Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sci-Fi and why it’s so frakking important to me!

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ScienceFictionStories1There was a time my friends considered me to be, what many might call, a ‘geek’ and at that time, this may have been true. Now however, people might still call me a geek, but I don’t think I am deserving of the label. This is mostly because not having owned the sci-fi channel and then giving up most of my ‘me time’ whilst studying for 3 years, I just haven’t had the time to be one.

Having finished drama school though, I have found myself with much more free time than I recall having before. So, where I ought to be dedicating this time to creating more work for myself, I have decided to catch up on some long lost geekology.

To do this I’ve done 2 things; I’ve played through all three of my favorite computer games ever: The Mass Effect Trilogy, and I have started watching a show I’m almost 9 years (!) too late to: The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. In doing these two things I have suddenly reopened my eyes and remembered why it is I love Sci-fi so much!

Partially, it’s because I love anything with Star Ships, Robots, Aliens and Space Babes. But partially, it’s something a bit deeper than that. I think it’s mostly because Sci-fi, for me (and it is subjective of course) more effectively than any other genre, allows a mirror to be held up, in which our own society and psychology can be abstracted and then explored.

My journey into science fiction started a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away when my parents introduced me to Star Wars Episode IV. Obviously, it blew me away. I don’t think at the time I had ever seen anything like it, and I wanted more. My parents, being huge Sci-fi fans too, took it upon themselves to introduce me to the likes of Star Trek and Buck Rogers. I had a brief but short lived foray into the original Battlestar Galactica too, but for some reason never watched much of it.

I loved these shows, and they felt so important to me, but I couldn’t quite place why it was. I dreamed of living in a world full of intergalactic vessels and peace loving aliens. In the meantime, I also started watching shows that were a bit closer to my age, such as the Batman animated show and reruns of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.batman_beyond_by_ekaleva-d5cqpfp

One show which was very important to me, was Batman Beyond. The show picked up 40 years after The Batman had retired and Gotham City, although all spruced up and satisfactorily futuristic, had gone to hell. I remember thinking that the show was quite violent at the time, and didn’t shy away from depicting scandalous things such as nightclubs and hinting at sex. I felt very mature to be watching it. One episode that struck a chord in me was about a returning villain; Bane. In this episode I think he’d been selling Venom (the drug he uses to enhance his strength) to the kids of Gotham, who were now feeling the effects of addiction. At the end there was a shocking reveal of Bane, old and haggard, hooked up to a machine supplying him with the drugs he now relied on. I think at the time the episode upset me, and also paralleled a lot of the things I was being taught in school. Yes, I was just at that age for the whole ‘say no to drugs’ thing. As I said, the show also hit upon other sensitive subjects that were relevant to me at the time; Sex, violence, heavy metal…That sort of thing. Batman Beyond had such a profound effect on me that I still rate it as one of my favorite ever shows, and place on my list of most important shows to me.shadows1

At that time, there were whispers of another sci-fi show that my parents were watching. Something darker and moodier. Something my parents didn’t quite agree on if I recall correctly. The show was called Babylon 5, and it looked frakking awesome boasting computer generated effects, nothing like the miniatures and such of other shows. It looked so awesome in fact that I made my parents let me watch an episode one night despite their misgivings. That night, I went to bed before the final credits rolled and had nightmares about men with strange hair speaking to the decapitated heads of their enemies. I wasn’t ready for that yet…

A bit of time passed and mobile phones came into proper fashion, to an extent where most people had them. I looked at my friends mobiles and thought they looked quite similar to the communicators I’d seen in Star Trek all those years ago. New Sci-fi shows started coming to my attention such as Space Precinct, Farscape and Stargate SG-1.

