Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

The Lands

8 February 2018

dead trees along american river
…Some background on a new writing project and WordPress site…here…

Inspirations from odd places

I had recently been exposed to a film story called “Blade Runner 4049.” Though I found the story overly complex, its vision of our future is not that unusual in contemporary fiction. I particularly recall from the movie an area called “San Diego” that had become a huge dump and salvage yard for the Los Angeles metropolis. The piles of junk went on for miles and miles in all directions. It was also pointed out that there were no living trees in the environment. It was noted that at a “rebel” outpost, a dead tree had been kept standing using steel cables.

The Blade Runner story is a “loose adaptation” of a story by writer Philip K. Dick. Philip is considered an important science fiction writer. Born in 1928, he was influenced by the somewhat older sci-fi writers of the pulp days, such as Hubbard and Heinlein, but also the “beat” writers like Jack Kerouac. He died at only 53 under circumstances that remain poorly understood. He was a drug user, that is for sure.

In Dick’s book, the dystopia evident on the West Coast was brought about by war. In the movie this is not mentioned, except for a reference to a “high radiation” area near Las Vegas. In both stories, androids apparently designed for robotic tasks (I don’t believe it) acquire their own sense of humanity and wish to have equal rights with humans and an end to the control programming. Science fiction writers who have gone down this road seem to be of a mind that something like this could happen. They don’t try to understand why. The difference for me is that I now know why. The design and manufacture of human-like androids would be seen as a dangerous and stupid activity by anyone who understood the likely spiritual outcome of it. The androids in the film, called “replicants,” would be even more susceptible to this problem, as they are almost totally biological.

Bicycling downtown through the riverside park, I noticed a large stand of dead trees that has always been there, but seemed unusually gloomy with no spring foliage to offset the grayness. And I thought, “this is the Land of the Dead Trees.” And so I began to formulate the starting point of a story.

I am incapable – even if I wanted to – of writing an ordinary fiction story. I have been exposed to too much actuality that is much stranger than most “fiction” written these days. The trick would be to start with how things are now and somehow show how the situation could be improved.

That leads to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” which employed a similar technique. But I have no use for his time traveler. I can simply assume a viewpoint of some future time and “look back” to now.

phto with added effects

The photo above with two effects added to it: “oil” and “sepia.”

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Star Wars episodes 4, 5 and 6

3 April 2016

I never went to see Star Wars in a movie theater when it originally came out. Later, I saw parts of the earlier films (not sure how that happened), and some of the later films, complete. What with a new one recently released, and some talk of it on forums, I thought it was time to add the original three films to my collection, and watch them all the way through.

I found somewhat to my dismay that the original films are not available in digital format; newer sequences have been added (replacing the original ones) in almost all digital releases except for maybe one that is almost impossible to get a copy of. Star Wars devotees have gone so far as to reconstruct digital versions of those movies that are closer to the originals, risking copyright infringement attacks.

I settled for a modern copy – blue-ray plus DVD – from Walmart. Friday night I sat down and watched them, one after another.

Background (per Wikipedia, of course)

The first film in the series, originally entitled just “Star Wars,” was released 25 May 1977. It was created by a man named George Lucas. He was a filmmaker and had already made some other films, but had been working on the Star Wars idea for quite some time. He had always envisioned it as a series, but could only land a contract to make three films. Thus, he modified the story of the first film (the fourth in his series) so that it could stand by itself if it had to. He then sought help from other writers to develop the follow-up screenplays. His first helper was a woman named Leigh Brackett, a legendary science fiction writer who was over 60 when Lucas asked for her help. She had been married to and collaborating with Edmond Hamilton, a man 10 years her senior, since 1946. Hamilton was associated with the editor Farnsworth Wright who worked for Weird Tales magazine, was a Californian born in 1888 and had seen action in World War 1.

How these people got their inspiration for their work and story picks is not much discussed in their online biographies, yet is of interest to me.

