Find My Review of Eric Carl Link’s Understanding Philip K. Dick in the New JFA

I received my complimentary copy of the latest Journal for the Fantastic in the Arts yesterday, because I wrote a very favorable review of Eric Carl Link’s survey of Philip K. Dick titled: Understanding Philip K. Dick. You can find my review on pages 114-116.

Besides all of the other great content in this issue of JFA, there is a review of Muhammad Husain Jah’s Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism (translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi) by Anna C. Oldfield. I was happy to see this review of Farooqi’s translation, because I made the layout for two serialized excerpts from this work in Masood Raja’s Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies when I was the layout editor [read the excerpts in the first and second issues of the journal].

Review of Battle: Los Angeles, Are the Marines Fighting Aliens or Corporate Raiders?

Last night, Y and I capped our Spring Break with a science fiction movie: Battle: Los Angeles (B:LA).

I imagine that the film was pitched as Black Hawk Down meets War of the Worlds. B:LA follows a platoon and its replacement Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz as they are called on to rescue civilians in Los Angeles during a worldwide alien invasion. The aliens, who appear to be cyborgs combining biology and technology, apparently attempt to wipe out Earth’s indigenous intelligent life in order to take the liquid water that makes our planet unique (at least in our solar system).

Overall, I enjoyed the film as an interesting what-if, adventure story. The characters have to display ingenuity and tenacity as they battle their way out of and then back into beachhead that the aliens establish.

The aliens are an interesting creation. They are tall and lanky like I would imagine Wells’ aliens from Mars. However, these aliens are likely from a much more distant world. The Marines in the film question the similarities between themselves and the alien grunts fighting them. However, they do not show any compassion towards the aliens. The overwhelming sight of human bodies strewn about in a majority of scenes establishes the single-mindedness of the production–this is war, these are soldiers, and they have a job to do. This is a refreshing, albeit macabre, story line that seems more real than a number of other science films that flirt with identification with the alien Other. These aliens are depicted as on the offensive, which leaves little room for questioning or identification on the part of the humans.

The first half of the film seemed more real and intense to me, because it is largely configured as a horror film. There is a slow, yet brief, introduction to the lives of the characters before the alien invasion (in flashback). Then, through the ubiquity of CNN on televisions surrounding the soldiers, the soldiers begin to catch glimpses of an enemy with only one goal in mind–annihilation of the human species. Yet these glimpses heighten our awareness of a powerful evil that hasn’t yet materialized. In the fighting that follows, the aliens skirmish with the soldiers, killing and wounding some, pulling others through the parse vegetation in the yards of deserted houses, but never clearly revealing themselves. Then, the soldiers and the audience get their first clear image of the alien invaders, followed by Nantz’s brutal dissection of a half-dead alien soldier, the aliens begin to lose their power over the narrative. This is the turning point, never quite acknowledged in the film, where the human Marines stand a fighting chance with the alien invaders, but the invaders have been castrated in a sense–they have lost their power over the humans despite a few remaining deaths in the episodic melees.

The plot to save the few civilians hiding inside a police station is not always convincing. The film, which overall takes its material seriously, seems to disintegrate into cliche with the triad of the Joe Rincon, his son Hector, and Nantz. Joe dies after picking up a fallen soldier’s weapon to defend the group against an alien soldier. Hector then bonds with Nantz. However, Nantz’s elaborate speeches to Hector (as well as his confrontation with Corporal Jason Lockett) derails the otherwise real feel for the film. Furthermore, these male relationships Hector-Nantz and Nantz-Lockett, sidelines the female characters in the film. TSgt. Elena Santos is the strongest female presence in the story, but I believe this derives from her Air Force role that increases the importance of the otherwise male-only platoon’s mission. Michelle (the veterinarian), Kirsten, and Amy (I believe these were the other rescued civilians’ names) appear to be McGuffins rather than actual characters. We see them scream and cry occasionally, but they give the soldiers a reason to be where they are and they heighten the drama when the group is under attack. Michelle, a veterinarian, helps Nantz with the alien dissection, but it is mostly through commentary rather than physical help–Nantz seems to treat the dissection as a fact-finding cathartic experience that really doesn’t serve to help the soldiers since they are engaged in skirmishes, usually at a distance, with machine guns rather than sniper rifles.

