Isolation Experiment: One Small Step to Mars?

After a long leave of absence Future Hope is finally up and running again along with a much needed face lift.

Last week a 520 day isolation experiment involving six “voyagers” concluded.  The six volunteers, including three Russians, two Europeans, and one Chinese researcher, began their experiment on June 3rd of 2010 and left their isolation on November 4th of 2011.  I have very mixed feelings about this experiment.  In many ways it is quite underwhelming that this is the biggest space news that we’ve had for a while and that it is not tied to any actual planned mission to Mars.

Also it is frustrating that there were no Americans involved in this experiment.  Can America slip even further behind in world space exploration?  I didn’t think so, but at this point it  looks like the future of space travel may lie in some combination of private interests and other governments with the US one member among many.  This may be a good model, but I only hope that the US stays a major player in the future of space exploration and doesn’t take a further back seat to Russia, Europe, and China.  No matter how you slice it humanity’s future ultimately lies in space and I hope that the United States keeps an important role in that future.

All of that being said, I do think that this experiment and others like it are important to do before a mission is planned and executed.  The astronauts only had about 550 cubic meters to live and work in, which replicated what actual astronauts would have traveling in between Earth and Mars and as a habitat on Mars..  In addition to space limitations they had to perform many experiments and tests, deal with limited food and water, and perhaps most difficult of all deal with isolation and unchanging routine for a year and a half.  Overall, I think the experiment was a success and an important, if small step, on our journey to the stars.

Follow this link to read an article and see a 15 minute video detailing their 520 days in isolation.

Kevin

Suvudu Cage Match 2011

The Suvudu Cage Match for 2011 is well under way.  The cage match pits science fiction and fantasy characters from various works against each other winning or losing based on fan votes.

My favorites that still remain are Martin the Warrior, Jon Snow, Paul Atredes, Pug, and Vin.  Follow this link to see the current bracket of present and past matches.

http://suvudu.com/2011/03/your-2011-cage-match-contenders-video.html

–Kevin

Transcendence vs. Modification

I recently read an article on Wired that highlighted the growing trend of body hackers who perform self surgery to add modifications to their own bodies.  Some of these additions literally give the hackers new senses and abilities such as being able to control your digestion, see in different wavelengths of light, feel the shape of an electromagnetic field, or sense the direction of magnetic north.

The one big problem with these types of modifications is that no licensed doctor will perform them because they are seen as not being medically necessary.  This could open up a whole line of argument about what it means to call some procedures medically necessary and others not.

In any case, while I do not applaud the hackers disregard for their own safety I do recognize their drive and passion for pushing boundaries and exploring the new, which is a rare thing these days.  So while I am intrigued by the level of technology involved in these modifications and I think that in the future this will become more common and accepted by our larger culture.  I am also disturbed by the spiritual implications that these surgeries and their intended purpose bring up.

First off, by spiritual implications I do not mean to suggest that these types of body modifications or others such as putting ID chips in our hands are a sign of the end times.  While they may not on the whole be a healthy sign for our culture I don’t believe that they are a problem by themselves.  People have been modifying their bodies as long as there have been people.  I don’t believe that these types of modifications are inherently different than adding pacemakers or artificial limbs to our bodies.  While there may be many valid concerns of privacy, safety, and equity in this arena I do not believe that our souls are in danger if we modify our bodies.

That being said, I am troubled by the idea that modifying our bodies alone can somehow lead to transcending our humanity.  These body hackers are part of a growing “transhumanist” movement, and while I understand that they are transcending many of humanities’ past natural physical limits they are by no means changing what it means to be human.  No matter the body or the abilities of said body our human soul is above all what defines us as humans.  This is a lesson that we are still learning or perhaps are relearning in the 21st century.  We are not defined by our physical differences or modifications, but rather by our inherent value as human beings and as children of God.  Again while I am not against these types of modifications in principal, especially if they can be done safely, I do wish that people and our culture in general spent as much time and energy as we do on our physical selves on our spiritual selves as well.

You can read the full Wired Article here.

-Kevin

Reviewing the Legacy

 

Tron: Legacy is a fast paced special effects ride through a literal computer generated landscape.  The plot picks up about 27 years after the original Tron ended.  Kevin Flynn disappeared 7 years after his original adventure leaving his son Sam Flynn as an orphan.  Sam, now an adult, doesn’t have much that he cares about in his life and is little more than a rich prankster.  Out of the blue he is called to his father’s old video arcade by a mysterious page and is quickly trapped inside the computerized world that his father created.  There he participates in deadly games and must help to free his father from his runaway creation, Clu, who has become a virtual dictator on the grid.

The strongest points of Tron: Legacy are without a doubt the special effects and the music, which are consistent throughout the film.  The special effects sell themselves and are worth the price of admission alone.  While some may feel that they are too flashy and that it’s hard to see what’s going on I thought that they were crisp and clean and worked very well.  The soundtrack, performed by Daft Punk, also helps to set the scene and develops a transcendent atmosphere.

The character devleopment and the acting are also fairly strong.  Jeff Bridges’ rendition of Kevin Flynn and his alter ego Clu are distinct and create depth and emotion in the characters.  The dichotomy between Flynn and his created program Clu is the single best plot point of the movie and it is acted very well.  Clu was originally created by Flynn to help him create a perfect world, but the search for perfection eventually consumed him and he rebelled against his creator.  Flynn’s search for redemption for his sin of pride is a major theme of the movie.  The other main characters, the independent program Quorra and Flynn’s son Sam, are also both portrayed fairly well especially when you consider that the majority of their acting was done surrounded by green screens.

Where Tron: Legacy fails the most is in realizing its potential for a great plot.  Alan, Flynn’s friend and the creator of Tron, tells Sam: “He (Flynn) said he was about to change everything…science, medicene, religion.  He wouldn’t have left all that.”  The implication is that the digital world that Flynn created somehow has real world implications that will literally change how we see and live in the world.  This sounds very compelling, but it is not really supported throughout the movie.  There are occasional lines that point to religious or spiritual ideas, but they are not really followed up.  For instance, Flynn talks to his son Sam about the importance of doing nothing and waiting, and while he is not a complete hypocrite as his hand is forced, shortly after he says this he proceeds to do quite a lot.  The other big religious implication is the development of the Isos.  The Isos are independent programs that emerged or evolved inside Flynn’s world without Flynn’s direct guidance.  They are literally a new form of life.   This is truly an amazing idea, but unfortunately it is not explored and is little more than a throw away line to provide a back story.  What made the Isos so unique?  Where did they come from?  Unfortunately these questions are not answered, but the good thing about Tron: Legacy is that the action is quick and engaging and the audience doesn’t dwell on these questions for too long.