But to continue with the background story: Lucas is a Californian from Modesto, about 10 years older than me. After he graduated USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (1967) he tried to join the Air Force and then the Army. They turned him down due to disqualifications. He resorted to instructing a documentary cinematography class for the U.S. Navy. I find this fascination with the military odd and unexplained. It has been noted that many artists who began their careers in the 1960s were connected with the military.

Lucas is said to have been influenced by Joseph Campbell, a scholar in comparative religion who in turn was influenced by many noted “modern” thinkers. Lucas has characterized himself as a “Buddhist Methodist” and lives in Marin County, where there is a sizable enclave of successful people from the entertainment industry and related activities.

He ended up being the principle writer on all three of the original films, plus the prequel trilogy, produced much later.

The Story

Superficially, the movies are strictly Space Opera, Buck Rogers style, to a degree approaching camp. [Camp: banality, mediocrity, artifice, ostentation, etc. so extreme as to amuse or have a sophisticated appeal – my dictionary.]

They trace the adventures of one Luke Skywalker, a young man first unaware of his previous political connections, but sympathetic to the cause of the Rebel Alliance, a group opposed to the vicious rule of the Galactic Empire, which has developed a planet-killing weapon known as the Death Star which they hope will quell any remaining resistance. The Alliance has a plan to destroy the Death Star, and Luke ends up being key to its ultimate success.

An extensive string of major and minor additional characters fill the story with an almost unending stream of twists and turns. Ray guns are constantly being fired, space battles regularly occur, and ancient secrets are revealed, as the rebels and their antagonists chase each other through a universe (or galaxy) filled with a huge variety of beings, stars, planets and moons. Superluminal speeds are commonplace!

At the end of the first movie, the Death Star is destroyed, but the evil Darth Vader narrowly escapes the blast. This episode is now entitled “A New Hope.”

In the second episode, “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke begins his training with Yoda as a Jedi knight, but interrupts it to go out and save his friends. During this episode Luke learns that Vader is his biological father.

The third episode, “Return of the Jedi,” first involves the group’s attempts to rescue Han Solo – a rascal but skilled pilot – from imprisonment, and ends on a moon called Endor, with a huge battle that, at the last minute, allows the rebels to destroy the second version of the Empire’s Death Star, incomplete, but functional. Luke learns that the rebel leader Princess Leia, is his twin sister. At the end there is great rejoicing as the area emerges from a long period of spiritual suppression.

According to the sequel stories, which begin 30 years after this (as all the actors from the original are now 30 years older), a new suppressive group called the First Order has emerged and attempts to gain control of the galaxy. This group is overtly inspired by the Nazis, according to writer/director J.J. Abrams, including the stories that they survived post-WWII in exile at various secret locations.

What I see as the most important theme

Superficially, this is just another epic Space Opera story. Its popularity, which has been almost unprecedented in the history of the film business, could be attributed to its central theme of good versus evil (where good always wins in the end), the skill of its story telling, and the attention paid by its creators to the details of cinematic art and technique.

But we should add a few other factors to the phenomenon of popular appeal: marketing push on the one hand, and on the other, the true depth of the human psyche.

What other films stand high on the list for popularity (by gross earnings)? Gone with the Wind, Avatar, Titanic, The Sound of Music, ET. And by franchise: Marvel (comic book superheros), Harry Potter, James Bond, Middle Earth, followed by many others involving magical powers.

Magic

To me, magic is the key theme in all these popular works.

I have been taught that at one time we were all capable of what today would be called “magic.” It can be broken down into a long list of spiritual abilities.

The appeal of stories involving magic lies, I think, in the abiding – if subconscious – question: Why don’t we have those abilities any more?

Almost all these stories address this question in a similar manner: Magic can be used for good or for evil. And because it can be used for evil, it is best left alone.

Most people, as much as they love these stories, would probably agree with this.

But is it true?

It is possible we are mistaken in some way about this. Star Wars gets as close to any popular story I know of in addressing this issue.