And so came the time that I decided to face Babylon 5 again. I watched the lot, from the very first episode to the very last (although I must admit my relationship with season 5 was not that clear cut), and as Batman Beyond did whilst I was a kid, Babylon 5 effected me profoundly as I began to enter adulthood. Here was a show which dealt with questions of war, religion, politics, discrimination and so on and so forth. It was Babylon 5 which made me realise that Sci-fi is so much more than the whole good vs bad, Jedi vs Sith thing. That it was a genre in which complex and real concerns could be addressed in a mature yet abstracted way. It taught me that these shows could and often do parallel our own world, taking real politics and worries and dressing them in different clothes. This allows us to see them for what they are and to reevaluate our ideas about whatever it is. It was only after Babylon 5 that I began to recognise this in other shows also.babylon_5_wallpaper_1280x1024_5

Another reason Sci-fi is so important to me, is because it can do one thing more than holding up a mirror to our world, it can add to it, change it and warp it. Sci-fi doesn’t simply aim to hold up a mirror and say ‘look at what we have become, let’s all be miserable about it’, but it can also present us with solutions.

One example, could be the application of ideas such as sexism and racism. Think back to Star Trek, in which the crew of the USS Enterprise is completely multicultural. Crew members are both male and female, from various ethnic backgrounds and of course, human and non-human. This was a big thing at the time, and the role of Nichelle Nichols lieutenant Uhura (interestingly the name Uhura comes from the Swahili word uhuru: Freedom) as a leading character in the show was both controversial and forward thinking. Later, Star Trek become the show in the US to televise an onscreen interracial kiss, between Uhura and Kirk. This is very big. It’s very very big in fact, and it’s very important. This showed that Star Trek was not just a fictional vision of a Utopian future, but that the show itself was working towards creating that future.P98_1_Uhura_and_Kirk_kiss

Other franchises like Mass Effect for example also confront these issues. A large proportion of the Mass Effect story revolves around racism between alien species, and again, it attempts to not only present us with this vision, but also to present a solution. In the end, the races in Mass Effect are allied against a common foe, but it’s not just as simple as that. Atrocities of the past are taken responsibility for and if possible rectified. Age old race hate is put aside and denied. In Mass Effect, the common foe is just a catalyst, but it is the people themselves who reevaluate their relationships and work together to make up for the past. Hopefully, we don’t necessarily have to wait until a race of ultra-intelligent-robot-space-insects attack us before we start reforging alliances and irradiating racism from our world, but the message is still the same.

Another thing I really like in Mass Effect is the treatment of sexuality. There’s quite a lot of sex in these games, and it sure as hell doesn’t discriminate. Women have sex with each other, men have sex with each other, men and women have sex, aliens have sex, different aliens have sex, alien women have sex, alien men have sex…even the robots have sex, and not only with each other of course! It really presents us with an omni-sexual world and does so relatively maturely, if not with a little more enthusiasm than is entirely necessary.mass_effect_trilogy_-_n7_day

Something I found really interesting is that homosexual relationships between the main male character were not actually available until the fans of the series noticed this was missing. When they spoke up, the problem was fixed, and in Mass Effect 3 man on man romance options are available. So here’s a case of the people demanding a more rounded experience and the game developers listening. This actually made me very proud of the medium. I think this should also be given a fair amount of notice given that computer games are still relativity young. I find that most homosexual characters in games aren’t really taken very seriously, and are very rarely the main characters of a game. I think most of the games which are on the right track are actually made by Bioware, who are responsible for Mass Effect. There may be others, so I’m not too sure, but either way, it is a strong decision for the gaming equivalent of a Hollywood Blockbuster and one of the biggest games of 2012.

battlestar-galactica-wI have recently began watching the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica which features a very strong religious element and looks to bring up some pretty interesting questions about religious extremism and racial feuds, but I’m not too far in, so don’t want to comment on it just yet.

All in all, this is why I find science fiction to be so important to me. From Star Trek to Firefly, from Babylon 5 to Battlestar Galactica. To me, Sci-fi is a place where we can discuss and explore ideas concerning politics, religion, racism, sexism, war, technological innovation and so, so much more. But most importantly, it’s where we can present solutions to these problems and move forward, taking steps to create a better world.

So say we all.

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New Year, Old Beliefs

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2013 We are alive beach installationHappy new year!

I think we should all be congratulated on making it to 2013. I have to admit there was a moment on December 21st where I really started getting a bit nervous, a resounding ‘What If?’ drifting through my mind. Luckily, Peruvian Shamans warded off the impending doomsday and we all live to look back and laugh about it.

