Everything, All of the Time

Thoughts going through my head on the home-run to finishing The Thousand Emperors: if I had it in me to write some vast, sprawling thousand-page novel taking in everything that mattered about social chance and technology in the 21st Century, it would be called Everything, All of the Time.

I'm not sure if I heard that phrase somewhere before and picked it up, but to my mind it pretty much sums up where things feel like they're going, particularly given my acquisition in the past few weeks of my first smartphone.  Such questions regarding the increasing density of available information can also be a problem in fiction, when plots are often defeated by the increasing and immediate availability of the same.

Most often plots are about what people don't know, and their subsequent search for enlightenment. It's something that occurs to me as the fatal flaw at the heart of any science fiction novel set more than thirty years from now, including my own: that given sufficient time and progress, anything anyone wants to know will be available to them, everywhere, immediately.

Everything, All of the Time.

Describing such a future with any prospect of accuracy whatsoever would, I suspect, require the kind of indepth technical knowledge of how networks operate, interface and connect with their users that simply isn't available to those of us lacking the time, means, motivation (or funds) to absorb a PhD-equivalent body of knowledge: so that leaves you, the author, with the choice of either a)ignoring the question or more often b)trying to find ways to restrict the flow of information between characters in a story.

Which, again given the way things are going these days, leads you into encryption, a science as important, if not perhaps more important, than the development of the networks and databases it's used to protect. It's all terribly complicated, and attempts to create any future containing even a whiff of plausibility inevitably gets washed up on the shores of real-world technological evolution, rendering all your carefully extrapolated work within a few years into little more than one more nostalgic tour of past visions of the future (witness the lack of mobile phones in Stephenson's Snow Crash).

Perhaps that, it occurs to me, is why fantasy is so popular these days. But that's a thought for another day. Let's just say that the point of this post is that if I had the necessary understanding of the system of the world and put it to use writing a book of the near-future, it would be called Everything, All of the TIme.


Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede

That being the title of the novel by Bradley Denton, a book I well remember reading in the late 80s or early 90s, and which still sits on my bookshelves. I'd read a while back it was actually being made into a movie, and looks to be the perfect antidote to some of the 'mainstream' Hollywood product I've had to sit through recently. This new 'development' trailer certainly looks amazing, and I can't help but hope they make as good job as the reost of it.

Boing Boing have a piece about it, and since I'm too lazy to write my own synopsis of the story, I've cribbed part of theirs:

For those of you unfamiliar with the book, the premise is a simple one: Oliver Vale (whose recently deceased mother instilled in him a healthy respect for Buddy Holly) is about to watch a John Wayne movie pulled in by his satellite dish when the transmission is interrupted by a shot of a young Bully Holly, standing in a bubble on an airless rock, holding a guitar. Holly reads a sign hanging from the camera in front of him, and it says, "For assistance, contact Oliver Vale." And then he reads out Oliver's home address. 

I keep meaning to write again about those slightly obscure books that influenced me as a reader and also as a writer (I previously wrote about KW Jeter's Farewell Horizontal), and this, if I'd been a little less lazy about it, would have been a prime candidate.

Edit: Apparently the book, which has been out of print for a number of years, can nonetheless be freely downloaded under a Creative Commons license, in a variety of formats, from Manybooks.net.



Found, on io9.com: a video taken from the front of one of Taipei's over/underground trains as it travels the Neihu line. As the writer on the website says, it's oddly hypnotic. I don't think I ever did actually travel to Neihu while I was living there, but I'm sure I must have been on that part of Taipei's ginormous mass-transit system at some point. But it does all look terribly familiar.


Source Code (with spoilers)

Well, I finally caught Source Code, enervated by all the positive reviews, but came away from the cinema feeling let down. Again. There are so many things wrong with the film I almost don't know where to start: I could simply summarise all the issues in this single statement: it makes no sense whatsoever. None of it adds up in any even vaguely rational way whatsoever, which is probably why I spent so much of my time in the cinema staring at the screen in absolute confusion.

I'm going to get spoilery here: Jake Gyllenhaal can travel back in time, into the mind of a dead man, in his last eight minutes of life, so he can figure out who planted the bomb that will blow up the train on which the dead man was/is travelling. No...wait a minute, that's not it: his mind is instead interacting with the residual radiation of a dead man's mind that the Source Code team are somehow able to tap into. The radiation contains, apparently, the dead man's final memories. So it's not time travel after all.

It's true one character states it would take too long to really explain what's going on, and in terms of cinematic shorthand, that's fine: but far, far too many liberties are subsequently taken with logic. If our hero only taps into a dead man's residual memories, why, then, is he tasked with locating a bomb on board a train that was blown up earlier in the day? How could the dead man - a passenger on that train - possibly know himself where that bomb is?  How can our hero possibly experience anything objectively real outside of the dead man's subjective experiences unless the train is, in fact, real, and (presumably) in the past?

But we're explicitly and repeatedly warned Source Code is not time travel. Our hero can't change anything in the past. because what's happening isn't in the past...it's in the present.

Isn't it?

Yeah. I'm still scratching my head over that one. Then it gets more ridiculous. Towards the end, our hero learns his body has been reduced to a ruined sack of meat in a tank wired into Source Code's computers. He's technically dead - or at least, reduced to communicating via a terminal wired directly into a part of his brain that hasn't shut down. He demands 'one last chance' to go back into the train and save the passengers - and particularly the Girl. He does. Don't ask me how, since the train isn't meant to be real. Then, somehow, instead of dying when his life support is subsequently switched off (per his wishes) he finds himself alive and hale and continuing on in the (imaginary?) body he's entered.

There's some guff tossed in about how any changes he makes in the past can have no meaning since they can only create an 'alternate reality', except I once again question how this can come about since he is - I recall - not, in fact, travelling through time, merely interfacing with some fading remnant of someone else's mind.

This leads me to the inevitable conclusion that the only way to enjoy a mainstream Hollywood movie these days is, essentially, to pretend you're far, far more stupid than you actually are. 

And yet, Duncan Jones - the director of Source Code - previously directed a perfectly acceptable, if not stunningly original, feature film called Moon. District 9 was one of the better movies I've seen in the past few years. Darren Aaronofsky's first film, a low-budget black and white effort called Pi, is easily one of my favourite films, and one of the very few I bothered to buy on DVD. Yet I found Black Swan - a bigger-budgeted, more mainstream affair - to be an atrocious mess.

I see now that the problem is with mainstream Hollywood: District 9, Pi, Moon...they're all 'indie' movies, in the sense at least that they're created on a low budget. There's a sameness to bigger-budget Hollywood films that I don't find in those cheaper, more daring productions: originality becomes smothered by studio demands for a standard three-act structure with a heroic denouement in which the hero always, always gets the girl, even if all laws of logic and sanity have to be tossed out the window in order to achieve it.

So it's indie movies and arthouse flicks for me from here on in. I've been bludgeoned by too much big budget stupidity to want to waste my time with it any more.

One last, highly spoilerific observation for those who have seen Source Code: I experienced overwhelming levels of WTF when our 'hero' has, apparently, taken over the brain of some unsuspecting schoolteacher in order to steal his girlfriend. What the hell happened to him, the schoolteacher?

And how long before our hero's new girlfriend figures out there's someone else entirely lurking inside her boyfriend's skull?