Despite its lack of a solid plot or any 3 dimensional ideas it is a fun movie and worth watching, especially in 3D.
2.5 out of 4 stars!

– Kevin

In the not so distant future…

A Review of Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Published in 1993 this novel tells the story of a future in decline where hope is hard to come by and the gap between the rich and the poor has widened to a nearly impassable chasm.   Extrapolating from trends that she saw in the late ’80s and early ’90s Octavia Butler writes of a future where America, and the world at large, begins to slide backwards with too many people, too much corruption and not enough resources.  Amidst souring food, water, and service prices, exotic and dangerous drugs, and many other dangers young Lauren Olamina must struggle for survival against overwhelming odds.

The novel is told entirely from Lauren’s perspective as she writes entries in her journal.  The narrative begins in a gated community, which has become an island of relative stability in a sea of chaos and poverty.  From there Lauren’s story takes us on the road north to the rumored safety of Oregon.  The story covers 3 years following Lauren from age 14 all the way to 17, but in those 3 short years she is forced to grow up very quickly as she encounters the worst of human nature and searches for the ultimate limited resource, trust in a world of the vicious.

Overall, the story is very powerful and told in a strong and clear voice.  The characters are well drawn and deep, and the pace of the narrative makes for an engaging read.  I also really enjoyed the level of detail that Butler went into concerning the society and one very possible future that we may face in some form.  She also didn’t focus too strongly on the technology, but rather focused on the people and the circumstances that they encountered deepening their characters along with the impact of the story.

My only major qualm concerning the novel was the religion that the main character develops based on her own experience with the world.  The religion, called Earthseed in the book, is not so much a religion as it is a way of life.  It borrows from many religious traditions and philosophies, primarily Buddhism, Confucianism, and a little Greek philosophy.  It also shares some of the same language and discussion points as Tielhard de Chardin, a catholic monk who wrote about the end result of evolution, what he called the Omega Point, among many other topics.

The central belief/paradox of Earthseed is that God shapes us and we shape God.  In fact, in the Earthseed religion God literally is Change and vice-versa.  Unfortunately, in the novel these ideas are not supported by much other than the character’s disdain for traditional religions and her own experiences with the world.  Certainly an unstable foundation to build a new religion on.

While I see some appealing aspects to it, especially its focus on humanity and the spiritual nature of our journey to the stars, I believe that Earthseed ultimately fails as a complete religion because it lacks numerous aspects that I have found to be essential to my faith such as revelation, prayer, and a transcendent God just to name a few qualities.

Despite its lack of development in the novels the idea of Earthseed has taken root in the world and many societies and groups such as SolSeed have taken its main principles as their own.  It also works well within the context of the novel as it is a new religion for a people who are struggling to recreate themselves in an old and failing world.

Unfortunately in this case, getting rid of Christianity while shedding the trappings of a consumerist society is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.  What we will need in the future is not a new religion divorced from the past, but rather an ancient religion rooted in the past, looking to the future, and living in the present.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book.  It is thought provoking, powerful, and above all enjoyable to read.  In my opinion, this is one of Butler’s best works second only to her Patterner series of novels.  Enjoy!

–Kevin

Kevin’s Top 50 Sci-fi Movies

Despite the biased nature of this list I tried to primarily include groundbreaking films that changed the industry and had a strong moral or thought provoking point.

15. The Fifth Element, 1997 (PG-13):  Space Opera with an actual opera scene in space.  The fifth element is love, which shines in the night and pushes back the darkness.  Overall, it was a fun look at the future.

Priest Vito Cornelius: “Because it is evil, absolutely evil.”
President Lindberg: “One more reason to shoot first.”
Priest Vito Cornelius: “Evil begets evil, Mr. President. Shooting will only make it stronger.”

14. Bicentennial Man, 1999 (PG):  A fascinating movie that despite some pacing and scripting issues deeply explores what it means to be human and to become human.  Also based on an Asimov short story.

Andrew Martin: “In a sense I have. I am growing old, my body is deteriorating, and like all of you, will eventually cease to function. As a robot, I could have lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man, than live for all eternity a machine.”

President Marjorie Bota: “Why do you want this?”

Andrew Martin: “To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but, the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity.”

13. The Abyss, 1989 (PG-13):  A film with everything.  Complex characters, special effects, and exploration of the final frontier: the oceans.  At first it seems like it’s a run of the mill action/disaster movie, but it quickly gets much deeper in more ways than one.  Lessons learned: nitrogen bubbles in your blood can make you crazy, and deep water oil drilling is dangerous…too late.

Lindsey Brigman: So, raise your hand if you thought that was a Russian water tentacle.

12. Alien, 1979 (R):  A true classic of both horror and sci-fi.  It explores our deepest fears  about the unknown both within (literally) and without.  It also contains many classic scenes and characters and in my opinion this movie holds up and is one of the least dated of almost any other movie from this time period.  “In space no one can hear you scream.”

Ripley: “Ash, that transmission… Mother’s deciphered part of it. It doesn’t look like an S.O.S.”
Ash: “What is it, then?”
Ripley: “Well, I… it looks like a warning. I’m gonna go out after them.”
Ash: “What’s the point? I mean by the, the time it takes to get there, you’ll… they’ll know if it’s a warning or not, yes?”

11. The Empire Strikes Back, 1980 (PG): Far and above the best of the Star Wars movies.  This has it all from romance to lightsaber duals.  I still remember the moment where Darth Vader reveals the nature of his relationship to Luke.  What sets this movie far and above the rest of the saga is really the depth of the story and the character development that all of the characters go through.

Yoda: “Stopped they must be; on this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now – if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did – you will become an agent of evil.”

10. Children of Men, 2006 (R): A more recent movie that explores an apocalyptic future where hope takes the form of a baby, the first baby to be conceived in over 18 years.

Theodore Faron: “I can’t really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can’t remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what’s left to hope for?”

9. Pandorum, 2009 (R): An amazing exploration of the depths of space and the depths of the human soul.  It also takes an interesting look at what happens when man plays god.

Payton: “I can’t remember any of my life before this flight began.”

8. The Fountain, 2006 (R): Directed by Darren Aronofsky The Fountain explores life, death, and rebirth in three different time periods.  Throughout the narrative it jumps from a Spanish conquistador in 1500, to a scientist in 2000, to an astronaut in 2500 all exploring the purpose of life and death.  The cinematography is also beautiful and breathtaking along with the story.

Tom Creo: “Death is a disease, it’s like any other. And there’s a cure. A cure – and I will find it.”

7. Akira, 1987 (R): An animated film about a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where the government is developing psychic children to be used as weapons.  Some of the children are immensely powerful and quickly escape the bounds of their program wrecking havoc in the city.  Akira also largely brought Japanese anime to the US in the ’90s.

