23 is the day I was born,and the number 23 plays a large part in my synchromysticly strange life.I couldn't help but notice that this would be the 23rd comment and it seems to be reserved for me "coincidentally"!?!

    And I didn't come across this post until Feb 2011.So,it appears to have been waiting for me all this time.
    I'm sure there is a message in there somewhere for me.-)