The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘ghost in the shell’

The Future Is What You Make It

Posted by BigWords on October 29, 2009

Some of the strange notions that pop into my head can be disregarded as meanderings, but when I happened to mention a super-internet idea to a friend (the concept of which is really hard to explain here, but I’ll try) there were some aspects I had to concede were good. Maybe not to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but to me they seemed a sensible way forward once the kinks could be worked out. It is, of course, gonna play into my NaNo novel, but the idea of creating a customizable and completely interchangeable internet experience needs expounding…

How many social networking platforms are out there? Too many. In the future of my NaNo there will be an identity card style homepage for everyone, where they can use whatever they want to share with the world. Compatibility issues will be a thing of the past, and the entire internet will be one large social networking scene that has multiple sub-categories for individual likes and dislikes. Into comics? There will be a check button to join that category. Into films? Yeah, check button. Into mind-altering substances? You guessed it, another check-button…

Forums, which I kinda have an addiction to joining – and spend all night surfing for great threads to haunt – should be one area which future software can really improve on. I like a lot of forums the way they are, with maybe the exception of really slow ones like the NaNo set-up. A meta-forum, where millions of different forums (yeah, I’m not using fora here, just ’cause) will merge into a single entity would be great for hot discussions. Threads splitting and merging and splitting again as the number of commenters adding their voices increases…

A person would never have to join another forum again. Join one, and you join them all. A geek’s dream come true.

E-mail, which has been getting tweaks and nudges ever since its’ creation, would – I am certain – be replaced by an IM / SMS-type communication between individuals. When processing power has achieved the ability to create real-time VR, which is quite a few years off even yet, we will have avatars speaking for us in voice communication so real that it would appear animals could talk. This is something I really want, even though I know I’ll probably never live to see the concept realized… Damn limited human longevity we currently have to accept.

If bleeding-edge technology lives up to the promises of various experts, we will see a rise in e-commerce that will make even the largest internet companies of the modern world seem like fly-by-night operators. Hundreds of billions of transactions made every minute, with exponential growth thanks to a subservient robot workforce that can load in new software to accomplish even the most complex of tasks. This will, naturally, see the end of shopping centres as a place to buy product, but it might just reestablish the locations as a place to congregate with friends. I’ve never been one to believe that a completely digital existence will ever come to pass.

I’m still undecided on cybernetics as a point I should bring up in my novel, because the issues which arise from medical procedures to augment human bodies is one which has been covered to thoroughly – and so well – elsewhere. William Gibson is the standard SF text for that kind of thing and, along with Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, is in no need of a reheated and half-hearted answer from myself. There may be minor allusions to the procedures available, but the more I think on the things which would need to be addressed the more I worry. It’s not enough to parrot accepted ideas… My story has to go somewhere new.

The one area I will be completely avoiding, due to the terribly complex and ever-shifting debate on, is the file-sharing one. Never have so many intelligent people been involved in an argument with so many half-assed assumptions in the history of the internet. I can’t even begin to explain why some of the utterances made my music chiefs are so stupid, because every time I begin to make a balanced argument for file sharing they decide to change their objections… “We’re losing money,” (no, you really aren’t) “It’s immoral,” (and the music industry is?) “File-sharing is evil,” (and music producers are all saints?)…

Added to the confusion which exists about copyright, and you have an impossible task wrapping a fiction around the subject which is less stupid and unbelievable than the truth.

You will, of course, be able to see whether I have managed to think this concept of a super-internet through thoroughly enough when November rolls around. Ye gads, two and a bit days to go… I’m gonna have to sit down and really think about the opening scenes if I have any hope of sounding at least semi-coherent. Time has flown by so quickly that I haven’t even managed to begin working out where some of the jokes and references I want to use can be dropped in…

I may just pop over to Microsoft to talk with someone about setting the internet to rights after November… I kinda like the idea of putting Facebook out of business.