I have to say, I was quite surprised at how people took the whole thing with a pinch of salt. I’ve been hearing about 2012 and many theories about how the world would meet its end for so long that I expected many more people to take it seriously.

In many ways I feel disappointed, but I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it’s because I wanted to believe it myself, but I didn’t. Maybe I secretly wished something would happen. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because people’s lack of interest simply proved my thoughts that people no longer believe in things.

I’ll tell you a quick story.

For about four months a year or two ago, I lived in the beautiful city, Barcelona. Now, I think that anyone who’s been to Barcelona will agree that it’s a fantastic city. The beaches are vibrant, full of bikini-clad women, ultra-tanned naked men and countless people offering you MDMA every few minutes. The parks are alive with Capoeira dancers, jugglers and young lovers. The streets are bustling with merchants, tourists and prostitutes. It’s the perfect blend of beauty, tranquillity and sin; almost like drinking a cocktail made of Mint, Cucumber and Vodka.

The city is full of art wherever you turn; extremely extravagant buildings and and murals can be found in the least expected places. A fantastic cathedral, designed by Barcelona’s favourite architect Antoni Gaudi and called the Sagrada Familia stands tall above the city, never finished, but ever breathtaking, it features one of my all time favourite religious sculptures. The Sagrada Familia is of course not the only building in Barcelona designed by Gaudi. In fact, these magnificent, bizarre buildings could be found all across the city and never cease to draw the eye, like massive, organic creatures that have crawled out of the ocean and died, at which point people had moved into their fossilised corpses.Barcelona-Sagrada-Familia-Jesus-Cross

It was during this time, on a memorably pleasant night that I met someone who has stayed in the forefront of my mind ever since.I was standing for a while underneath the bright yellow ‘M’ which is the universal sign for bad food. I surveyed the area and the people inhabiting it from underneath that light. Barcelona never had a lack of interesting people. One cannot describe the vibrant diversity that the city draws into itself. On this night though, there was one specific person who happened to catch my attention.

The man was very tall and extremely dark, and by the looks of him, he was homeless. He wore a ragged jacket and ripped trousers, his hands were gloved and covered in the grease of the burger he grasped in them, his shoes had holes in them and he wore no socks. Most striking of all though, was what the man wore on his face.

Half of his face was bare, allowing one to see the rough black skin and grey hair. The other half however, was covered frantically with brown packing tape. At first I wondered if he had cut himself, and was using the tape to hold his wounded face together. Or perhaps he was ashamed of this half of his face for some unfathomable reason. More likely, this half-mask was some sort of security blanket, which the man could wear and partially escape from the harsh realities of this world, which had obviously not treated him well.

When he saw me and my companion he turned to face us, a genuine toothless smile spreading over his face and he approached us in fewer than four large strides.

‘Hello, my friend.’ He said in an accent that I still can’t quite place. It had obviously been affected by many years of Spanish, but it certainly was not a local accent. Instead, it sounded exotic and mysterious. I remember the man greeting us, saying something along the lines of; ‘Very nice, very nice. I have no name. Only my face!’ This was followed by a spout of manic laughter as he fingered just beneath the edges of the packing tape. Me and my companion didn’t quite know what to think of this so I recall we just nodded and laughed nervously.

‘Thanks be to God, eh?’ He said and we nodded enthusiastically and mumbled in agreement. ‘I used to know him, you know?’

It was at this point in the strange conversation that our nervousness gave into curiosity. When we asked what he meant the man explained that he had once known God personally, and that he himself was not from this worldly plain. The exact words he used, and I still remember them so clearly, were; ‘I am not God, but like God.’

After some sceptical comments and jokes from us the man gave us his life story. And my lord, what a fantastic story it was. This is what he told us:

From nothing he began and from that nothingness he created himself. Forging a body from metal. A body capable of encompassing the mind of God (that is, not God, but like God as he so often reminded us).

And when he was finished he looked at his new body and he was proud, as was God. And so God sent him from the heavens down to the Earth. A gift from on high, flashing across the night sky like a shooting star.