The Force

In Star Wars, the power of “magic” is in The Force. We are introduced to this concept in the scenes involving Luke’s Jedi training. The idea of such a Force is an ancient one, though I am by no means an expert in tracing the idea. However, its name betrays the slant of its namers. Force, in our language, is a physical phenomenon. However, the concept in one of its forms – that used by Frenchman Henri Bergson – élan vital (translated by materialists as “life force”) was translated by Bergson’s English translator as “vital impetus,” which is similar to Hubbard’s idea of a living urge, or an urge to be alive, or the simple essence of Life.

Thus, the whole Jedi concept may be purposely (or unwittingly) misleading. As a being becomes more and more disconnected from himself (or itself), and its own abilities, it will turn to material technologies to make up for its own loss of power. Its only power then becomes the threat of using those technologies on those it wishes to dominate. Those who refuse to be dominated can be exterminated, but that does not kill their love of freedom. Thus, most criminals end up concentrating on ways to substitute the love of freedom with more material attachments.

As the highest-level storytellers, we may suppose, are not interested in the spiritual freedom of their audiences, these films are not meant to help anyone achieve that, but only to “teach lessons.” And the primary lesson is that there is a Dark Side that is very powerful.

LRH has discovered that there is much more to this story than what these movies are showing us. I recommend his work for this and many other reasons.

Have you read Mission Earth?

12 February 2016

Mission Earth is a story written by LRH in 1985, and subsequently published in ten books, spaced out so audiences had time to finish each one before the next one went on sale.

I owned a full set at one time, but only read the first 5 volumes. More recently I purchased the audio books version and finished the story that way. Here is a rather off-the-cuff sum-up of what I took away from reading these books.

Viewpoints

The first 8 volumes of the story are narrated by the hero’s chief antagonist, a spy from another planet. First viewpoint.
It is presented as a transcription of his “confession,” written after he was imprisoned for his misdeeds. A robotic translator is used in this process, and it makes comments about the illogical nature of the story at the beginning of each book. Second viewpoint.
The spy has secretly installed implants in the hero and the heroine, giving him direct access to their conversations and experiences. Thus we also get the hero’s viewpoint in this story.
The last two volumes are ostensibly penned by an “investigative reporter” from the same planet as the other main characters. He starts out sympathetic with the hero, but gradually gets corrupted by his baser instincts and ends up something close to a raving lunatic. This character gives us the ending of the story, after they have all left Earth and returned to their own planet.

The hero’s viewpoint is very ethical. It is despised by the narrator, a criminal, and that gives us our satire. Though the subject of the books seems to be Earth, it is more correctly the human predicament, which the other planet suffers from as much as Earth does, even though that planet has a continuous written and legal history that goes back tens of thousands of years, and technology very advanced compared to that on Earth.

Hubbard’s hero speaks for Hubbard in terms of ethical and practical answers to a variety of thorny human dilemmas. He briefly explains all sorts of advanced technologies that for all I know are perfectly workable.

The criminal narrator cheers for the unethical side of human thought and experience. He is quite willing to be involved in the most unseemly behavior, particularly involving sexuality, but also murder, and adores the subjects of public relations, psychology and psychiatry.

Technologies

Here is a short list of technologies mentioned in this story. It is my definite impression that he is telling us that these technologies are quite real and have been used by more advanced civilizations for thousands of years:

  1. Superluminal travel. This is exemplified by a technology he calls the “will-be-was engine.”
  2. Safe biological handlings for pollution. The hero runs a “spore project” to rid Earth of excess pollutants.
  3. Time bending. The hero has a camera-like device which can be dialed up to several hours into the future that he uses to win at roulette in a casino. The royal city on the home planet is also protected by a 13 minute time warp.
  4. Anti-gravity drives, which are quite the ordinary thing on the home planet.
  5. Harnessing of microscopic “proto black holes” as long-term energy sources. The hero does one for earth, and Royal City on the home planet also runs on one.
  6. All sorts of energy-based weapons, of course. Though the criminal’s favorite gun shoots needles.
  7. Mind control via hypnosis. The heroine is expert at this and uses technology called a “hypno-helmet.” The hypnotic effect is well-known on earth, though seldom discussed in “polite” company.