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01000101 01001100 01001001 01010100 01000101

Posted by BigWords on October 23, 2009

Until I can come up with a title I don’t immediately hate, and I can’t seem to find something that doesn’t irritate me almost immediately, the name of my NaNo novel will be “01000101 01001100 01001001 01010100 01000101”. I fully expect to get some static from people over the use of binary as an acceptable title, maybe even a few pointed jokes, but there’s no way I can be expected to have a title straight away. I’m not joking about this, as you can see from my user page. Yes, I’m serious…

Sticking to the NaNo rules, I haven’t begun writing anything which I’ll use in the WIP, but I have begun sketching out the timeline of events. There’s probably eight (maybe nine) chapters of main story, a dozen major plot movements and six or seven main characters. Which goes some way to preparing for the trials of writing the story cold, but also highlights a few of the bad habits I have picked up in my other writing. I kinda like to go on a while… Developing character, doing a bit of world building, opening up the mythos…

Then stop. Bang. Dead in the water.

There are six places where I can open without causing massive amounts of confusion, and the natural opening all happen to have something BIG happening, but not to the exclusion of more powerful moments later on. The first draft will probably have all of these anyway – and not necessarily in the right order – but it is somewhat worrying that I can’t make up my mind which is the most powerful. It would be appreciated if you didn’t hold back while reading through the drafts as they go up. I don’t want to bore anyone, so feel free to holler ‘bullshit’ if I go off on a tangent, or have the mother of all plot-holes.

There’s gonna be a genocide (of sorts), a car bomb (or two), a Godfather II homage, a bit of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex philosophizing… I’ve even decided on using very, VERY geeky in-jokes which most people won’t even pick up. Or, at least I’m hoping some of the stuff I’m throwing into the mix is obscure. Anyone want to guess what an earworm is? Or a Dartmouth? Heh, heh, I’m getting so many of these “little bits of business” that I might let the plot sag a little, just so I can show off how clever I am.

Which is a bad thing.

Some of the things I have been pondering seem to have real-world parallels, so I’m not too fussed about getting everything right first time. Y’all should be able to tell what I’m intending to get at, even if I screw up the nuts and bolts as I’m working myself from A to B.

####

Here’s a (temporary) list of things which might appear, if I have enough time. I’m setting the bulk of the novel c.150 years into the future, so if anything seems… well, wrong, I’d appreciate you calling me on it before I waste any more time.

Pig Latin
Sentient robots
Flying cars
AI
Bureaucracy
Signal-jamming devices
“The Syndicate”*
Multi-level cities (four vertical lanes of traffic)
CCTV

*Yeah, I’m a big hardboiled crime fan, and the use of organized crime will be the lampshade for a bigger threat that makes them look like girl scouts… I can’t help but love the term.

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Bridging The Gap Between Sub-Genres (SF)

Posted by BigWords on August 13, 2009

(note: I don’t normally do BIG SF, so this idea is likely to change.)

There’s a lot to think about when you consider introducing the actual nuts and bolts of space travel into a science fiction novel. I would have said ‘story’ there, but ‘novel’ makes more sense, ’cause there just isn’t room in a short story to get into the how’s, why’s and where’s that would give those big ‘ol spaceships a bit of depth. I’ve been thinking of applying a fresh take on the ancient trope of interstellar combat, but the technology has been bugging me since I started thinking about space travel seriously three or four years ago.

My concepts so far run to extrapolations of current technology and a few sensible adjustments of naval terminology. Everything needs to connect in a way which makes sense of the complications which would arise, though there is damn few things which work across both hard SF and space opera, the two sub-genres I would like to tie together in a way which doesn’t negate either approach. Yeah, it’s asking a lot from the reader to believe 100% in the world and get away with epic storytelling at the same time, but it shouldn’t be this hard.

I’m getting ahead of myself, because we need a chunk of space to drop spaceships into before the mechanics of the universe can be dissected.

The Basics

I’ve started a bit of the basic outlining, such as working out how large the known universe will be, which side the hero will be on, and where everyone is in terms of alliances and emnities. The worlds which I have decided will be used are full of humans, getting rid of several added layers of complexity and staying true to the hard SF side of the mix which has evolved through the story. I’m going to let you in on how I come up with the names of the planets, because it’s only fair that some techniques get aired for future reference.

