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Movie Reviews:

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Andrea -- saw your Dec 3rd post mentioning Buffy... I just had to respond.

Yes, Buffy kicks ass. I deeply lamented its passage from television -- when it was still being made, it was among the best shows available this side of the border. While the acting wasn't anything too impressive, it was passably competent, and the scriptwriting and direction was truly superb.

I've got the first three seasons on DVD (the 3rd is my favourite, mainly because of the Mayor). Something I noticed about the show is that each season has a different theme. Season 2, for example, is all about love, so the majority of the episodes explore different aspects of love (its beautiful side, its ugly side, etc); Season 3's theme is Coming of Age -- hence, it's about the last year of high school, the mayor's trying to ascend to become a demon after a centuries-long plan, Xander loses his virginity, etc. You get the idea.

Anyway, a fanboy like me just couldn't pass up the opportunity to comment on the show's merits. The RPG is pretty good, too.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 4:05 p.m.


Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Well, now that I'm done with that nastiness that is J.G. Ballard's Crash, I can get back to stuff that I actually enjoy reading.

William Gibson - Burning Chrome

I can't say I'm an avid fan of cyberpunk... I was obsessed with the genre for about two weeks sometime in '97, until I realized just how tired and worn the genre is. The entire experience left with with an appreciation for the Steampunk off-shoot genre, which has seen far less coverage and still strikes my fancy now and again, but beyond that I'm fairly ambivalent towards cyberpunk as a whole.

Of course, cyberpunk as an official genre of science fiction has been with us since 1980 when the term was coined (in an issue of AMAZING magazine, if I recall correctly). It refers to the edgy, high-tech, high-grit science fiction that became prevalent during the 80's. For some reason (perhaps because they were popular around the same time; perhaps because they often overlap in terms of themes and motifs) I always associate cyberpunk with post-apocalyptic sci-fi...

Eventually, noir-ish aspects wormed their way into the cyberpunk genre, which is when all things cyberpunkish truly began to shine -- largely, I think, thanks to the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (better known now as Blade Runner). Occasionally fantasy would get mixed with cyberpunk, which would end in bizarre cyber-Science-Fantasy-punk creations like the Shadowrun RPG. But now I'm getting *WAY* off topic...

While Wiliam Gibson didn't quite invent the genre, he was probably cyberpunk's foster father nevertheless, and championed the genre through its troubled infancy in the 80's. He *did* invent the word cyberspace; I previously thought that he created it in his book Neuromancer, however Burning Chrome actually predates Neuromancer by two years... So, near as I can tell, the word was first used in the short story in question.

Anyway, enough background -- now for the story itself.

Here we're presented with two male perspectives of women (or, at least, a woman) through the voice of the narrator and the narrator's views of his partner-in-crime. A classic love-triangle. Bobby sees Rikki as more of a part of the environment: meeting her is simply a sign of his burgeoning good luck, and seducing and claiming her are merely rituals he performs in order to keep his luck going. Several times he refers to her as "his luck," which angers Jack to no end. The love Bobby feels for Rikki is superficial and mostly meaningless, while the love Jack feels for her is more substantial and meaningful (or at least he believes it to be); it's Jack who worries for her safety when he and Bobby risk angering a powerful mob figure.

The story doesn't take a particularly enlightened view of gender relations, but then again it isn't particularly bad, either. Rikki is presented as foolish and young, someone who needs protection. However, there's also Chrome, a powerful woman involved with the next generation of organized crime, who could crush not only Bobby and Automatic Jack, but anyone even vaguely associated with them should she want to (as long as she did so prior to her assets being destroyed). The only thing that keeps this from being a fair balance, in my mind, is the fact that Chrome runs a hybrid crack/whore-house, as if those particular vices are the only ones a felicitous woman could excel in. It's a shame Chrome wasn't running a protection racket or a smuggling scheme instead...

Perhaps to contrast the romantic, unconsummated (and unrequited) love Automatic Jack feels toward Rikki, Gibson gives us the entirely impersonal sexuality that can be found in the House of Blue Lights. At first I wondered why Gibson named in the House of Blue Lights instead of the House of Red Lights (thereby better associating it with the classic Red Light districts), when I realized that he was trying to create a colder imagery -- red is far too hot and passionate a colour for the cold, technical physicality that's found in Chrome's house of ill repute. We learn through Automatic Jack's description of the goings-on within that people are reduced to the mechanics of their bodies -- proprietors pay to be with a not-someone. It's a dehumanizing experience for both parties, even by the standards of prostitution.

I'm not sure what else to say about this one, so I'll move on for now.

Candas Jane Dorsey - (Learning About) Machine Sex

"The internet was invented by the American military back in the late 60's. It was designed to be a durable, scalable, de-centralized information delivery-system, so in the event of a nuclear attack, American military leaders would still have access to pornography. The internet is really an astounding pornography-delivering vehicle..."
-"Keep Your Parents Off The Internet," Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie

Hmm... Sex with a machine. Of course, such a device as machine sex is frankly inevitable as technology progresses. Sad, but true. However, this is nothing new and I doubt if anyone would be surprised to hear it.