Social dynamics

Hubbard depicts all his characters as fallible. Even the robo-brain in the translatophone. Thus, human societies, to survive, must somehow take this into account.

Both societies suffer from two propensities in particular: drugs and sex. What the hero tries to do with these subjects is to decommercialize them as much as possible so there is no profit in promoting them. This strategy seems to include a minimum of legal prohibitions.

All societies have problems with criminality, and this is really the central theme of this story. Many people, including me, found these books hard to read because criminality is so in your face in this story. The intent, of course, is to get us to face it. A society that cannot face a criminal and deal sternly with one will be overcome by them. This is one of the primary lessons taught by my church and one of the most hardest fought (by the criminals, of course). Criminality has been SO TOLERATED on this planet for so long! Hubbard really makes fun of this fact and its various ramifications. New York City is run by the mob, which does the dirty work for the secret ruler of the planet, Rockefeller (dubbed “Rockecenter” in the story). Everyone has to do what this guy says or else. The mobs, however, have better ethics than the Rockecenters! Some other criminal rackets Hubbard deals with in this story include:

  • Credit card companies and banks.
  • PR as it is commonly practiced on earth.
  • Psychology and psychiatry as they are practiced on earth.
  • The program to make homosexuality popular, as a population control strategy.
  • Rampant spying by the government on private citizens.

Hubbard’s interim answer to social ills is to face and handle the criminal very sternly. This should be the focus of law and the primary duty of the central government. We are talking about real criminals, not all the people who make mistakes. The real ones do it with a passion. The others feel upset about their misdeeds.

On Earth the criminal “Rockecenter” is forced to sign over all his operations to honest people. Then when he attempts a predictable double-cross, he gets blown up, and all the signed papers recovered.

On the home planet, the criminals get exiled to barren regions with “lots of space.” They cannot be rehabilitated and in any case are not seen as worth the effort. Perhaps the next lifetime will be a better one. On the home planet people live for 200 years or more, so imprisonment of criminals (in a big open area) until death can give a society a nice long breather.

Earth versus ET

In this story, the hero’s home planet is planning to invade earth and take it over about 150 years in the future. However, surveys have indicated that the planet may not survive that long. The hero is given a royal order to go “fix up” Earth so it will survive longer. The covert operations office (Coordinated Information Apparatus – CIA) is put in charge of all the logistics for this mission, but has gone corrupt, and is using Earth to grow drugs that it imports to the home planet to use in undermining the power of the royal Lords. So the operative assigned to the mission is given a secret order to prevent the hero from being successful. This story tells us that ET is a problem for Earth, either way you cut it.

His last word as an author

Though other LRH stories have been published since Mission Earth, I believe it is the last story he wrote before he left, and thus his “parting shot.” Ever since he took up the serious subjects of Dianetics and Scientology he has been badgered in “popular” media, yet anyone who has studied these subjects knows how hard he worked on them and understands what a gift they are to Earth. The general public – but particularly those who hope to mold public opinion – deserve the dark satire communicated in this story.

Six movies about the future

9 August 2014

In the past two weeks or so I purchased six movies on disc. One of them (ostensibly) has nothing to do with the future (one of the Lord Of The Rings series) and one is marginally about the future (mostly about the near past) but included here as a kind of reality check. The first one on the list was purchased earlier.

During the last week I watched (or re-watched) all these movies on my new A/V system (see previous post). Let’s list them out in the order they were released:

The Mouse that Roared (1959, based on a 1955 novel).
2001 A Space Odyssey (1968, Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke collaborate).
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005 – based on an idea that started around 1978).
Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006 – based on historical events of the previous ten years).
Oblivion (2013 – based on a graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski).
Elysium (2013 – based on an idea by Neill Blomkamp).

I mentioned writers’ names for most of these films, but I won’t get into who those people are and what their purposes are. They are all dealing with timeless themes that we, as a “maturing” society, are being pushed into whether we like it or not.