Kiyoko: “The future is not a straight line. It is filled with many crossroads. There must be a future that we can choose for ourselves.”

6. Primer, 2004 (PG-13): A scientifically sound and very complex movie that was released in only a few theaters but is definitely one to catch on DVD.  It involves two part time inventors who invent a time machine that allows them to travel back in time six hours repeating a part of each day.

Aaron: “You got anything to eat? I haven’t eaten anything since later this afternoon.”

5. Forbidden Planet, 1956: The oldest on my list and a true classic.  Based partly on Shakespeare’s The Tempest this groundbreaking film takes place on an alien world with Robby the robot, a human crew in a flying saucer, and a real monster from the Id.

Commander John J. Adams: Alta, about a million years from now the human race will have crawled up to where the Krell stood in their great moment of triumph and tragedy. And your father’s name will shine again like a beacon in the galaxy. It’s true, it will remind us that we are, after all, not God.

4. Gattaca, 1997 (PG-13): A man classified as flawed due to his genetic makeup fights the system and tries to make more of himself than people expect from him.  There is no gene for the human spirit.

Vincent: You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.

Vincent: For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.

3. Blade Runner, 1982 (R): Deckard, a blade runner, must hunt down 6 violent replicants (androids) in this thought provoking sci-fi thriller loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story and directed by Ridley Scott.  Blade Runner was truly groundbreaking combining cyberpunk with film noir and many other influences.  Besides its significance to the genre and to the history of film in general it is also a great movie in its own right exploring artificial life and the nature of what it means to be human.

Deckard: “She doesn’t know.”
Tyrell: “She’s beginning to suspect, I think.”
Deckard: “Suspect? How can it not know what it is?”

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 (G): Mankind finds a mysterious, obviously artificial, artifact buried on the moon and, with the intelligent computer HAL, sets off on a quest to find their destiny.

Dave Bowman: “Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?”
HAL: “Affirmative, Dave. I read you.”
Dave Bowman: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
HAL: “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Dave Bowman: “What’s the problem?”
HAL: “I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.”

1. The Matrix, 1999 (R): I still remember the shock when I realized what the Matrix truly was.  This movie has great action, writing, and special effects and it delves into many deep ideas touching on many aspects of our lives.  In many ways the essential question of the matrix is the question that we must answer every day:  Do we take the blue pill and stay in a false world, or do we take the red pill and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes?

Morpheus: “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

Neo:”What truth?”

Morpheus: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”

A Created Universe: A Reflection on Stephen Hawking’s A Grand Design

This is not a review of Stephen Hawking’s A Grand Design, which I have not read in full yet, but rather a reflection on the crossroads of belief and fact.  One theme prevalent throughout much of science fiction is the conflict over differing views of the universe between believers and scientists.  Unfortunately, this contrast is often shown as part of a dichotomy as if it were an either/or choice and not a natural blending of the spiritual and the physical.  Stephen Hawking’s recent work lines up with this oppositional perspective using the tools of science to probe into the questions of God, faith, and creation as if they can be answered with experiments and mathematics.

From Hawking’s perspective it seems that the entire validity of God and thousands of years of religious belief rest on whether our current scientific understanding of the creation of the universe has any room, or rather, any need for God.  Ignoring for now the obvious scientific problem of trying to understand a transcendent God ultimately outside of space and time Hawking also relegates God to the unknown parts of our universe as if our further understanding pushes God away instead of revealing his handiwork in all its grandeur and beauty.  This understanding ultimately casts God solely in the role of a watchmaker creating the universe and then letting it run on its own.

In his new book Hawking has come to the conclusion, based on new theories and equations that describe the first moments of the universe, that the universe no longer needs a creator to have been created.  Hawking writes, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”  I cannot hope nor do I wish to challenge Hawking’s mastery of physics and mathematics, but I do challenge his interpretation of his findings.  He may be able to explain through physics how our universe may have come into being, but he has not answered why we are here.  Science is fundamentally blind to the moment before creation.  From our current understanding of the moment of creation anything before it would have existed outside of our perspective of space and time and is pure conjecture based not on science but on faith.

The other main point that Hawking uses to challenge the existence of God is that because planets orbiting other stars have been discovered the Earth and humanity are far less special on a cosmic scale than we previously thought.  Here Hawking seems to be operating under the belief that since the Copernican Model of our solar system, which correctly placed the sun at the center of our stellar system, was published in 1543 the ignorance of living in God and faith has been slowly whittled away by fact and reason.  However, this is also a matter of belief and interpretation.  While some Atheists, and unfortunately some Christians too, believe that scientific discoveries about our world are victories for reason and defeats for religion I have never understood this view.

While we must always be careful of the few scientists out there who are actively trying to interpret their findings to disprove God, they are I believe not the majority of scientists, and science at its core is a tool to understand our universe and our place in it.  It is a twisted faith that can be eroded away simply because true science brings us closer to understanding our universe and the laws that govern its workings.   It is not fundamental to Christianity that the Earth be the center of the universe, nor does Christianity hinge on the size or age of the universe.  Frankly, to an infinite God any size universe is small in comparison.  It is short sited to reject observation and true science and to confuse true revelation and belief in God with an incorrect understanding of the world.  For instance, Georges Lemaître, an astronomer and catholic priest, first proposed what became known as the big bang theory.  Before this theory many physicists rejected the idea of the universe having a beginning in time, but now this theory is very widely excepted by most scientists and believers.  Contrary to popular belief the Catholic Church and many other denominations and religious institutions were quick to accept the big bang theory based on both the scientific evidence and their faith.

Throughout his work Hawking explores and then counters the Rare Earth theory, which fundamentally says that since we seem to be on a planet that is perfect for us therefore God must have created it for us.  Everything from the laws of physics to the age of the universe to our physical location in our universe, galaxy, and solar system is imperative to our ability to live here.  This is an interesting argument for God and is very attractive just because of the incredible odds of our universe being able to sustain life.  For instance, if even one of the fundamental forces were tweaked just the smallest fraction in their relative power our universe would be completely inhospitable to our kind of life.  However, this is ultimately a dangerous theological argument as a foundation to faith because as Hawking shows it can be partially explained away by showing other Earth-like planets.

Furthermore, Hawking goes even deeper and posits that our life bearing universe was inevitable anyway due to the multiverse theory, which predicts an infinite number of parallel universes.  In most of these universes life would never develop due to differing laws of physics which would create, among many other variations, a universe that would be too spread out so that carbon atoms would never be created or gathered together for us as the basic foundation of all physical life.  However, even though an astronomical number of universes would remain eternally dead, in some universes life would be certain and therefore our being here is inevitable.  All of this circular reasoning really doesn’t get us anywhere and I don’t think it will change too many minds about the existence of God.

