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Posts tagged as “SF”

Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth

Recently I finished The Wizard, the second part of Gene Wolfe’s Wizard Knight. I enjoyed it, even if reading it on the train made me feel like I was reading The Dungeonmaster’s Guide or something similarly dorktastic. Wolfe’s writing is strange and dense. Making sense of the story is like a puzzle, with details casually dropped and hinted at throughout. There’s a genuine sense of satisfaction when you recall a tidbit that gets paid off 300 pages later.

My current novel is Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, a novel my mom recommended to me last summer. Apparently Follett makes most of his living as writer on techno-spy thriller kinds of books, a genre with which my mother is definitely enamored. I have never read one of his books before, and, honestly, I probably won’t. I’m a hundred pages into this one and I just don’t like it, even though I’m whipping through it. His writing is flavorless to me, mechanical. He tells too much and explains too much. As in films or theatre, I want characters to be mysteries we as audience member or reader need to unwrap. I am always fond of the unreliable narrator in books since it provides me with another level of something to work out in the novel. I’m not just trying to decipher the plot, but also the true nature of the protagonist. That is enticing.

But Follett leaves little of his characters’s motivations to the imagination. Rather, he spells them out for us like an elementary school teacher explaining long division to a third grader. It’s like a popcorn movie where every last beat is obvious, clear from the outset, where vagueness is alien. You don’t have to think to understand what’s happening; you’re being told. It’s the clear opposite of Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, a novel I struggled with a bit last year for all its deliberate lack of clarity.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the novel will develop into some tightly plotted, brilliantly executed mesh of interwoven plotlines and characters over the next 880 pages. It certainly has the space for it. But maybe it won’t. I’m not exactly ready to give up on it yet, but if it doesn’t turn around real fast, it’s entering the discard pile.

A Timeline of Science Fiction’s Futures

I didn’t make this, but Dan meth did.


Here is a link to the full-sized image.

I love shit like this. I’m sure many of you know that I have been happily counting down until 2019 which is the year that Blade Runner takes place. To have so much of my favorite science fiction laid out all in one handy place for easy digestion is amazing. It makes you wonder if Philip K. Dick had the same world in mind for his three pieces of work on the list—Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report.

And how about Zardoz? Awesome.

Isaac Asimov on Living in a Science Fictional world

This is the first time I’ve ever actually heard Isaac Asimov’s voice. This clip is pretty short, but I like the idea of science fiction becoming reality. Asimov describes it here from his perspective in the 1970s, a world of growing computational power, post-space travel, the emergence of the technologies that would change the world over the next few decades. But, for us living in the 21st century, we can see the way that films like Star Wars and television shows like Star Trek have affected the development of current technologies. I mean, what is an iPhone except a Tricorder that actually works? Have you seen the androids being made in Japan?

Nexus 6s, here we come.



seal_of_approvalJuli and I watched Sunshine tonight, the 2007 Danny Boyle film about a group of astronauts on a mission to give the sun a kick start. I heard a lot of bad mouthing about it when it came out and it scared me away from the theatre, but having seen it I have no idea what people were complaining about. It was great. I know some people thought the midmovie twist was weak, but it worked for me. It’s no feel-good movie, and it shouldn’t be. It’s bleak, filled with tension and despair, and wonderful. It is a science fiction film yes, but it almost crosses the line of being a horror film in outer space. The film is a spiritual descendant of Ridley Scott’s Alien, but lacks the more overt horror elements. It is also clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but lacks the oblique abstraction. It’s a different beast altogether and I loved it. Approved. I’m only disappointed that I didn’t go see it theatrically.

Plot aside, the film is just fucking beautiful. Alwin Küchler’s cinematography has to be some of the most beautiful work done last year, right up there with The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford. The film’s CGI is stunning, but the real beauty is in the delicate, painterly photography that is rich and sumptuous while portraying the stark bleakness of the crew’s predicament alone in the far reaches of our solar system on a mission to save mankind. One shot that stands out is early in the film when the ship psychiatrist is sitting in the observation room and there is an extreme close-up of his eye behind sunglasses and the depth of field must have been something like a centimeter, yet Küchler totally nails it, giving us this extremely distorted yet recognizable, intimate shot of the man’s eye as he stares straight into the sun. And the blurry camera work in the end sequence? Holy crap. Just astounding. A truly incredible accomplishment.

Holy crap! This yet again proves that Japan is the future.

Scientists extract images directly from brain

Researchers from Japan’s ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have developed new brain analysis technology that can reconstruct the images inside a person’s mind and display them on a computer monitor, it was announced on December 11. According to the researchers, further development of the technology may soon make it possible to view other people’s dreams while they sleep.

The scientists were able to reconstruct various images viewed by a person by analyzing changes in their cerebral blood flow. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, the researchers first mapped the blood flow changes that occurred in the cerebral visual cortex as subjects viewed various images held in front of their eyes. Subjects were shown 400 random 10 x 10 pixel black-and-white images for a period of 12 seconds each. While the fMRI machine monitored the changes in brain activity, a computer crunched the data and learned to associate the various changes in brain activity with the different image designs.

Then, when the test subjects were shown a completely new set of images, such as the letters N-E-U-R-O-N, the system was able to reconstruct and display what the test subjects were viewing based solely on their brain activity.

Seriously? That SHIT IS AWESOME. Computers used to read the visual data people’s eyes send to their brains? WHAT THE FUCK?!? Who told Japan that they could live inside a SF book? Do I actually need to say anything else? The answer is No.

Max von Sydow is the killer.

Minority Report, the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielbergo film based on a PKD story of the same name, was a pretty solid SF action film. It is by no means perfect, but it does have a whole lot of awesome about it. There are some solid chase scenes, massive action, a good twist (but not good enough not to be predictable), and an unsurprisingly rad cameo by Peter Stormare.

It also features one of the coolest near-future SF computer interfaces I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with the thing Deckard uses in Blade Runner to search through the picture. Well, apparently, some group of genius geeks (I love you) have built a real working version. All it needs is the holographic display and we’ll be in business. I’ll take two.

Check out the video.

g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

How rad is that shit?