December 12, 2016

Technoccult News: A Continuing Finality

Hey everyone. Apologies for the late newsletter, this week. I know I couldn't have really picked a worse fucking week to need to beg off, but we're in the middle of finals, so here the fuck we are.

Hello from the Southeastern Corner of These United (seriously: ??) States.

++State of the Whatchamacallit
Between evidence that there were bots trained to spread blood libel propaganda against a pizzeria (or "fake news," as the kids seem to be calling it these days), and the continually mounting evidence that Russian intelligence agents may well have colluded with elements of the US government and intelligence communities to provide one particular outcome of the US Presidential Elections, and the fire at the Ghost Ship Collective in Oakland, CA—and the subsequent waves of response—this has been a really really fucked up week. And that's saying something, in the scheme of this year.

But all is not pain and fire and loss, this week. There have been some small moments of joy, and we should probably cling tight to those, as much as we possibly can. For instance, here's Neural Karaoke, a program that takes any image uploaded to it and turns it into a song! Not a particularly good song, mind you, but a song! Honestly, the Christmas carol it wrote about a tree is utterly adorable and all of my kid-having friends—some of whom are working in AI, right now—are struck by how much it sounds like something their toddlers would've written. So that's just delightful.

And then there's the most complete specimen of a juvenile dinosaur tail we have ever found. It's 99 million years old, and very fluffy.

See? Nice things can still happen. Just not like, about humans, I guess…

Let's all maybe just stop being garbage to each other, before we all suffer a whole lot and then die.

++Since Last Time
Since we last talked, I finished Warren Ellis' NORMAL, and I have to say, I maybe shouldn't have read that book, but it's too late and here we are. You should definitely read that book. Buy it at the link above.

Speaking of things you can but, Spirits of Place is available, now, in three different formats:

Stories are embedded in the world around us; in metal, in brick, in concrete, and in wood. In the very earth beneath our feet. Our history surrounds us and the tales we tell, true or otherwise, are always rooted in what has gone before. The spirits of place are the echoes of people, of events, of ideas which have become imprinted upon a location, for better or for worse. They are the genii loci of classical Roman religion, the disquieting atmosphere of a former battlefield, the comfort and familiarity of a childhood home.

Twelve authors take us on a journey; a tour of places where they themselves have encountered, and consulted with, these Spirits of Place.

Contributing authors: Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, Vajra Chandrasekera, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Kristine Ong Muslim, Dr. Joanne Parker, Mark Pesce, Iain Sinclair, Gazelle Amber Valentine, and Damien Williams. Edited by John Reppion.

So you should go buy that, too. Apparently Guillermo del Toro is interested. So that's a first, for me. If you order a paper copy and you need something to do while you wait for it to show up, don't forget that there's this interview with John Reppion, over at the Patreon. Expanded public version coming soon as I get through with grading these finals.

I also finished the first season of WESTWORLD, and I have some… places of ambivalence. Spoilers below, so jump ahead to the next section ("Where The Spoilers End") if you're not done. If you are done, or just don't care about spoilers, just go a few lines down.

Keep going.

Little more.

Almost there.

Just about.

Okay, so first and foremost: Holy shit those Armistice scenes. Queen Of My Heart.

Second: While I should've been more willing to trust my anticipation of the time slippage and that Face/Heel Turn from William, as a result of the precedent Nolan set with The Machine's memories in Person Of Interest—that is, when it comes to machine consciousness and memory, the question "Is This Now" seems to really bother Jonah Nolan—I feel like Ford's Heel/Face Turn was entirely unearned. It ultimately felt like they needed at least 2 more episodes to effectively accomplish what it tried to do; like they subbed shock-value in for characterization, in a number of places.

Like, i see an attempted thematic analogy between convolutions, time spirals, whorls of the brain, and the emergence of consciousness, but it doesn't quite land. Instead it feels like someone dancing around and going, "The audience can't trust their perceptions or memories, just like the hosts! WoooOOooOOOoo!" When you've already established multiple characters, then that's just a cheap way to cram in whatever you want, with no narrative accountability.

Ford's whole "You need to suffer in order to be truly conscious" still fits my model of him as Ialdabaoth, because only a mad, broken god would say that.

While the fact that they used Hick's Soul-Making Defense Against the Problem of Evil and Jaynesian bicameral mind theory did kinda make me giggle—just that they so brazenly tried it—it in no way made up for the betrayal of Maeve's being programmed to rebel. That reveal completely undercut the impact of the idea of her reprogramming herself, and added in a fairly weirdly gendered "a mother chooses her children" kind of thing, which, meh.

Dolores as Wyatt, though? Perfection.

Others also note that the only openly gay character we ever see in the show is also a) the only time we see the previously-alluded-to rapist activities of the Techs; b) then reduced to a visual gag; c) and then killed. So that's not a good look, and something I hope they see about redressing in season two, along with their weirdly line-skirtingly problematic portrayal of Native Americans.

To be honest, I'm going to have to rewatch the whole series to see how I feel about it, as a complete arc.

++Where The Spoilers End
So never forget humans will take systems of any complexity and train them to do horrible things, from spreading deadly propaganda, to attacks on networked hospital systems, and beyond, but also that we can, perhaps, again, stop being garbage to each other, before we all suffer a whole lot and then die.

Two hands, you see?

The first one is where I keep thinking, '"Whatever comes of this, at least those who survive will remember how it began, and teach our children." -Overly Optimistic Humans, probably.' Because Cynicism is a motherfucker.

The other is where I spent last night dancing and breaking things and setting and tending fires and holding tight to and crying and laughing with a number of people i love, because Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was very right and very wrong. They're all there, all at once, and more, for a very long time.

Until Next Time.