I believe that the existence of other earth-like planets and stars similar to ours makes perfect sense in a God created universe.  While I do not pretend to understand the numerous potential reasons for such a large universe I do know that in order for us to exist we need at least a 10 billion year history of stars creating carbon in their cores and depositing stardust, the very essence of physical life, across the universe.  Now because this process takes billions of years across intergalactic distances planets and earth-like stars must crop up in many other places other than right here.  It would be a strange and chaotic universe if all of the heavier elements created in the supernovas of our past were exclusively brought here for our use.  Now as I said I do not plan to speculate here on possible alien life or planets with earth-like environments, (we’ll save that for another time) but the apparent fact that there are other earth-like planets in the universe makes sense to me as both a part of God’s design and the workings of the fundamental forces of nature.

Here is the central reason why Hawking’s creatorless creation doesn’t ring true to me:  For me religion at its heart is a leap of faith.  Pure reason cannot arrive at an answer concerning God.  In my mind all of nature and our place in it suggests the existence of God, but obviously that is only my perspective of nature.  Many scientists and rational thinkers now and in the past have looked at the same evidence and arrived at an atheistic solution.  When it comes down to it we must look within ourselves and at our world with our hearts.  We must avoid the many distractions of the modern world and seek silence to find our God who Nathan Mitchell describes in Worship as, “elusive yet explosive, hidden yet revealed, absent yet accessible.”  No matter how hard we look if we don’t believe, or more accurately won’t believe, we will never find God under a microscope or in a starry night.  But if we take that small yet giant leap of faith then we will begin to see God all around us and within us.

The answer to faith is not science, rather the opposite is true: the answer to science is faith.  In a reenactment of a famous debate, between G.K. Chesterton and Clarence Darrow, Chesterton is quoted as saying: “All thinking begins with assumptions that cannot be proved.  In logic we call these axioms.  The real skeptic has nowhere to begin because he must doubt everything and so he sinks through floor after floor of a bottomless universe.  Reason can only be built on faith and that faith is the foundation of our civilization.”  I choose not to live in a bottomless universe and I make the choice every day to found my reason and experience of the world on faith.

In closing I do not mean to attack Hawking in this article and I respect him both as an individual and as a scientist.  I simply wish to point out the incongruity in a scientist “disproving” the existence of the transcendent infinite God that we worship simply by observing and understanding the laws of the universe.  The beauty of the universe and God’s continuing work should be understood through physics and math not destroyed by them.  I hope and pray for a time when faith and science are again correctly viewed as harmonious and not opposing methods of viewing the world.

Kevin

P.S. Numerous other articles about Hawking’s new book can be found on the Internet.  The articles I quoted from are here:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100902/lf_nm_life/us_britain_hawking
http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2010/09/06/the-elusive-presence-of-god/

Living in the Depths: A Review of The Watch Below

The Watch Below (1972) by James White

Reviewed by Kevin May

The Watch Below is a tale of isolation and survival across multiple generations.  Two very different groups find themselves in remarkably similar circumstances across time and space.  One, a group of humans, is caught up in a shipwreck in the early years of WWII and is forced to find a way to survive under the surface of the sea.  Through ingenuity and a lot of luck they manage to survive and even raise children in their dark underwater home.

The other group is a race of aquatic aliens whose home star became too hot for them.  They fled their system in a cobbled together fleet, which was designed to carry the population of the alien world in suspended animation across the void of space.  Unfortunately an unforeseen malfunction occurred and some of the aliens had to stay awake passing their specialized skills down the generations.

**Minor Spoiler Alert**

Without giving away too many spoilers both groups must find a way to surmount impossible odds to ensure that their progeny will live on.  After the first few chapters the years and generations begin to slip by and we are witnesses to the development of entirely new societies under desperate conditions.  Overall, these stories of survival told back and forth across time and space are wonderfully written and work off each other very well.

By the end of the book both isolated groups of survivors became paramount to the future of our planet.  That is one of the central tenets that I find important in this work.  A small group of people (or even a single person) who for some reason are able to see (to know) the universe differently can have a huge impact on the planet and all of humanity.  As Galadriel says in the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”  In this work it is the small seemingly insignificant people forgotten by history who have a powerful role in the future of the world.

James White does an excellent job of showing societies evolving under pressure and across huge spans of time.  Each isolated group begins with just a few individuals but they both expand their numbers and then correspondingly struggle over the limited resources.  In many ways this reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode that showed an entire society developing under a microscope in a laboratory.  It is a fascinating study of how simple societies adapt and change over time.  It also explores what ideals they hold sacred and what they abandon as they shape their new culture.

One convention that the human survivors develop to keep boredom and eventual insanity at bay is what they call “the Game.”  “The Game” is basically a memorization and recall activity that encourages new memorization of shared and created stories, but also full and complete recall of stories and facts from their pasts.  By developing “the Game” and spending most of their free time working on it the first generation of human survivors are able to pass down nearly all of their culture, memories, and skills to the next generation.

I found this a fascinating development and certainly within the story it is essential so that the descendants of the first survivors know who they are and why they are there.  I also think that this skill is fully possible for most people if we developed our memories earlier in life instead of watching television and using wikipedia as our external long term memory.  To me this highlights a striking deficiency in our current society.  The human mind is full of potential and can leap forward if it were not distracted all the time.  White shows that humanity is very adaptable and wants to survive above all else.  Part of that survival is not just food, water, and shelter, but also companionship and mental engagement, which the group incorporates through “the Game.”

While it is debatable whether in near perfect isolation and darkness the human mind would be in its peak form stress can do funny things and all literature requires a certain amount of disbelief.  This goes along with the crew initially surviving the wreck and living off of bean plants and canned goods for generations.  Despite how impossible it sounds I believe that White makes it work.  After the first few chapters it is easy to suspend your disbelief.  Part of the reason that it works is because White is very good at showing us the wreckage and the depths of the oceans as well as the void of outer space and the shipways of the alien fleet.

The only other flaw in the work that I found was that the character development did not hold up across the generations bouncing back and forth between Earth’s oceans and the interstellar void not to mention across numerous generations.  Many of the characters, especially the female ones just seemed to be total background characters even when they were a substantial part of the surviving crew. I realize that the individual characters were not as much of a focus for the author as he was primarily focused on the long term societies, but for me well developed individual characters are important in every book.  In this book characters came and went a little bit too quickly for my taste.

All that being said I did enjoy the descriptions of raw survival in the plot and there were several discussions focused on beliefs, morals, and religion.  Overall, The Watch Below is a very enjoyable read that juxtaposes alien and man in very different roles.  Neither has the clear upper hand in the end, and both are important for the survival of the other.  It’s quite refreshing from the predictable war of the worlds scenario.