The colonies are given six-letter names, alongside a numerical reference used for diplomatic and astrological reasons. The numbers are (loosely) based on a three-dimensional grid combined with elements lifted from a Victorian map of London. It’s an eccentric approach, but it seems to adds a layer of realism to the numbering. The names on the other hand, which is what the planets will mostly be called, is pure imagination combined with a level of geekery that I am ashamed to say runs to my core.

So, you’re wondering about the names? Try these out for size:

Reofje, Cilide, Masoun, Yebroa and Maoste.

They are some of the ones which remain in the text (there are more, with even obscurer origins), and serve well to demonstrate the naming of large numbers of objects / places / ideas when I have better things to do than concern myself with minutia. I’ll tell you how I did it now…

I’ve been using a form of shorthand for the better part of a decade now, mostly because I can write incredibly fast when I get excited about an idea. My handwriting goes to shit when I’m typing fast, and is impossible to read past three or four pages. Nuts and bolts: The shorthand eliminates ‘the’ from sentences, using t/ in its place, and unique words or phrases are compressed into a few letters.

So, in this vein, Return Of The Jedi becomes ReOft/Je. When I take out the t/ I am left with ReOfJe, which gets standardized into a normal word, and “Hey presto!” I have the name of a planet, without having to discover everything about the people living there to get the ‘perfect’ name. As if I could actually come up with something better, right? Actually, this isn’t so far from the lame way in which aliens were named in Alien Nation, resulting in characters named after dead actors and cartoon characters. The guys who would name planets would get bored after a while and start calling them whatever cruddy names they felt like.

Which means I now have planets, though the planets need governed. I’ve used a loose appropriation of US politics, mingled freely with 18th and 19th Century British Empire thinking, to create a governmental system which can be seen as both horribly oppressive and wonderfully free without contradicting myself. All colonies are regarded as equal, but those with more natural resources are better than the ones which just come in over the basic requirements for the sustenance of life. It saves building factions and competing powers.

The Space-Docks

When I decided on giant space cruisers as a primary mode of transport I found myself thinking about size. Guys do this a lot, because no matter how often we are told otherwise we will obsess about size. It matters. The bigger the better, right? Well, in deference to the laws of physics I decided that the manufacturing of these behemoths would be done in space, where the issue of weight isn’t a concern. It’s still problematic, because without friction anything which begins to move will keep moving until it hits something.

Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.
Pablo Picasso

I’m taking technologies which exist, so – postulating the advances in technology combined with human ingenuity – I decided that the sensors used in cars to avoid crashes would make the process easier. There is a commercial running at the moment where a car automatically brakes when it comes up behing another car, so that is a nice example of the technology in action.

But the light from the sun is going to make things difficult… Which is where simple manufacturing robots come into their own. I pointed out the ROS being used now, so robots will have hopefully become cheap enough to mass-produce when we finally get into space. I’m not sure they will ever attain sentience, so Data from Star Trek, the annoying gay butler and the Tourettes-suffering dwarf from Star Wars (and even Arnholt from the Terminator films) can be ignored. No droids in my story thankyouverymuch.

Which brings me to A.I., and one of the worst assumptions in film I have seen. Every robot looks the same (sorry for spoiling the film if you haven’t sen it), yet in the real world there is always competition. Numerous companies trying to outdo each other is one of the cornerstones of innovation, and the idea that one single company has cornered the market so completely that no alternatives exist strikes me as ‘off’ somehow. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex handles the idea much better.

But I said there would be no robots chatting with my main characters, so the point is moot.

To be continued…

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Dismantling The Matrix

Posted by BigWords on August 3, 2009

I was going to post this in the AW thread on how The Matrix has – or hasn’t – had any influence on writing that I’ve done, but it got rather unwieldy as my ideas on the subject expanded. There is a lot of material already out there about the hidden meanings, ties to myth and literature, clever visual references and how the films are so important, but I’m going to look at the first film from a purely storytelling point of view, ignoring the sequels for the moment.