The Mouse that Roared deals with the human potential to blow up planets and dreams up one fanciful handling for this “little problem.” The remains of one less fanciful result of this technology exists in the form of the asteroid belt. Yes, several researchers are quite sure it was once a planet, probably destroyed in a war.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide (the movie – I haven’t read the book) begins with the total destruction of earth by a moronic group of bureaucratic ETs. I wonder if Adams knew how possible this actually is! Of all these films, it is my favorite.

To me, A Space Odyssey (which obviously refers back to the ancient Greek Odyssey and its hero Odysseus) is mainly a setting for 2 major works of music: Also sprach Zarathustra and The Blue Danube waltz, and “four highly modernistic compositions by György Ligeti that employ micropolyphony…” (Wikipedia). Though definite themes regarding Man’s reliance on machines, etc., exist in the story, these seem downplayed in favor of pure art.

Who Killed the Electric Car documents the events surrounding the creation and destruction of a fleet of battery-powered cars by General Motors Corporation between the years 1995 and 2005. The biggest problem with these events was that GM was less than forthcoming concerning their motives in creating the cars and their subsequent plans to destroy them. Out of over 1,000 vehicles produced, only about 40 were not destroyed, and all those had their engines removed. The cars were not destroyed because they didn’t work; all the cars worked great.

Now we jump to Oblivion. Here we get a bit more on the edge, partly because the whole story is never told; you have to piece it together yourself. As the story goes (if you re-linearize it) in about 2017 earth is attacked by ET invaders. Some of the survivors of the war are made to think that they won, and that more survivors left on earth who are still fighting are of ET origin. However, the situation is actually reversed. The ETs did win, leaving a huge artificial intelligence craft called the “Tet” (tetrahedron – it looks like an inverted pyramid) to run the place. When the Tet was first approached by a human craft, it captured its crew, wiped their memories, cloned them, and used them as its workers. The cloned workers thought the Tet was theirs, but it wasn’t. It was an ET machine. By implication, most if not all of the human clones looked like the commander of that last human ship (Jack Harper played by Tom Cruise) or one of his female crew mates (called Victoria). Jack’s real-life wife was also on board that ship, but in a rear compartment in “delta sleep.” At the last minute, when the original Jack realizes they have been fooled, he releases the rear compartment which eventually (60 years later?) lands back on earth. The Jack we are following when the movie starts (#49) is having memories of his earlier times with his real wife. Apparently all the Jacks on earth share these memories to some extent. Jack #49 finally figures this all out, and accomplishes a suicide mission to blow up the Tet. Two years later Jack #52 finds Jack’s wife living with her two year old daughter at Jack #49’s hideout in the hills. They agree that #52 is a good enough copy to make it work.

Elysium (after an early Greek concept of a kind of heaven on earth, reserved for special people) is contemporaneous with Oblivion. But no evil and deceptive ETs this time. In this story all the evil comes from humans. The movie is basically a sci-fi action flick. Elysium is an invitation-only space colony. Most people on earth were not invited. Earth has been allowed to deteriorate into a place that is almost unlivable. And yet it still remains overcrowded! The story tells how, by a series of somewhat unlikely events, all of humanity on earth get accepted for citizenship at Elysium. The hero, again, dies in order to save the human race. Several bad guys die, too.

Common Themes

Concentration on the physical

Physicality has been a prime fascination for us since it was invented. And that was a long time ago! Yet we have also always given importance to the non-physical. Many have realized that assigning cause for the creation of physicality to that same physicality makes no sense. If physicality WAS created, then only something non-physical could have created it. Many people, even scientists, have had to admit that all the evidence points in this direction. Yet none of these movie-stories take us in that direction. A Space Odyssey probably comes the closest, with its long sequence of abstract images near the end, accompanied by bizarre modern music. And then the hero dies, and when he comes back to earth he sees it from the eyes of a glowing being that looks like a fetus. The imagery is extremely abstract!

And again, only A Space Odyssey tries to deal with the idea that evil entered into the human psyche from some poorly understood and enigmatic source. Even the computer HAL 9000 somehow gets infected by this mysterious source, and is only turned off by the hero after killing several humans in its care.

