Sunday, 23 August 2015

AI: Chips & Custard

Words written: c.34000
Stories completed: 4
Rejections: 70
Acceptances: 1

We, all family, recently sat down to watch Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence, his realisation of Kubrick's dream of bringing Brian Aldiss' short story to the screen. I thought it deserved a few thoughts.

Unlike my earlier brief movie reviews, this is a film that I'd seen before, although my recollections of it were limited.  In fact, my only clear memory was of its Lord of the Rings-like ending; outstaying its welcome for a good twenty minutes.  I suspect that I'll be struggling to remember it again in another decade, a product of its cut-and-shunt nature, trying to blend Spielberg's schmaltz with Kubrick's more autistic approach.  Truly chips n' custard; I like them both, just not necessarily together.

Watching it with a nine- and an eleven-year old (and, yes, it is a 12) was a somewhat uncomfortable experience, moving, as it does, from a safe family setting to dangerous outer world, simultaneously prurient and pussy-footing.  It made me wonder who these elements - particularly the jarring Gigolo-Joe - came from.  I suspect it was Spielberg's reading of Kubrick's notes, attempting to humanise robotic male prostitution where Kubrick himself would have portrayed in in the cold style of Eyes Wide Shut, deserving of PhD theses and critical admiration but not much in the way of engagement.  It's as if that's the best Spielberg could come up with to contrast with the safety and comfort of David's family life; delivering a view of the gritty end of life informed through the lens of others' books and movies, nothing ringing true.

One of the most interesting elements - and I suspect this is tantamount to a criticism of Brian Aldiss not being able to foretell the future accurately - is that, whilst Gigolo Joe presciently tells David that information is the most valuable commodity, the pay-per-search Doctor Know makes data searching expensive.  Whereas, in reality, we've had a race to the bottom: the search engine that has succeeded is the one that can tell us the most the fastest, powered by advertising.  Even in the relatively recent past when this was made we hadn't quite realised how we'd monetise the net; not by getting customers to pay for what they want but by making it free and charging the symbiotic leeches of the advertising industry that then ride on untrammelled demand.

But enough soapboxing.

Far be it from me to criticise Spielberg's ability to tell a story, but a rule I have to be very sure about breaking is never to include a character or other vital element in act two or three that hasn't been foreshadowed in act one (maybe the door is still open at the start of act two, certainly not beyond).  The reason why the end feels so clunky, for me, is that the aliens are dropped a propos of nothing into the story.  I suppose the getout clause is that they deliver the opening voiceover, but that would give Morgan Freeman the right to leap out in the third act of about twenty percent of Hollywood movies without any other justification.  Even a brief glimpse of them upfront would have joined the elements together.

I want to end on an upnote or, rather, two upnotes.  Firstly,  the effects still stand up very well, particularly the partially exposed android skeletons in the flesh fair.  Secondly, I had forgotten how good Hayley Joel Osment's performance, both unwordly and other-worldly, was.  Shame that he seems to have grown up into an adult wearing a Hayley Joel Osment mask, if his photo on IMDB is anything to go by.

Oh, and is that an early appearance for Ted?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

We may have peaked as a species…

Words written c33500
Stories completed 4
Rejections 66
Acceptances 1

We’re all realists, aren’t we?

I mean, on the outside we range from clown on-duty to clown off-duty, but through our own eyes we’re all pretty much mid-spectrum.  I see myself as a cynic and a sceptic, but balanced between pessimism and optimism; a balance made harder to shift by an adherence to the viewpoint of Mackay.  Me?  I’m a realist.

However, recently, I’ve detected a slight doomsayer tendency.  In the last post I repeated my rejection of a teleological view of (future) history and the possibility that we are sleepwalking towards a new Great War-style slaughter.

Well, add to that a belief that we’re living in a golden age, a mere blink of the eye in the span of human history, during which antibiotics are anything more than placebos.

Then there’s global warming and the rate at which we’re using and abusing the planet’s resources.  What we need won’t be around forever.  Unlike, say, waste plastic.  We’re a species heading for a cliff-edge.

But watching BBC’s Horizon: The Trouble With Space Junk has opened up a whole new dystopian playground of the mind.

You see, space has more rubbish than the verge of a dual-carriageway.  And whereas on Earth a crisp packet blowin’ in the wind has all the impact of a protest song, in space a fleck of paint acts much like a round from Dirty Harry’s Magnum.  And each impact begets a dozen other flecks, at least.  Someone say ‘geometric progression’?  And that’s before we consider all the stuff that’s bigger than, say, your toenail.

The only thing that keeps space from being like Indiana Jones’ last few steps before grabbing the artefact is its size.  But extrapolation of the sea of space junk (the fact that America is tracking all the objects Sputnik-size and upwards is itself jaw-dropping) shows it spreading and that before too long we’ll have created a cloud of dust with the chances of lethal impact being a small but too-large-to-risk one in four hundred.

And that means every satellite and space station pretty quickly ends up as a pretty fiery ball.

So, what happens then?  Well, I think we all know that GPS relies on satellites.  Stop to think and we’d add the emergency services, mobile phones, the internet, and cashpoint machines to the list.  The stock markets depend on space technology plus any business geographically dispersed like farms.  Not that many businesses are still up and running.

Plus some less-obvious examples, like hedge funds using spy satellite technology to assess the state of investments, at least ones like construction projects that can be seen from space.  You may be more sanguine about this last loss but, remember, you probably won’t get to hear about their problems.

All these ‘advances’ may be impossible in a matter of decades.  We may have peaked as a species…

I did consider submitting a story for the Gernsback Writing Contest’s last round, the theme of which was the solar system 250 years in the future.  I couldn‘t find a story that fitted so didn’t; maybe I should have penned something with semaphore and corsets and slow journeys by horse and map…