For those of you who like numbers here’s how I see it:

Story/Plot – 4/5

A refreshing twist on an alien invasion story told in a unique way.  The end was a little predictable and some of the transitions were a bit unsettling, but overall a well structured and well planned story.

Character – 2/5

The characters were not overly developed or unique.  In each generation there were certain roles that were filled by seemingly the same type of person/character.  While this is the weakest part of the book it is not overly distracting because of the focus of the overall story.

Writing Style – 3/5

An excellent and inventive style.  Enjoyable to read for its great descriptions and the alien environments that both groups must find a way to survive in.

Theme/Ideas – 4/5

This was one of the strongest points of the book.  As with most sci-fi the circumstances of the world allow the author to explore our beliefs and our identities.  I also enjoyed the symmetry of the book and thought that only bolstered the theme.

Overall – 3.25/5

A good and fast read.  Especially enjoyable if you like to see small groups of people (and aliens) under immense pressure to adapt over many generations.  It’s a unique kind of people watching to see how social and cultural norms may change under certain circumstances.

Kevin

One Small Step…

To begin the first of many posts on the development of technology we will travel back in time to the very first days of humanity.  In fact, we might just go a little bit further.  In 1968, the year before the moon landing, Stanley Kubrick and Arther C. Clarke created the iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The beginning of the film features over 3 minutes of a black screen with atmospheric music that eventually overwhelms the viewer (quite an experience in a movie theater as I always just fast-forwarded at home without realizing the movie had started.)  Suddenly the image cuts to the moon, earth, and sun in perfect alignment.  It’s quite a moment of creation suddenly switching from a screen devoid of light to our entire local universe of earth, moon, and sun.  Coincidentally as I write these words we are having a solar eclipse, which unfortunately is not visible from the northern hemisphere, but is still very exciting.

The Ultimate Tool

Next we watch a tribe of apes, who seem strangely human, forage for food.  They are beset upon by a leopard and then an aggressive neighboring tribe and seem on the verge of being wiped out when suddenly the Monolith appears the next morning.  After spending time with the Monolith one member realizes his ability to use an old discarded thigh bone as a club…using a tool to manipulate his environment.  Soon afterwards he teaches this new skill to his tribe and they come to dominate the area using their new technology of bone tools.

Let me show you this new tool

While this depiction of the first tool use among humanity’s ancestors is purely fictionalized, and the myth of man as tool maker has been debunked with numerous examples of animal tool use, I do think that it shows an important connection.  It was not simply having a hand that allowed the ape to use the tool.  A cognitive development in his mind allowed him to realize the potential he had in manipulating his environment.  Two previously unlinked parts of his brain connected and concept consciously became reality.  When our ancestors picked up their first tools of bone, stone, and wood, and perhaps other materials that did not survive the ages, it truly was a revolution of the mind and a defining moment in history.  These first technologies allowed our ancestors to gather and hunt more food, to protect themselves, and eventually to build ever more complex tools taking more and more control of their environments.

In the biblical story of creation I think it is worth mentioning that tools were first indirectly mentioned just after the Fall.  In the Garden of Eden there was no need for tools, but soon after eating the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Adam and Eve: “knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” and after the LORD God had discovered them He “sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. (GEN 3:7, 23).

Why did we eat the fruit?

While this is pretty advanced technology compared to the bone club of 2001 I think it highlights a potential link between fallen humanity and the need/use of technology.  The world we live in is far from perfect and the vast majority of us depend on multiple technologies for our survival and comfort.  However, I would also argue that many of us in the modern world, in addition to using technology to survive, in some way see technological development as an effort to return to paradise.  This is paradoxical because the Garden of Eden was a place devoid of technology, and yet we are trying to recreate it by using technology.  I am not saying that technology is evil by any means, but I think this begs many interesting questions.

To further highlight that link lets go back to 2001. After the apes devastate the neighboring tribe using their new bone weapons their leader, Moon-Watcher, tosses his bone club into the air and the film cuts to an image of an orbiting nuclear weapons platform matching it to the movement of the bone.  This perfectly juxtaposes the strong link between tools and weapons, and technological advances and war.  Most technological developments, even if meant to aid humanity as a whole, are used to instead bolster a specific group’s interests.  Of course technology is also hard to keep secret and the use of bone clubs, clothing, fire and other developments would have spread quickly among prehistoric man.

Once we began using tools, for good or bad we could no longer view ourselves as simply a part of nature; instead we began slowly at first and ever faster to manipulate and control our environment.  From the first bone tools to the most advanced rockets and computers humanity began its long journey with, as always, one small step…

One Small Step...

-Kevin

Technology

What is the most common element in all of science fiction?  Is it being set in the future or in space?  Perhaps it’s innovative plots or mind bending aliens?  While all of these are important to science fiction I would argue that the most consistent element in the genre of science fiction is technology, especially technology that pushes what is currently possible or believed.

To highlight technology in science fiction and science fact I will be authoring a series of posts on the development of technology throughout history, into the present day, and into the foreseeable and perhaps not so foreseeable future.

The etymology of the word technology comes from the greek and means the study of an art, craft, or skill.  One definition of technology is that it is a developed and refined technique or tool that increases what we can produce through an art, craft, or skill.

I would argue that while this definition is certainly true technology is also something more than that.  Especially in the modern day technology has become a set of tools that define us and not only change what we can do, but alter the very way that we live our lives and form our communities.

Some view technology as a Pandora’s box that dehumanizes our relationships and society.  From that perspective technology is artificial and against our human nature.  It can only corrupt even under the best of intentions.  Others argue that technology, like any tool or construct, is not inherently bad or good, but rather can be used by anyone for both good and bad purposes depending on their perspective and culture.  Of course there are many other views and distinctions concerning technology some of which I hope to explore as I write these posts.  I will try to post about two a week throughout the rest of the summer beginning with stone age technologies and moving through history to the modern day.

– Kevin

The Theology of Lost….well…sort of

I was going to write something on the theology of Lost, but then Sandra Miesel just published a thorough write up along those very lines.  So I will do the next best thing:  I will write about the theology of a very similar show–one involving the trials of survivors from a crash on an island.  I am speaking of course about Gilligan’s Island.  Now I am not sure if Kevin has ever seen an episode of Gilligan’s Island or not…that seven year difference in our age has made for a few hits and misses in our respective tv experiences, but here goes.  Oh, and by the way I am copying the following from elsewhere–except for the partial Dante thought which is mine!!

“If I described to you a hit television show with deep Christian underpinnings and hidden meanings about a bunch of people being stranded on a strange island which had some audience speculating that the characters were in “Hell,” what show would you say we were discussing?

Gilligan’s Island, of course.

Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan’s Island, said he patterned the ’seven stranded castaways’ after the seven deadly sins but he didn’t admit it until years later in his book about the show.

I’m sure you can attribute the sins to the proper characters but here they are:
The Professor – Pride
Thurston Howell III – Greed
Ginger – Lust
Mary Ann – Envy (of Ginger’s looks)
Mrs. Lovey Howell – Gluttony
The Skipper – Anger or wrath
Gilligan – Sloth

Take that LOST!

Some have even speculated that the castaways were in Hell and Gilligan (who always wore red!!!!!) did everything he could to ensure they stayed there making Gilligan Satan.”

And of course, for those who have read Dante–Sloth is considered in his Purgatory to be the most damaging sin since sloth is defective and incomplete Love.  So Gilligan’s embodiment of sloth could work with his representing Satan.

[I actually cannot locate my notes from Dante’s Purgatory off hand, so I will have to add detail later]

–I’m off camping for a few days.  I hope the blog’s one reader doesn’t mind.  Enjoy the videos!

–pio

A Storm is Coming

Sun Idol

In the past the sun has been revered as a god and an idol.  During the middle ages and into the renaissance it moved from orbiting our plant to being the center of the Earth’s orbit.  For many Christians the sun is still seen as divine, or rather, as a sign or symbol of God’s grace and power.  From a scientific perspective the sun is the source of nearly all of the energy that flows within the life on Earth and it is the origin of our weather patterns and the seasons.  The sun is central to our solar system, our existence, and our future.

Scientists have shown that solar storm activity peaks every 11 years and we should enter the next high point sometime around 2012.  Past solar storms have had devastating effects on the Earth and society.  It is believed that an 1859 solar storm disrupted telegraph lines and caused fires throughout Europe and North America.  In 1989 the power grid was knocked out in Quebec, Canada, and in 2003 2 satellites and a Martian probe’s systems were affected by solar activity.

Solar Flare

Now our modern technology is more sensitive, far more wide spread, and central to our every day life and a severe solar storm could cause cataclysmic destruction across the world.  One powerful storm could affect water, communication, refrigeration, and refueling systems just to name a few essentials to our way of life.  While I am not a believer in a prophesied Armageddon in 2012 I do believe that we should be cautious and aware of the dangers that accompany our modern society.  It will take money and research to begin to understand and eventually predict space weather patterns, but this is something we must be more aware of.

In the end we would not be here without the sun.  It is essential to so many parts of our world and our existence, but as with many parts of the natural world we must treat it with the respect and awe that it deserves.  In order for our balanced world to exist we must often weather extremes in our environment.  We have survived these trials in the past and we will weather them in the future, but we must be prepared for them.  Part of being prepared for these storms is limiting our dependence on our technology, and reaffirming local human connections in our communities.  These connections are essential to our future as they were to our past and in the end they are more dependable and reliant than all the technology in the world

-KEM

Not so Lost after all…Heaven is in Hawaii (I knew it all along)

Since almost every scene in Lost‘s six year run was shot in Hawaii–many were wondering where the “church” actually is that served as the “purgatory” for the characters in the “sidewise” “timeline.”

It turns out that an all girls Catholic school, The Sacred Hearts Academy (and its chapel), served as the location of heaven’s antechamber during the final episode of Lost.  Of course, as Jack and his father talked in one room there was a stained glass window behind them that had a virtual cornucopia of religious symbols represented…the fact that several of these symbols (and the faiths they represent) contradict one another is a moot point I suppose.  I wonder if this bizarre window is actually in the school or if the show’s producers added it to make all people feel included (except Ben Linus, lol).  As they said in The Incredibles–“if everyone is special, then no one is special.”  The same holds for Truth in religion, I think, if they’re all True…. 

–pio

Some quick thoughts on Lost

I would like to pose some questions I had about Lost:

1)  where did “mother” come from?  Is she an alien or an artistic embodiment of the White Goddess as I believe she must be?

2) how could she grant immortality to Jacob and his brother the Monster?

3)  what is the source?  What is its relation to the Earth?

4)  Why do we need a new “Jacob”

5)  Why did series not show what happened to final plane (with Miles, Kate, Sawyer) when they went home?

6)  Who are the others?

7)  why was Walt kidnapped?

8)  why were others infertile?

9)  why did others kill all Dharma people?

10)  why did Ben never see Jacob….and why was Ben the leader of the Others?

11)  who was supposed to be good and who bad in the show?

12)  Was Claudia (the real mother of Jacob and the Monster) an early Christian–she spoke Latin and named her son Jacob…a common name among early Christians who would have used Old Testament Saint names for the first few hundred years if naming a child after a saint?)  Of course, St. Claudia is a New Testament name as well….St. Claudia, the mother of St. Linus…I’ve heard that St. Claudia was an exceptionally beautiful saint…the most beautiful of them all.  🙂

If my bro is right then only the sidewise timeline of season 6 was not real, but I would like some answers to these questions.

–Pio

p.s.  it’s good to be back

Lost in Translation

My VERY hastily written two cents:

Well, the day we were all waiting for has come and gone.  Lost’s two and a half hour series finale aired last Sunday.  I want to make a few general comments about the show and I will post several more specific posts about different aspects of the show in the future.  Three things I will blog about later are the significance of the number sequence (4,8,15,16,23,42), the literary allusions in Lost, and the mystical import of the series.

For now…general comments:   I think the first season of Lost is as close to perfection as a television show can be.  Every episode advanced the plot, while at the same time introducing new mysteries.  Every episode revealed new information about the characters through their present actions and through the show’s innovative flashbacks.  I remember my pleasure at watching the first season–it seemed like a 26 hour film–I thought, finally a show that has the quality of a motion picture, but uses the extra length that a television show affords to superb effect.  Every 1st season episode was brilliant (even the Sawyer/boar episode).

The writers and producers of Lost admitted being influenced by The Twilight Zone, which was, in my opinion, the greatest science fiction show of them all.  What made The Twilight Zone so effective was its great writing with its famous surprise endings, but also the advantage that an episodic television show has in being able to continually present the audience with new and innovative plot twists.  Star Trek profited by a similar episodic structure:  each week entailed a new mission and a new adventure.  

The first season of Lost was similar in having new adventures each episode (for the island was mysterious), but also its depiction of strong and well-developed characters that only deepened the more we found out about them.   These early episodes of Lost had the perfect balance of novelty (in its plot) and increasing depth (in its characters).

Lost’s second season began to narrow the show’s focus and solve some of the mysteries of the island.  The writers went in a direction that I certainly would not have, but it was still entertaining and the characters’ lives and natures continued to deepen.  Mr. Eko was a very promising character–a priest that the “monster” seemingly could not attack, but then the actor who portrayed Mr. Eko decided he was tired of the show (specifically tired of filming the show in Hawaii!), so he left it.  Thus, Mr. Eko was retconned to have been a fake priest and the character was killed by the emboldened “monster.”  My favorite second season episode was “Dave,” an insightful psychological drama.

