Sunday, November 13, 2005

Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, and SciFi

I hated Star Wars before hating Star Wars was cool.

Not just the new movies either. All of them. I should qualify that a little. They're fine, very entertaining movies. They're horrible science fiction though, and they dealt a blow to science fiction that has taken years to recover from. Star Wars made it acceptible, even preferable, for scifi to be stupid. In the Seventies, science fiction in film was reaching a level that only existed in print. It was using the medium to ask fundamental questions about society, the nature of reality and what it means to be human. A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, THX1138 are some good examples. The only new ground Star Wars broke was in special effects. The story was cliche, the characters stock characters used countless times before. It was essentially pornography with special effects substituted for sex. But it was successful, and every science fiction film that came after it was compared to it. How many, "It's this years Star Wars!!!!" have we seen? As if that is a good thing. So science fiction movies aspired to the lowest common denominator, and most of them still do.

Science fiction on television, however, is striving for greatness. One of the latest success stories, Battlestar Galactica, is no exception. From the creative genius behind Galactica, Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica Blog: "It probably says something about me that I found that very notion to be antithetical to the underpinnings of a decent and democratic society, and I remember the very conscious choice I made in the early stages of this project that while Colonial society was going to be flawed and riddled with problems, that at its base, it was going to be a fundamentally decent and democratic one. It was not going to toss its principles over the side in a time of crisis. It was not going to turn itself into a security-above-all state. There were certain things that mattered more than survival, certain things that mattered more than safety. They were going to hang on to their government and their rights as citizens as best they could under the situation, and would give up those rights and freedoms only grudgingly. "

This is what the best science fiction is all about. It is more than just creating special effects and weird aliens. The best science fiction examines the world in which we live from a perspective that we can only get from sci fi. One could write a column about post 9-11 USA and how, in giving up our freedoms, launching a war of aggression, and accepting the use of torture and so on we become a "security-above-all state," and that there are more important things to hang onto. The people who agree with you already will read it for their personal affirmation, and the rest will ignore it. But Moore shows us a "fictional" society, going through a crisis not completely unlike our own, and shows other possible alternatives for how we might react to the crisis. For all its special effects and melodrama, it still has the "ring of truth." It is a fun house mirror that reflects us. Even if the image is altered, it is still us in the reflection. The best science fiction isn't about a galaxy far, far away. It is about who we are. In the hands of the best creators, like Ron Moore, we only notice this in retrospect.

Friday, November 11, 2005

CommonPlot: The Mummy Variation

Long ago and far away, the princess was raised in isolation from all males. She's being raised to become the bride of the god. She must be kept pure or the god will be offended. What she doesn't realize is that her marriage is also her death.

A young commoner from the villiage sneaks into her palace. They fall in love. He knows that she's going to be sacrificed but doesn't let on. Knowing that only virgins can be given to the god, he thinks that she'll be safe if she isn't one.

Their love is discovered and the boy is murdered in front of her. Since in dying she would go to the god, the priests use their ancient magicks to make her immortal and she's cast out into the world, driven away from her home.

She wanders the world for millenia, looking for the reincarnation of her lost love. Finally, she finds him, but he's a 70 year old Catholic priest.


I wrote this story about 15 years ago. I was trying to come up with more contemporary/realistic "horror," trying to figure out what is really scary. Monsters and psycho killers and such are scary, but not things we encounter regularly. Existential crisis, not understanding the point to existence, the possibility that there is no point, these things were much scarier to me at the time. What if one lived for centuries but were no closer to finding any sort of truth? That was the theme the first time around.

Over time, my immortal girl had forgotten most of the details of her first love, remebering them as facts but not the feelings. She doesn't remember if it was worth it to be punished for all of eternity. In seeking the reincarnation of her lost love she's not so much looking for love as looking to remember and understand. When she meets the priest she remembers that spark she felt so long ago. Even if she can't do anything about it now, she knows that the love was real. Since she's immortal, she can wait for another reincarnation.

I rewrote the story a few years later. That time around, the immortal gal came to terms with her existence after a few centuries. She was able to figure out how to be happy & was really enjoying her immortality. Immortality stories tend to be downers, but I don't think this would neccessarily be the case. You'd learn to cope with the fact that you'd outlive everyone you know and love, but you'd meet new people all the time. You'd have time to fix whatever mistakes you made and so on.

The story was inspired by the classic movie Robot vs. The Aztec Monster, a Mexican Wrestling Women movie, which was a ripoff of Universal's original The Mummy, only with wrestling women and a robot. But the Mummy theme has a unique twist that is different from other horror movies. In most horror movies, extramarital sex is punished by death. In The Mummy it is punished with immortality. In the original Mummy movies, the Mummy changes, subjected to the ravages of time even though he is immortal, while the reincarnated love keeps coming back as the same person (sans memory of her past selves). The "invention" in this version is that the immortal lover stays the same (physically at least) while the reincarnated comes back so radically differnt that there is no way they can resume their prior relationship.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Chaos Magick = Cultural Imperialism?

There've been some interesting discussions going on as to whether chaos magick is a form of cultural imperialism at Key23 and Barbelith. I think it probably is, but that cultural imperialism isn't always a bad thing. Chaos magick essentially says to use whatever parts of other religions and mystical or magical traditions you see fit. It is cultural imperialism in the way that non-Rastafarians sporting dredlocks or rock stars claiming to be Kabbalists are cultural imperialists. On the one hand, there's something vaguely offensive about it, but I'm not sure if finding this offensive is just my "liberal white guilt" talking. I'm culturally and religiously agnostic. I've no icons or anything that I identify as sacred that, if someone else started adopting it as a fashion statement I'd really care about. How would it be to be Jewish and suddenly find everyone wearing yarmalukes because they were fashionable? Would it devalue your own experience of wearing the yarmaluke? Chaos magick is a little different from appropriating other's religious attributes for mere fashion statements. A chaos magician might appropriate the Rastafarian's dredlocks and the faith behind them, and use them to worship Eris instead of Ja.

I can see this as imperialism. I can also see it as remix culture taken a step further. We're all cultural imperialists at some level, appropriating the creations of those before us to serve our current beliefs. Maybe it isn't imperialism at all, just culture.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

CommonPlot: Evil Genius

CommonPlot is an ongoing series of plot ideas, characters, settings and other story elements I'm putting out under the Creative Commons license for everyone to use. Given the current climate of ever expanding Copyright laws that are harmful to society and creativity, and the new nonsense of plot patents, I want to do my small part to keep the world of imagination free and open. Please help!

I was watching the latest Teen Titans last night. They were battling Doctor Light, a supervillian who creates inventions that let him manipulate light. He can make it solid, or turn it into energy blasts or use it in other ways. So I'm wondering, if he's so smart that he can invent stuff like that, why would he be a villain?

The CommonPlot element I'm contributing today is an evil genius character. Not that there's anything new about evil geniuses. The "invention" I'm adding is motivation. Take the example of Art Fry, the man who invented the Post-It note. It made 3M millions, if not billions of dollars. Since Fry was under contract to 3M, they own his invention and he got nothing more than a, "Thanks, Art, what else you got for us?" from 3M.

Lets say someone like Doctor Light came up with a great invention while working for a company. The only way he himself could actually benefit from his invention would be to turn criminal! For a fun twist, he could borrow a costume design of some comic book character in an obscure comic from a company that's been out of business since the 50s, only to discover that it is still copyrighted. So his turn to villiany is based on breach of contract, patent infringement, and copyright violation. These are, of course, gateway crimes, leading to bank robbing, drug traffiking and murder.