The film’s emphasis on water as a precious, natural resource is probably its most redeeming quality. Unless you think about water rights or have seen documentaries such as Water Wars, I believe the fundamental importance of the public controlling water rights is a largely overlooked issue. Perhaps the narrative could be read as corporations are otherworldly aliens seeking to colonize the world’s natural resources, and this invasion is taking place around the world.

From my own experience in rural Southeast Georgia, companies are given rights to pump vast amounts of water out of the ground for chemical processing and pulp processing. These actions have lowered the water table to the point that some natural artesian wells have gone dry and private water pumps (this is how most folks get their water outside of the limited city limits of Brunswick) need to be installed at lower depths to maintain access to water. Amazingly, Brunswick is right next to the Atlantic Ocean, but access to potable water is increasingly slipping away. The commoditization of water through privatization of public water works and water bottling companies is another concern.

If the film can be read in this way, as a challenge to a nation’s citizens’ rights to water, I do find it hopeful that the Marines are the ones who save us all. The Marines are a part of the United States military controlled by the public will via our representational government. We can maintain our rights of access to our natural resources by electing people to our government who respect the citizen over the corporation. In the developing era of globalization and transnational capital, citizens must take back our government to support our needs over that of corporate greed.

‘World Wide Mind’ – Total Connectedness, and Its Consequences – NYTimes.com

After reading Katherine Bouton’s review of Michael Chorost’s newest book, World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet, I think that this has to go on my reading list. According to the review, Chorost’s book is about the convergence of human minds through technological mediation. Read the full review here:  ‘World Wide Mind’ – Total Connectedness, and Its Consequences – NYTimes.com.

Notes from Taiwan, Taiwanese Newspaper Report on Tron: Legacy’s Strong Opening Here

The Taiwanese Newspaper Liberty Times (Dec 28, 2010) has this to say about the theatrical debut of Tron: Legacy in Taiwan:

Science fiction film Tron: Legacy is number 1 at the box office for the Christmas period. Last weekend at Taipei, Tron: Legacy accounted for TWD$ 17, 680,000 and TWD$ 35,000,000 for all of Taiwan. The audience was mostly male and many technology enthusiasts asked each other to make a “pilgrimage” to the film.

I have already made two pilgrimages to see Tron: Legacy (Y and I saw it in IMAX 3D, and Bert and I saw in Brunswick in Disney 3D), and I hope to trek to some of the large technology stores in Taipei later this week. We shall see what kinds of goodies I can find there that I cannot find back in the States.

As I’m writing this, scooters zip past the front window front of Y’s parents house like blurs of light–Tron light cycles made ubiqutious in the physical world.

Don’t forget to catch my positive review of Tron: Legacy in the next issue of SFRA Review.

Do You Subscribe to The New York Review of Science Fiction?

Do you subscribe to The New York Review of Science Fiction? I was gifted a subscription, and it has been wonderful having the NYRSF to read again after a few years of graduate school induced hiatus.

The NYRSF’s contributors have an exciting tone with teeth that dig at the meat of science fiction. Issue #263 has essays by Joe Sanders, Richard L. Kellogg, and Mike Barret, and it includes reviews on Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, based on Delany’s Dhalgren (two separate reviews on this one), Ian McDonald’s Ares Express, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, William H. Patterson, Jr.’s Heinlein biography, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving Into the Wreck.

If you aren’t a subscriber, you should sign-up now at the official website here.

Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts, Edited by Heather Masri

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I just got a copy of Heather Masri’s Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts from Bedford St. Martins as I build a science fiction course for (hopefully) future use. This is a really cool collection.

It is chocked full of fiction–short stories and excerpts–that are introduced by Masri. But that’s not the really slick feature. What I like about the collection is the thematic groups of stories paired with critical essays. For example, the first section on “Alien Encounters,” which includes stories by Wells, Weinbaum, Bradbury, Le Guin, Butler, Egan, and others, is paired with a selection from de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Jung’s The Shadow, and Fanon’s The Face of Blackness.  The “Utopias and Dystopias” section has A. E. van Vogt’s “The Weapon Shop,” Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman,” Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed,” and more by Zamyatin, Knight, Varley, Ryman, and Hopkinson. With these terrific stories, there are Hannah Arendt’s Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government, William H. Whyte Jr’s The Organization Man, and Jameson’s “Progress versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?”.

Not everyone will agree with all of the selections, but I believe that this is a useful and well considered turnkey effort toward a theory centric science fiction course.