The show’s third season was, in my opinion, a disaster.  Nothing new was really revealed about the characters and the viewers spent twelve episodes watching Jack sitting in an empty aquarium tank.  The simultaneous following of multiple plot lines essentially ended and we were forced to watch either Jack sitting in an aquarium for an ENTIRE episode or to watch something seemingly random and meaningless happen at the beach.  The best episode was “Expose.”  An episode that contained flashbacks to the previous seasons.  Hmmmm.

In seasons four and five I found myself frequently asking what the hell is going on.  The plot unfortunately seemed to have been reduced to different groups of people or even individuals walking back and forth on the Island.  Walking from the beach to the Orchid Station…from the Barracks to the forest…from Jacob’s cabin to the Hydra Island…etc, etc, etc…The flashforwards were interesting and there was some suspense at trying to figure out who the “Oceanic Six” were, but ultimately there seemed little point to six of them getting off the island, only to have them all go right back.  When the freighter people were first mentioned I was interested:  wow, freighter people, cool.  Are they ghosts, aliens, ruthless “others” who will capture the survivors and perform genetic experiments on  them?  None of the above:  they were scientists who were meant to replace the characters who had been killed off already on the show.  😦

Season six began with two plotlines running:  one if the Island had blown up in 1977, and one where it hadn’t.  The parallel plotline (if the Island blew up in 1977) seemed to have completely random changes in the characters’ lives.  It might have been interesting, but it seems they were all really dead in the parallel universe anyway, so it’s almost like it didn’t matter.  “Alliances” between characters switched in every episode and I never understood who any of the new characters were or what they were doing.  Who are the “others”?  They became less powerful, interesting, and well-defined with every passing episode.  Jacob is the Island’s protector, but what is the Island?  Why does it need protecting?  The show had moved away from the Island being a mystery since the second season when the show became about the conflict between the different groups on the Island for control of the Island, for reasons that remain unknown. 

The parallel plotlines of season six had the characters reliving many moments from earlier seasons:  Desmond watches Charlie fall into water, Kate helps Claire give birth, Ben Linus is beaten, etc, etc, etc….I wanted to scream:  “I don’t need to see Claire give birth again; I saw it the first time.” 

 

One of the greatest disappointments for t.v. viewers in the 1980s was the series finale of the hospital drama St. Elsewhere.  In the St. Elsewhere finale, it was revealed that the entire show had been an autistic child’s fantasy.  Viewers were not happy.  People like to think they are watching something real…it aids in our illusion that we are not wasting our time watching t.v. in the first place.

With Lost’s finale, I definitely got the sense that we were to understand the Island as a type of dream-purgatory (although–not a purgatory in harmony with a Christian understanding of the term, but an understanding of purgatory formed from popular psychology).  I think we were supposed to understand the entire series as the dead passengers’ chance to find meaning before they move on to “the light.”  So, then, does the Island represent our subconscious…what we have to make peace with before we move on?  Does it represent our collective unconscious (that might explain the seeming White Goddess imagery used in “Across the Sea”)?  

Hmmm…not a good basis for a t.v. show, in my opinion.  Especially since it seems a little narcissistic for a purgatory to exist for the sake of helping incomplete people to discover their lives’ true meaning and significance:  the Island as psychotherapist.  If this line of thinking is correct then Jacob and “the Monster” would represent different aspects of our unconsciosness…how “archetypical.”

So to summarize…Lost is a show that took its greatest strength (its focus on character) and turned it into its greatest weakness.  While the characters advanced or gained depth in season one and two, they seemed to move in circles by seasons three through six.  Plot became almost non-existant by the series’ end.  The show became a perpetual character study that was perpetuated by events that were illogical from a plot standpoint, but necessary to continue to focus on watching characters interact.  The mysteries of the Island seemed to disappear by season three:  the “others” had no point, the island did not seem to have a point, the Egyptian goddess statue did not have a point, Jacob did not have a point, etc…

I think if the writing had been tighter from the beginning the show would have been much better.  If the writers would have had a clear vision of the story’s overall plot-arc, then some of the inconsistencies and false starts could have been avoided.  Over all–it was an enjoyable series to watch, but I feel it could have been much better.

–pio

The End of Lost: Finding Yourself

Just a quick note on the end of Lost.  I will be posting more later.

The series is finally over, and yes there are still unanswered questions.  However, I would argue they could not reasonably answer every question they raised, and like life Lost was ultimately not so much about answering questions or revealing mysteries, but rather was about finding yourself and understanding your choices.

As Rose tells Jack in the first flash sideways scene on Oceanic 815, “you can let go now”

I think that is good advice that we could all listen to, especially those fans who are upset that the producers decided not to explicitly spell out every mystery in the final episode.

KEM

Under the tongue root, a fight most dread, and another raging behind in the head

(The goddess Taweret, in whose pedestal Jacob lives, is a version of the primeval White Goddess)

The television show Lost is almost over.  Its series finale will air this Sunday (in the U.S.) on all ABC affiliates.

I am still organizing my thoughts on the series, which will be easier to do after the conclusion airs on Sunday.  Kevin and I will be making several posts over the next few weeks summarizing our ideas on what it all meant.

Let me offer some quick initial thoughts as to my impressions of recent episodes.  Specifically, I want to talk about the mythology that might underlie the series:

SPOILERS BELOW:

Concerning Jacob/his brother/their “mother”:

The character of “mother” and her two sons, one dark and one light, remind me of the primordial deity that was worshipped in Europe from the stone age until relatively recent times:  the White Goddess.  The White Goddess had twin sons–the hero and his weird (often depicted as a monster or dragon), one light and one dark–that would engage in an eternal struggle (linked with the changes of the seasons) for the love of their mother/bride.  The White Goddess was a death goddess as well–which would explain some of the things that “mother” was able to do in the episode “Across the Sea.”  The WG was also understood as a goddess of the oceans…hence “mother” ruling on an island, and the island being the setting for the show.  Notice in the Apocalypse of St. John, in the new Heaven and the new Earth there will be no sea. 

I am familiar with the pagan concept of The White Goddess primarily from reading Robert Graves’ book (of the same name) around 20 times when I was between 20 and 24 years of age.  It is a fascinating book and religious concept, but ultimeately…it is a religion based in and on nature.  It lacks the transcendant concepts and goals that Christianity possesses.   

The contrast in Lost is between light and dark…which is not quite the same as between good and evil.

more later……….