But, in the heat of the Earth’s atmosphere a change occurred. His body of metal died but was transformed to flesh and bone, machinery became biology and thus, he was born once again, this time in human form. But, (he warned us) he was far better than human for he was stronger and still had the mind of a God (that is, not God, but like God).

We quizzed him about all this for a while, wondering how he had come to find himself eating a big mac on the streets of Barcelona and he said something quite complicated, that when translated looks a bit like this;

Humanity has turned its back on magic and no longer believes in Hell, Heaven, God, Lucifer the light bearer or his band of rebellious souls. And the world certainly no longer believes in this poor reincarnated robot angel from the past.

So, I often find myself asking who this man was. Perhaps he was simply a destitute who had lost his mind on those busy streets of Barcelona. Perhaps he was a man who knew he deserved more from life and had created this outlandish story, which had transformed in his mind to fact. It was possible that the man was a believer in God, and had longed for so long to be close to him, that he had made a false history for himself that would bring him closer. Or maybe, just maybe, he really was some sort of reincarnated robot angel from the past.

I cannot bring myself to believe that the man was a robot made flesh, designed by God and sent to Earth. But, I do believe wholeheartedly that he did believe it himself. And I wonder what this had offered the man? Did this give him some comfort that he was more than he seemed. Did it give him faith? Hope? And what was that worth given the man’s homeless and prospectless existence? Is it enough to believe in yourself? We are often being told this, are we not? And yet, this man, who believed in himself more than most people I have met, will undoubtedly be branded as crazy, worthless and lost. I’m not sure what moral we can find in this, but I fear it’s not a kind one.fallen_angel

Anyway, that’s not why I told the story, the reason I told it was because of this section here:

‘ Humanity has turned its back on magic and no longer believes in Hell, Heaven, God, Lucifer the light bearer or his band of rebellious souls. And the world certainly no longer believes in this poor reincarnated robot angel from the past.’

I’ve thought for a while that people don’t really believe in things any more. There was a moment in our history where people were so glad to believe, and even the most outrageous things were met with questions rather than outright denial. I think more and more though, we as a planetary whole have become far too sceptical, and we believe in less and less every day. If someone talks of alien contact, we generally don’t believe it. If someone talks about holy visitation, we generally don’t believe it. Even potentially provable concepts such as time-travel are generally met with disbelief.

The questionless doubt that met the end of the Mayan calender just confirmed my thoughts about this.

And then I started thinking, maybe that’s it. The end of Mayan calender, as many people know, didn’t actually talk about the end of the world, but more about the end of one cycle, and a shift into a new state of conciousness. So I was wondering if maybe the fact that nothing happened on 2012, is actually what was meant to happen. Maybe our scepticism was supposed to be proven correct at this point. Maybe this new age we’re entering into, is an age of disbelief. Maybe ever so slowly, we will stop believing in anything but ourselves.

But even though it sounds like it, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I remember a moment in my own life where someone asked me if I don’t believe in God, do I believe in an afterlife. This question haunted me for a while because I don’t much like the idea of complete nothingness after life, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe in anything else. This upset me for a while, but then I realised something.

I realised that if there is no life after death, then it leaves only life before death.

What this means to me, is that life is important, not death. In fact, it means that life is the only thing that is important, that everything I do is important. Not because of some eternal gift later, no house in the clouds, no forty virgins, but simply because this is all there is.

7508929-the-sun-setting-on-planet-earthIt means that I should speak my opinion. That I should change or improve this world if I can, because if I don’t, I’m wasting the only chance I get. I started thinking, why should I, or any of us, live in a world that we a not happy in, that we are not prideful of if the only thing to come after this life is nothingness?

And maybe this new age of disbelief will offer some sort of similar thought pattern. Maybe we’ll start being a bit more concious of our little world and stop worrying about proving ourselves worthy of divine rewards. Maybe we’ll stop fighting each other over our beliefs, because of course none of us will believe in anything. Maybe, just maybe, the less we believe, the more we will know, and hopefully this will bring on a new state of conciousness where we really start paying more attention to our surroundings and try to improve things a bit.

But then, maybe I don’t actually believe a word that I’ve written here…