Monthly Archives: December 2014

Everything Old is Even Older Again

Contra Naomi Klein… dystopian fiction was popular in the 1970s, too:

…Naomi Klein apparently has no idea whatsoever that the 1970s was probably the Golden Age of Dystopian fiction, Eco-collapse edition.  Including, I might add, a lot of overconfident predictions about global warming that never actually happened.  In fact, pretty much none of the things that were worried about then – overpopulation, choking pollution, the loss of every species less hardy than the cockroach, nuclear war, mass famine, running out of oil, running out of water, running out of air, and of course the obligatory dictatorships made up of the authors’ least favorite American social groups – didn’t actually happen, either.

Funny, I noticed this zeitgeist while re-reading some 1970s Larry Niven recently. Overpopulation in particular seems to have been a major theme of 1970s science fiction, much as mainstream SF today obsesses over “global warming”. The only thing new in what Klein notes as a new thing is that the popular dystopias of today involve young adults.

I disagree with Lane, though, in his assessment of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not that Atwood’s predictions were spectacularly wrong, it’s that she cast as the implementers of her dystopian future the religion she personally dislikes rather than the religion which actually implements the horrors she predicts in contemporary reality.

Review: Interstellar

Interstellar - GargantuaI’m posting this review of Interstellar, belatedly, because I felt I had to see it again before commenting on its greatness as well as its few shortcomings. There was just too much to absorb and appreciate in one viewing. I’ll be careful with my wording to avoid spoilers.

Knowing the basic premise— explorers are searching for a habitable home for humanity to save them from a dying Earth, helped by unknown, advanced “bulk beings” who have opened a wormhole near Saturn for our use—I had initial trepidation that I was in for a Climate Change lecture. That notion was dispelled on the first viewing. Sure there’s a dust-bowl type blight that is wiping out crops and threatening what’s left of mankind; but this is just the impetus—the McGuffin if you will—to provide the urgency that drives the action. Some elements leading up to the climax were a bit too contrived for my taste, but overall it’s a great story with a strong cast, tension, and visuals that won’t let anyone down.  The script is excellent, with the exception of one criticism I’ll go into below.

Unlike so many recent Sci-Fi films, this one consistently makes a case for space exploration and advancement. A particularly powerful and effective scene involves a parent-teacher conference where Cooper has to process the absurdity his daughter’s suspension. Murphy’s transgression? She got into a fight after bringing a non-sanitized textbook to school; one that hadn’t been “corrected” to show that the Apollo landings were an elaborate hoax.

Cooper: You don’t believe we went to the Moon?

Teacher: I believe it was a brilliant piece of propaganda, that the Soviets bankrupted themselves pouring resources into rockets and other useless machines…

Cooper: Useless machines?

Teacher: And if we don’t want a repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th Century then we need to teach our kids about this planet, not tales of leaving it.

Cooper: You know, one of those useless machines they used to make was called an MRI, and if we had one of those left the doctors would have been able to find the cyst in my wife’s brain, before she died instead of afterwards, and then she would’ve been the one sitting here, listening to this instead of me, which would’ve been a good thing because she was always the…calmer one.

Wow, not the kind of thoughtful dialog you expect in a film like this, but most welcome and expertly delivered.  It’s something we were keen to include in In The Shadow of Ares, and what is so often missing from the anti-human, Luddite drivel we’ve come to expect.  The humor is also excellent, particularly the interaction between the humans and robotic character TARS.

Where I was a little let down by the dialog was during the climax where Cooper solves the mystery of the bulk beings.  Cooper works out the details in a conversation TARS that is perfectly set up to avoid exposition, yet ends up feeling like just that.  Complicated conclusions end up being stated more than worked out. This important scene, and the accompanying dialog, could have been extended slightly and improved greatly.  I have my fingers crossed that this is addressed in the Director’s Cut.

While Interstellar is brilliant on so many levels, it’s the human element that really surprised me.  Ultimately it’s a story about our relationships and obligations to those we love, particularly our children.  Two scenes in particular, between Cooper and Murphy, are perhaps the most powerful I have ever seen.