Still, Dorsey presents a particularly bleak view of human sexuality. She tries to set up the idea that machine sex is a replacement for traditional sexuality... Moreover, that it is a truly perverse one. If a person could have sex with a machine, what would we need sexual partners for? How important is that human intimacy, particularly if a computer could be taught to feign it through an advanced A.I.?

(Of course, it kind of breaks down should the A.I. be a true sentience, since in this case it becomes inter-species intimacy rather than a feigned intimacy... But... well, I guess that's besides the point.)

(Also incidentally, I get the feeling that Dorsey is very much against the concept of "Work for Hire" contracts...)

There's some significance in the fact that this advanced sex toy is called a Mannboard; I think she was trying to say that such a thing would mostly appeal to men, particularly the sleazy objectifying men that are the Whitmans of the world, ones who were never looking for intimacy to begin with. She's probably right in this guess -- if I recall, three times as many men look at pornography as do women (though this is probably skewed somewhat from the truth, since it's based on surveys and men are more willing to admit they look at pornography than women are). In a way, it reminds me somewhat of the Tessels; Angel is surrounded by men with predatory sexualities, so she gives them an alternate victim. Not as morally ambiguous, of course, since the Mannboards aren't helpless, living things. Also different because Angel is actually preying upon their sexuality as she has been preyed upon... But the parallel's still there, if a little weak.

Overall, I don't think I cared much for this story. It wasn't particularly bad, per se, but it didn't catch my interest or imagination the way some other stories have. Oh, well -- they can't all be winners...

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 5:54 p.m.


Playing catch-up here...

J.G. Ballard - Crash

And I thought I hated reading Jane Eyre.

There's a saying I've heard once or thrice that every personal library should have one book that can offend anybody. Well, now my library has such a book, and it's name is Crash.

Damn, but what a putrid piece of filth that was.

Of course, every age has its Robert Browning... You know, that type of showman who uses his merely passable skill combined with shock value to achieve popular acclaim. Frankly, though, I figured our age's Browning was Marilyn Manson, but I guess different fields can have different Brownings.

I'm also confused as to why this novel was on our reading list. It's not exactly what I would consider Science Fiction -- it's merely contemporary fiction. Unless, of course, Dr. Jones is playing with the definition of the genre, where the Science of the Science Fiction is meant to be interpreted quite literally: thus, we have a novel about cars and the science of auto mechanics...

Anyway... I had to read this awful thing, I might as well write about it.

The Author affects a very odd writing style... The story progresses in a series of snapshots, much like the polaroids that Vaughan takes. Everything is described in very vivid terms, but also in a very cold and impersonal way. Also, throughout the book people aren't really people, but rather they are a bunch of people-parts that happen to be working in unison most of the time. A good example:

"Vaughan's hand took the file from me and returned it to the briefcase" (137).

Vaughan did nothing -- his hand went through this action, almost as if it worked independently of the rest of him.

The sexuality of the book was quite disturbing to me; extremely violent and frequently perverse. Andrea noted that the book seemed to equate blood and death with sex -- and it does. Of course, this relationship actually does (believe it or not) have an actual basis in modern psychological theory, but this is just... too much.

Of course, the sexuality depicted is the ultimate, logical conclusion of sado-masochist techno-voyeurism taken too far. But I'm not entirely sure what it actually says about contemporary society. Do people depend more and more on technology as a conduit for human relations? Well, of course... This has been a trend since people discovered fire. No big surprise here. But I fail to see any conclusion, or even meaningful discussion on the topic in this book.

The book also definitely shows its 70's roots. The 70's, to me, were the single lowest decade in the history of humankind. No other age had quite the same disgusting mixture of depravity, ignorance, violence, and really bad fashion. It took the worst parts of the 60's, but left the positive social commentary behind. In the book, drugs were everywhere... Everyone gleefully fell into sexual corruption at Vaughan's behest -- although the women wouldn't go quite as far as the men did.

Which reminds me of another thing I noticed... The men of the book (Seagrave, Ballard, and Vaughan) mucked about in their little techno-snuff fantasies with a much greater glee than the women. In fact, most of the violent imagery was directed at women -- men might have scars and fantasize about the wounds they would receive in their car-death-conquest, but it was almost always directed at the death of a woman.

At times, Ballard's writing reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. Certainly, there are some elements in common -- both deal with feelings of alienation and dehumanization in a contemporary society that leaves individuals behind. Both have a surrogate father/mentor relationship with a subordinate. Both are violent. However, Palahniuk's writing is often funny and witty -- it never leaves you desperately trying to reach the end of the paragraph in hopes of something a little easier on the brain -- and it actually has ideas that makes you think. I'm sure Ballard wanted to make me think, too... But he didn't. All he really accomplished is making me wonder why anyone would write the 224 pages of filth that is this book.

Needless to say, I didn't care for it much. Still, it's staying in my library as that book that can offend anyone. A trophy, if you will, to a literary war-wound received during my university days.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 12:56 p.m.


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English 3621: Makin, Astell, and Wollstonecraft ...
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