Friday, November 25, 2016

Week Fourteen: Science Fiction Parody and Satire

Oooooh. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a coveted staple of this generation's popular culture. Seeing it as the topic of discussion for this week evoked so many middle school memories of me reading this book and then proceeding to reference it as if I was so clever. However I feel that reading it as a middle schooler caused lot of the humor to go over my head, so having a chance to re-experience it excited me. I also did not even know that it was originally a radio series, not a book. In order to appreciate it in its full glory, I would have to read the book again (or in this case, listening to it), now as a young adult. At once, I remembered how Douglas Adams has a peculiar way with words, and was particularly adept at presenting what would otherwise be mundane descriptions, as extremely entertaining. He takes common, relatable problems such as the impact of expanding infrastructure on local residents, or the search for the meaning of life, and blows it up to a universal scale, achieving a comedic effect in the end. Placing these issues on such a massive scale amplifies the scale of its proposed solutions, and seeing aliens struggle with the same problems as us only makes them more relatable. The result is hilarious parody on everyday human struggles and not only puts our problems in perspective, but lets us laugh at it as well.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Week Thirteen: Literary Speculation

The distinction between literary writing and genre writing can be... weird. To be honest, I never thought about the two as separate entities until the topic came up in class. But, after a brief research session and reflection on the reading list for the week, I came to the tentative conclusion that genre fiction was mainly for shallow entertainment, following certain tropes of its respective genre, while literary fiction is somewhat self aware, more careful with the delivery of the story and its implications on the reader. Literary writing makes you think... but then again genre writing can as well? I had some inner turmoil as I weighed the two in my mind, before they both kind of melded together into one. And, that was befitting of the subject of this week, which is a combination of the two. Having read "The Handmaid's Tale" in my senior year of high school, it was still fresh in my mind. I considered it a literary work, but now looking back, it was indeed literary speculation, containing elements of both sides. It presented powerful commentary on society, much like other dystopian genre works. However, like dystopian novels, it also adhered to its genre rules, in that it takes place in a future that may be real eventually. The Republic of Gilead is not some far fetched impossible world, it could actually exist someday, and is rooted in reality. "The Aquatic Uncle" on the other hand, was more science fiction, and featured elements of the genre, such as sentient, talking, non-human creatures, and some brief, but effective, world building. The literary aspect of it was its prose perhaps, and its thought provoking subjects. This short story, however, seemed to meld the two seamlessly, into a work that could almost be its own category. I appreciated that aspect, and it was a pleasant experience for me as a reader. Although literary and speculative writing may have distinctions, I think I like it better when the two are combined, and they certainly present a more compelling story when working in tandem.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Week Twelve: Diverse Position Science Fiction

This week, I read the short story "I Live with You" and in class, "Bloodchild". Both were slightly disturbing in subject matter, and gave me a little creeping feeling on my skin as I read through. However, fueled by either morbid curiosity or an obligation to read a story for the week, I continued. They were both very enjoyable, and I can appreciate the science fiction aspect of the two stories. Bloodchild depicted a society with a very clear cut social hierarchy, with an entire species essentially ruling over another. It reflected a culture where the subjugated species- the Terrans- lived on reserved spaces for them by the Tlic. They are also bred, in a way, to satisfy the demands of the Tlic. Not only does this tell the story of an entire race of people being used for the needs of a majority, it allows us to reflect on our own culture. Sure, things may not be as literal as, say, aliens exploiting humans to use as grub-incubating sacks of flesh, but the exploitation of a certain group of people in order to maintain the quality of life for another, more affluent, class of people hits pretty close to home. Behind these bizarre science fiction stories, we can extract social commentary and relate them to modern issues that still plague us today.

The in-class movie for this week, Attack the Block, also focused on a marginalized group, but this time, they were fighting back against the aliens that are invading. After only seeing forty minutes of it in class, I knew I had to finish it later in the day, and I definitely do not regret it. Aliens work surprisingly well as metaphors, and the science fiction aspect of the film only draws in more interest.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Week Twelve (in class): Bloodchild

1. Bloodchild was a very compelling story that revealed the content of its world slowly but surely. My first reaction had been mild disgust, but I was also driven by my curiosity to keep reading. The concept of an enslaved race, forced to become hosts to essentially parasitic grubs is nauseating, to say the least. I couldn't help but feel pity for the Terrans, seemingly subjugated by a superior species on their planet. Gan's decision at the end, though consensual and necessary for their society, seemed bittersweet. Some of the Terrans obviously do not enjoy the current status quo that they must endure, and Gan had also shown animosity towards T'Gatoi for her intentions, but the Terrans are weak politically and physically, and cannot retaliate. Thus, Gan's final decision was more one of submission, an action I couldn't help but feel sorry for.