Before I start, there is a short story which I need to bring to your attention. The City Of The Living Dead by Laurence Manning and Fletcher Pratt is basically the beginnings (or rather the fall) of a society in which the future proposed in The Matrix could come to be. I would also suggest you read Grant Morrison’s Invisibles comic from Vertigo, as there are a number of similarities which might be unintentional. Because, as we know, the Wachowski’s would never plagiarize a comic… Of course they wouldn’t…

But still, the similarities are explored in the Recycling Bin, Kyle’s review in Mutant Reviewers, while Metafilter points to the Ghost In The Shell comparisons. Even Wikipedia has gotten in on the game…

The One

Having the main character of a story fulfill a prophecy annoys me no end. I can accept the existence and use of prophecies in the Blade films, because those have vampires. Vampires who live underground, eat rats, play with their own shit and masturbate compulsively… Just look at the fat archivist vampire and try to convince me that they are well-balanced and sane individuals. No, they’re completely batshit. They would love the idea of prophecies.

The Matrix, however, is set in a world where logic and rules (to a certain extent) should preclude the notion of such backwards thinking. And yeah, I’m including every other story that relies on prophecies in my little rant as well. Real prophecies, such as the Mayan prediction for the end of the world and Nostradamus’ witterings are not to be taken seriously by educated individuals, so why do people insist on writing prophecies into fiction as if they will come true. It’s a worn-out trope that needs to be laid to rest.

Cypher

How did Cypher manage to get in touch with the Agents without raising the suspicions of anyone else in the crew? We saw how they reacted when they caught sight of Morpheus, so the idea of them sitting down with a human for dinner and a chat seems very out of character. They should be shooting first and asking questions later. That isn’t the only problem with the character non-arc we are presented with, as we never truly see any way in which he can possibly be re-assimilated into the Matrix.

It all build up to make the character look incredibly stupid, and lessens the threat of the Agents. If they were willing to chat over lunch with Cypher, then why don’t they give Neo an opportunity to defend his choices, mulling things over with a few shots of Scotch…

The Real World Sucks

So… Let me know if this is wrong, but… The characters living in the matrix are pretty much living in 1999, where they have access to all the amenities and entertainments they could desire, but they choose to give all of this up to live in a shithole, dystopian hell. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and is the ultimate plothole from which the film never escapes. There’s not enough money in the VR world to make me give up pizza and beer for life on a hovercraft which is falling apart at the seams.

It’s dumb. Everything about the film is similarly thoughtless as well, but that really wasn’t the point of The Matrix. It was all about the visuals… Sadly

If you want to know more, then The Matrix 101 is a good place to start, or see where the film fails in continuity at Movie Mistakes. There Is No Spoon gets a bit heavy, and Metaphilm tries to read things into the visuals and text that may not even be present. Hey, guys… It’s just a film.

Get. A. Life.

I really liked the pretty pictures the first time I saw it, but it was a shame they couldn’t come up with an original take on the concept.

Back To The Point

The first thing that occurs to me, as I attempt to figure out what, if anything, has filtered through to my writing, is that the end product has never appealed to me in the way that Ghost In The Shell or Neuromancer has. GiTS was a revelation when I saw the first film, and by the time the animated series was released on DVD I was a full convert to the activities of Section 9. They are more ‘real’ than the cardboard cut-out characters from The Matrix.

I also realised how dumb codenames sounded when spoken aloud in place of actual names. It’s something that fits in a comic-book, but to hear ‘Cypher’, ‘Mouse’ and ‘Trinity’ bandied about as if they are serious… No. The real names should be used whenever possible, with the only exceptions being when individuals outside of the clique or society may discern the real identities of the members, jeopardising their plans. I grew slightly annoyed at the X-Men films, when the codenames were used in private.

The most important lesson The Matrix should give to writers is the danger of anticipating the technological awareness of the public. It’s so simplified as to be closer to a Saturday morning cartoon than a philosophical examination of reality, and really needed a smart co-writer to prod the script into shape every time it slacked off. Using technical terms when featuring characters involved in cracking code shouldn’t be shied away from, and anyone who can’t keep up should look for dumber entertainment…

…Such as The Matrix.

Watch it for the visuals, but don’t pay too much attention to the story.

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