Tuesday, January 23, 2007

On Lucas and Card

OK, so I told myself I was going to sit back and see what the new Mostly Harmless Authors did with my last post besides (bo-ring!) comment on it, but this is too good to pass up: via Kung Fu Monkey, Keith Martin's rather clever reinterpretation of the original Star Wars movie (which my younger brother and I saw in California a total of about 20 times--him more than me--when it first came out) in light of the last three (or, for those keeping count, how IV looks when viewed after I-III). Makes me think of Card's Ender's Saga--as unpopular as Card is in Left Blogistan these days--and how the Shadow sequels make you rethink what you thought was going on in the original Speaker series. Don't know why--probably because I loved the originals when I first saw/read them (just like I was exactly the right age for Airplane! when it came out--does that date me or what?) and have to work hard not to be a wee bit embarrassed by them (ok, a lot bit embarrassed when it comes to Lucas's--the acting, people, the acting!). Reading Martin's piece almost makes me want to do what he must have subjected himself to and watch the first four Star Wars movies in a row. Almost. My youngest daughter is only 9 months old, so I have at least 6 years I can wait before whatever technology for viewing the movies allows me to start imposing my childhood pop culture canon on them. Or is that bad?

[Update 1/24/07: Oh no, I checked out the comments on the KFM piece I tipped the hat to above and found a link to this brilliant close reading of the end of IV. Stop me before I link again!]

[Update 1/28/07: Any writers from The Daily Show lurking here? Unlikely, probably KFM inspired this bit that Pharyngula kindly provides us with.]


JP Stormcrow said...

Actually for me Ender's Game was a great original idea and novella - but even expanding to the novel left me cold. But the idea was great, I lump it in with Neuromancer and Snow Crash as one of the three most interestingly prescient renderings of the current Internet. And I think the game->reality transformation that EG nailed, has some real legs yet to go. As we will appreciate when we are all logging into some World of Warcraft type interface to work, shop and play in the Googleverse.

The Star Wars interpretation is great, sending on to my kids for their expert advice. (talk about dating yourself...and in my experience, no need for imposition they gravitated to it on their own) I am good with it, as long as it leads somehow beyond episode VI to a misguided weapon of some sort blowing up the planet where those munchkin/eloi/ewok/rat people thingies live.

Adrian Hermann said...

Wonderful SW reinterpretation.... Damn, now I want to watch the whole series again :-) so much for spare time

The Constructivist said...

jps, way back when Zizek did a reading of VI as appealing to every possible political constituency in its times precisely b/c the Ewoks were capabe of beng read so many different ways. He was making some point about how ideology works by appearing non-ideological, but the book's back in the States and I can't remember the point. I just remember my reaction, which was to wonder how actual kids today (back when I was reading it) would react now (then) to the obvious-kid-pandering aspects of the entire original trilogy. I think this was before the new trilogy came out and seeing it and being so disappointed in the first two made me wonder the same thing. I remember as a kid reaching a certain age where calculated-kid-appeal stuff just turned me off. I was too old for VI when it came out, in other words.

Also wondering what you all think of other responses to Card and Gibson than Stephenson's like Simmons's Hyperion (a kind of noirish AI plot intertwined with several others that becomes increasingly important in the sequel and later, related, series), Marge Piercy's He, She, and It (more AI and cyberspace in a Japanese corporation-dominated future U.S.), Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (with its dig at VR and holodeck culture), and Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang (which posits a Chinese socialist dominated future but also deals with gaming and human-computer interfaces). Do you think they're getting as much attention as the Card/Gibson/Stephenson troika among those who are making the new technologies?

JP Stormcrow said...

Do you think they're getting as much attention as the Card/Gibson/Stephenson troika among those who are making the new technologies?

I only have peripheral vision into that space, but from what I do see I will make the following comments.

The other writer who seems to have made the biggest impression is Bruce Sterling. He has good "'net" elements in Islands in the Net 1988 (duh ... the distributed enterprise), Heavy Weather 1994 (not the main plot, but some good interesting software stuff) & Distractions 1998 (really hits the idea of online reputation as distinct from meatpuppet rep.) To some extent Sterling has the most "influence" as he has stayed more engaged beyond just his novels via communities such as The Well.

However, as much as these writers really set the stage, in dealings with some CMU efforts, I have noted that it is mostly the old fogies who explicitly reference them. Two instances. Talking to some folks pushing the online games into, say, Emergency Medical response training, the profs are right there with Enders, the students, however, were "Whatever". And one startup I spoke with, who were basically trying to build the Snow Crash Metaverse, had not even heard of the book - they were going right off of the games Starcraft and Warcraft (not World of).

Have not heard of the other books you list being mentioned in this context. Though they sure might be somewhere. In fact Hyperion was the only of them that I was even familiar with. For that one, most will agree that surreptitiously using people's compute power is a more interesting idea than using their literal energy a la The Matrix, but I have not been exposed to it driving any metaphors for current developments.

I do think we are going to see the MMORPG interface and online dynamics really begin influencing 'net play/commerce/work in the near future. Numbers alone will help drive it, World of Warcraft has 8 million current subscribers. I will look to post on this further at some point.

Will look into the books you mention (the "to read" list is so dauntingly long though). I also would have loved for Kim Stanley Robinson (or someone) to have pushed the alternative history of The Years of Salt and Rice further into cyberspace.

The Constructivist said...

Yeah, I think Robinson swore off the info tech stuff and, say, in the Mars Trilogy, wanted to look at geo- and bio-engineering. He did anticipate reality TV in Red Mars which just made my students hate it all the more. Kids these days! Liking Heinlein and Asimov and Bradbury more than contemporar authors and stuff....

Wonder if there's a gender divide on the cyber-influence issue--do female programmers read feminist sf?

JP Stormcrow said...

do female programmers read feminist sf?

There are female programmers??
(Crossposted to Pandagon since I am sure they could help me with the answer ... wait a minute, how do I crosspost? This isn't Usenet? Dang.)

Another aspect of "whither the 'net" work that I find interesting is that in addition to being inspired by futuristic visions of the world, there is a strong component of looking back in human cultural development to understand how models of identity, credibility, reputation, security, legitimacy, etc. were (and are still being) slowly hashed out in MeatWorld to enable commerce and culture to spread beyond small tigtly-linked trusted communities.

JP Stormcrow said...

Re: your update.

Star Wars-inspired cultural artifacts in aggregate (and sometimes in isolation) pwn Star Wars itself to a greater degree than almost any other significant cultural artifact. Discuss. In other words, it is the most unintentionally(?) under-realized but compelling vision going.

Anything else in the same ball park? I am probably overlooking some biggies.

Rob MacD said...

I'd agree with JP Stormcrow's last comment above. Although maybe one could make a case for bible-inspired cultural artifacts vs. the original bible?

On Star Wars, see also David Brin's recasting of the saga (done before the prequels were complete) in which the Jedis are little better morally than the Empire and Obi-Wan tries to hide baby Luke from both Yoda and Vader. (Don't have the link handy, but you can all Google 'David Brin Star Wars' I expect.)