Deception

In these stories, standing in, in a way, for the world of the non-physical, we have deception. It is actually a major theme in the first movie. A tiny “country” declares war on the US for the sole purpose of losing the war and collecting foreign aid. Then at the end of the movie, the “Q” bomb which this tiny country has come to possess turns out to be a dud. But this is kept secret because that bomb has become the key to world peace.

In A Space Odyssey, the US space agency decides to keep secret the fact that it has found evidence for the existence of a higher ET intelligence on the moon. It instead spreads the story that there is a disease epidemic on the moon base which has been placed under quarantine. Likewise, the two astronauts try to deceive HAL that they plan to turn him off, but HAL finds out by reading their lips, while keeping his own plans to kill all the humans on his ship a secret from them.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide, being a comedy, does not dwell on this subject so much. However, it does deal with all sorts of supernatural phenomena and ideas, and postulates a large and vibrant ET community. This is more in line with other popular sci-fi stories such as the Star Trek series, the Star Wars series, and other “space opera” stories that are actually laced with big doses of possibility.

Who Killed the Electric Car makes a strong argument for a deceptive angle to those events. GM swears by its version of the story, but the facts just don’t add up. There was obviously oil money at work, and that means banking interests, and that means City of London. And that leads to a pretty much proven den of thieves. Yet no one can come out and just talk about that aspect of life on earth!

Oblivion is all about deception and in particular, mind control. This is a much-rumored ET ability and demonstrable at the human level in the form of stage hypnotism. Mechanisms for “mind control” definitely exist and have been used. Yet the average person is told almost nothing about this, even through these movies. This is the bridge into the realm of the spiritual (the non-physical) and it could be that be for all of humanity if we could just confront it. I am aware, however, that it is a subject not easily confronted.

In Elysium deception is mostly of the classic good-guy versus bad-guy form. When skillfully done, such stories show up the weaknesses of evil. Yet, when the hero has to die at the end, the incentive to fight evil does dull a bit.

Advanced Technologies

This is of course a hallmark of sci-fi. It made sense in the times of Jules Verne (France, late 1800s) but starts to feel a bit quaint now. The question now is not how advanced technology can get, but how does it work, how do we make it, and is there any way to make it safe in human hands?

These are eternal questions when we realize that advanced technologies have been in use in the various “space opera” societies for millions of years. They include all those recently (past 200 years) discovered on earth as well as many more yet to be discovered. Being familiar with more esoteric findings on this subject, one becomes curious about aspects of it that most popular stories don’t touch, such as: How do these technologies get rediscovered on developing planets? Do any of the discoverers ever become aware of where their knowledge came from? How much imbalance between helpful and harmful uses of technologies can be tolerated before a society starts to decay? How decayed (really) are the space opera societies that still exist, after using such technologies for uncountable thousands of years?

Elysium concentrates on medical advances and the use of robots to control (police) people. These are all real possibilities. It touches on mind-machine interfaces, which the Matrix movies are famous for. But I think this theme is not well thought out. In A Space Odyssey (and Star Trek) people just talk to the computer system and it does what they ask…usually. The issue of how a machine mind could be corrupted is important and not much developed in these stories, though many of them use it as an important plot angle. The idea that a being could directly take over a computer is not much touched on yet in sci-fi, yet is a distinct possibility.

Questions that really matter

None of these films are particularly good at delving into the questions that really matter. I like Hitchhiker’s Guide because it at least plays with some of them a bit.

One theory on why this is is that the story writers are just not that aware.
Another theory is that such discussions are being actively suppressed by a ruling group whose power depends on us not confronting and working out real answers to these questions.

Here are a few:

Is there any way to make biology a viable game, or should we abandon it in favor of more robust life forms?

Could the whole deteriorating trend in the universe ever be reversed?

How would a society work if biological beings in it had supernatural powers? If it was only the ruling classes? If it was everybody?

What can a race do if its planet is destroyed? Can it do anything? Is it worth it?

If we could create a new game in this universe, one that has never been played before and rises into levels of ability that most of us lost thousands, if not millions, of years ago, what would it look like?