–pio

Review of District 9: Becoming the Other

District 9 is a science fiction thriller released on August 14th, 2009.  It is unique in many ways including the cinematography style that was used, which mixed a realistic documentary style with over the top action, and the way it incorporated powerful themes such as seeing the other as ourselves, xenophobia, historic analogies with Apartheid, and international corporations replacing governments among others.  This review will contain a few spoilers so if you have not seen the movie you may want to see it before finishing this.  Suffice it to say that I recommend this film highly and although it is far from perfect it strongly challenges our assumptions about the world and ourselves.  It is a breath of fresh air in the recent history of science fiction films and hopefully it will inspire directors,  producers, and writers to create similar movies that force us to reflect upon ourselves and the future that we are creating.

The story begins with a space ship full of worker aliens, with no apparent leadership, that comes to hover above Johannesburg, South Africa.  Despite being able to hover miles above the ground the ship is otherwise disabled and inert.  Three months after the ship arrived humans make the next move breaking into the ship.  Inside they find thousands of aliens dieing of thirst and hunger and they relocate them to the surface in what will become District 9 inside the city of Johannesburg.  20 years pass and District 9 has quickly become a slum with all the crime and issues that impoverished areas are prone to such as drug trafficking, weapon and technology smuggling, and other problems.  At the same time the MNU (Multi National Union), a corporation with a large military force and a scientific research branch, has taken control of MNU and also failed to understand any of the aliens advanced technology, which is keyed to the aliens DNA.

The narrative follows Wikus van de Merwe who is a seemingly inept mid level manager at MNU.  He is put in charge of the forced relocation of the aliens from District 9 in Johannesburg to District 10 away from the city by his father-in-law who is in charge of MNU.  During the relocation as Wikus and hundreds of MNU mercenaries and bureaucrats gather signatures from the aliens legally permitting the MNU to move them Wikus in injured and comes into contact with a mysterious liquid.  That night after suffering a nose bleed with a black liquid coming out of his nose he discovers that his injured arm is changing into an alien arm as he heals.  He panics and is taken into custody by MNU where they plan to harvest his hybrid genes for their weapon programs.  He manages to escape and runs for District 9 where he hides from them.  At this point his previous immoral actions of lying to the aliens, and heartlessly destroying a nest of their eggs among other actions begin to come back to haunt him.  Over the course of the movie Wikus begins to understand the aliens as he slowly becomes more and more like them.  By the end of the film he has joined them in their resistance against the MNU and other human oppressors such as the Nigerian gangsters.  The ending of the film is hopeful but at the same time tinged with a realism that we cannot turn away from as we face the hope and the fear that are a part of our humanity.

One of the strongest symbols in the film is the obvious analogy to Apartheid in South Africa.  District 9 is a direct comparison to the real Distract 6 in Cape Town, which was declared a “whites only” zone forcing non-Europeans to relocate to another area sometimes leaving homes they had lived in for generations.  District 9 shows us in stark relief how difficult it is for humanity to learn from its past mistakes and how very easy it is to always fall into the same traps of hatred, fear, and oppression.  No matter the time or place we must always struggle with our fear of the “other” whether they are a different race, social class, or culture or if they are a completely different species.  We must be vigilant and follow the highest of God’s commandments of treating our neighbors as ourselves.  It is only then that we will begin to truly create God’s kingdom here on Earth.

The answer to the fear of the other in the film is to take on the perspective, literally in this case, of the other.  In one sense this is the classic tale of someone in the leadership falling from grace and becoming one of the oppressed.  Only then do they begin to understand the magnitude of their sin.  But in District 9 Wikus’ perspective is not changed by him simply falling out of favor, but in true sci-fi fashion, he is genetically altered and slowly becomes one of the aliens.  This is a drastic shift, but one that clearly shows how we can hope to gain understanding of the other by trying to take on their point of view and to see the world how they see it.  In addition to understanding his new neighbors by becoming like them Wikus also takes action in the end, after a rather steep learning curve, to help them repair their ship.  One last theme I’ll mention is the importance of family throughout the film.  Wikus repeatedly called his wife during his run from the MNU and was always trying to get back to her as he slowly lost his physical humanity.  Also Christopher, one of the leading alien characters, had a son who was very important to him and who was a pretty cute kid, from an alien perspective.  Both Wikus and Christopher place a high value on family values.  To juxtapose the importance of family and to strengthen Wikus’ sin in the beginning of the film one of the most difficult moments to sit through was when Wikus found an unlicensed nest of alien eggs and set them afire.  He explained to the television camera that the popping noises the eggs made as they exploded were just like popcorn.

The only major issue I had with the film was the extreme violence that ran though out it.  Especially in the last 20 or 30 minutes during the climax of the film all of the stops were pulled out and District 9 become a literal war zone with modern and alien weapons firing left and right.  The extreme violence, while it fit well with the documentary style of the film, was a bit of a turn off for me.  Above and beyond that however is how the climax felt.  It seemed to be a very different sort of movie as Wikus and Christopher ran through District 9 dodging bullets.  While it doesn’t break the movie it was a bit abrupt and seemed to take a step away from the thoughtfulness of the first part of the movie.

Overall, I think the movie was excellent and by showing Wikus becoming the “other” it delved into the depths of the human spirit showing the vast potential that is there but also the fear and the hopelessness that we have embraced in this world.  Like all great science fiction movies this film goes beyond the known world showing aliens and high technology, but ultimately shows us ourselves in this moment and offers us a choice about the type of future we want to create.

KEM

What is science fiction–that we are mindful of it?

Hugo Greensback once observed that science fiction is…whatever science fiction editors buy.  An observation that does much to demonstrate the broad variety of themes, plots, settings, and characters that make-up stories within the science fiction genre.  Tom Shippey refers to science fiction stories as being best described as “fabril” fiction [fabril=a smith/technician].  That is, fiction that is concerned with the implications of technolgy and/or life in industrial and post-industrial settings.  Science fiction is thus seen as literature that stands in opposition to pastoral literature.  Science fiction puts characters, the human character, in settings that challenge us to define the scope of our humanity, the limits of our humanity and indeed even the nature of our humanity in view of scientific advances and the accompanying social changes that surround post-industrial mankind.

So I view science fiction as the definitive modern genre.  A genre that allows humanity to express the eternal questions (who are we, why are we here, what is our eternal destiny?) in a post-industrial, post-modern world (some would even claim that, with the advances in AI and the manipulation of the human genome, we will soon be living in a post-human world).  Science fiction is often able to communicate ideas to the modern mind through symbolism, allegory, and metaphor that the more traditional genres of literature/film are able to do now. 

Soon I will write a post describing what science itself is, and to what extent the modern world is defined by and saturated with science, and why science fiction does so well to speak to humanity living in this modern scientific context.

–pio