2. Gan's encounter with Lomas's birthgiving reminded me of the childbirth segment of my high school health class. Stuffed in a dark room with a group of sweaty teenagers and shown several videos of women giving birth produced about the same nauseating effect on me as reading about Gan's experiences. Of course, parasitic grubs sounds much, much worse than a c-section. However, facing the painful reality of childbirth and the fact that I might have to undergo it one day, I could relate to Gan's feelings about Lomas and his own impending fate.

3. If I could adapt this story into an audio podcast, possibly taking on the form of an audio diary of Gan's, or just his narration of his thoughts and experiences. In this format, it would make more sense to drag out the events of the story to span out over the course of several days, rather than one afternoon. The details of the Tlic and the Terrans could be revealed slowly through Gan's experiences with the eggs and his monologues about the world he lives in, before finally leading up to his encounter with Lomas and his decision to be a host.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Week Eleven: Cyberpunk

This week I read "Memories of a Hologram Rose", which definitely reminded me of "cyberpunk". Since the story is driven by the invention of a device called the "ASP", we see the glimpse of a future where it rules almost all media and entertainment. It lets people escape reality by plunging them into an alternate, virtual space, and experience a world through another's recorded sensory memories. Of course, the implications of such technology leads many to be lost in these virtual realities, but can also serve as a bridge between people, letting them share experiences. This cyberpunk future is edgy, technologically advanced but not exactly a bright, shiny chrome. This kind of future is kind of rough around the edges, thinly masking the dark desires of humanity, which have become amplified with the new technology. In a cyberpunk future where human's safest sanctuaries- the mind- can be hacked and tricked, the darker implications of human nature come forward. But human nature is complex, and when explored through altered realities can only reflect certain sides of it, even though there may be thousand facets, like a shattered hologram rose.

On the other hand, Paprika, a classic Satoshi Kon movie, also explores this theme of the human psyche through the altered reality that is a dreamscape. However, it visually contrasts other films of its genre, like Blade Runner, in that is is saturated and colorful, teeming with movement and life. Even with the dark undertones of its narrative, the cover of bright visuals adds to its psychedelic feel, as if everything that was happening wasn't real. Meanwhile, the movie we viewed in class, Blade Runner, was dark, dingy, and hard boiled, truly befitting of its subject matter. Regardless of visuals, however, cyberpunk is more defined by its deep diving stories and hyper-technological future, truly Cyber and Punk.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Week Ten: Babel-17

For this week I read the novel Babel-17, to which I giggled when I realize that this treacherous language was literally named "babble" 17. A story where the mere knowledge of a certain language could manipulate you into betrayal definitely gets the point across: that words hold power. As we explore the power that language can hold, and the fiction of ideas, I couldn't help but notice "Fahrenheit 451" as the featured movie for this week. Though it was a book that I had read in early high school, Fahrenheit 451 wasn't faded from my memory. Both Babel-17 and Fahrenheit 451 emphasized the importance of ideas, and how its power could crumple societies and mesmerize thousands. In both works, it was the idea planted in the mind by words that grew to be powerful, even threatening. Ideas take hold, and they invade the mind, encouraging its host to act according to its wishes and commands. Babel-17 featured a language weaponized to control people, altering their thinking and subsequently, their actions. As we come to realize the true power of language, it becomes apparent that in our modern world, we are manipulated by words as well. With information spreading so quickly and uncontrollably, novels like Babel-17 and Fahrenheit 451 cause us to become aware of its power over us and society, especially the people who are able to facilitate and manipulate its content and spread.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Week Nine: Space Opera and the New Frontier

The concept of a "retro future" is a defining trait of Space Opera and was the first factor that really appealed to me visually. The in-class movie "Forbidden Planet" displayed this trait perfectly, in all its mute colored, analog glory. In this type of future, technology is advanced, but still clunky and analogue, presenting an interesting juxtaposition between the past and the future. From the media we saw in class, space opera seems to capture the dramatic and passionate flare of typical romances, the imaginative creations of science fiction, and the action of face paced flicks of the time period. It is an amalgamation of popular culture all mashed into one, then thrown into the far future, with a setting that can only be described as future imagined in the past. For this week, I read "The Nine Billion Names of God", which has less drama and action than Forbidden Planet, but still held the qualities of retro-future and science fiction suspense. It dealt with existential dread more than Forbidden Planet, but was still reminiscent of its contemporaries. I also watched the movie for "The Martian" (not the book, sorry!) and was pleasantly surprised by its scientific accuracy and attention to detail. This particular story was set apart from its peers in that its drama was much less dramatic, for lack of a better word, and that its science was very well explained and rooted in reality. Space opera is a very broad genre, picking the good bits from many other genre favorites, so naturally, space opera itself would contain a broad range of pieces. The Martian fell on the more scientific side, while Forbidden Planet fell on the more dramatic side, and Star Wars was more action-y. However, all of these films contain elements of each other, and form the wacky genre of fiction known as Space Opera.