12 Unforgettable Sci-Fi Movies About Memory

24 September 2018

From io9:

Filmmakers love to explore memory problems—in the form of amnesia, dementia, manipulation, conflicting recollections of the past, you name it. And this thematic fascination isn’t limited to any one movie genre; it’s the one thing OverboardMemento, and Rashomon all have in common.

But for our purposes today, we’re specifically looking at science fiction movies—so, sorry, fans of the Bourne movies, Shutter Island, Angel HeartSpellboundDesperately Seeking SusanThe NotebookThe Manchurian Candidate, and on and on. And while there are tons of sci-fi movies that use memory as a plot device, here are 12 of our favorites.

4. Blade Runner (and Blade Runner 2049)
Do memories count if you’re not actually human? Both Blade Runner movies (like Total Recall, inspired by Philip K. Dick) feature replicant characters who fervently believe their memories are real. In the original film, Rachael (Sean Young) doesn’t initially know that she’s not a real human, in large part because her recollections of her childhood are so vivid. In Blade Runner 2049, K (Ryan Gosling) is well aware that he’s a “skin job,” but begins to suspect he might be the sought-after child born to Rachael and Deckard (Harrison Ford) when he visits an orphanage and finds a small toy horse stashed exactly where he (seemingly) remembers leaving it. Both Blade Runners point out how important memories really are in constructing individual identities; it’s no wonder its characters are devastated when they realize their minds have been manipulated to believe things that aren’t authentic.

9. The Giver
A robust cast (Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, and there’s even a somewhat distracting Taylor Swift cameo) elevates Phillip Noyce’s adaptation of Lois Lowry’s dystopian novel. It’s about a society where the pursuit of order and perfection has come at the expense of emotions, free-thinking, and creative expression—basically, anything that might upset the status quo. A teenaged boy named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, soon to be seen as Dick Grayson on Titans) is informed that his prescribed career will be taking over from Bridges’ character as “receiver” of the community’s collective memories. But once “the Giver” begins to pass on his knowledge, the kid realizes exactly what his life has been missing—not just the power of memory, but also things like fear, joy, love, and excitement—and he can’t suppress his urge to share what he’s learned with everyone else. (The Giver illustrates his awakening literally, shifting the movie’s palette from monochrome grey to lush and colorful.) Bridges is great as the gruff, weary teacher, and the story offers a familiar yet earnest cautionary tale about the perils of conformity—with suppressed memories representing the greatest loss of all.

Link to the rest at io9

The House With a Clock In Its Walls

23 September 2018

And the book

Surviving The Stupid

21 September 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Imagine my surprise, as I scanned through Twitter a few weeks ago, to see a writer I follow go after Tor for its library policies. Um…what?

Turns out that Tor, through its parent company Macmillan has started a program in which libraries cannot get ebooks of the latest Tor releases until four months after the book is released.

Remember this is traditional publishing, so velocity is important. How fast a book sells has an impact on whether or not that writer’s next book will even get an offer from the publisher. And here—stupidly—is a publisher that has decided that library ebook sales aren’t worthwhile.

Tor/Macmillan’s reasoning? To see if library ebook sales are the reason that the company’s ebook sales are so low. That thinking is so damn stupid that I can barely type the words.

Rather than go into the reasons Macmillan’s ebook sales are low which I can digress on for hours, let me share what Nate Hoffelder said on The Digital Reader in July, when this news initially broke:

Macmillan  has poor ebook sales because they have adopted a policy of discouraging ebook sales in favor of print sales. Macmillan adopted this policy in late 2009 when they conspired with Apple and 4 other publishers to violate antitrust law by forcing Amazon to accept what is called agency pricing, a system where the publishers set the price and retailers are prohibited from deep discounts and sales.

That is established historical fact, and so is the antitrust suit brought by the DOJ, Macmillan settling the lawsuit,  its punishment, and Macmillan’s return to agency in 2014.

Apparently, corporate think has decided that it’s better to decrease sales to increase sales. (How Orwellian.) They’ve also got on the bandwagon of punishing people with budgets and limited income. The enthusiastic readers on a book budget—folks who provide great word of mouth during that crucial velocity period—are not worth Macmillan’s time.

The problem is that these enthusiastic readers aren’t going to be able to purchase the books themselves. Many library users are unable to make regular ebook purchases, especially if the ebooks are priced at $9.99 and up, like the Tor books. I’ve seen arguments that the libraries will still get the paper books, but that doesn’t mean that these readers want paper books.

Tor/Macmillan believes that these readers can and should wait. Which is risky on the one hand—there are always new books to read—and idiotic on the other. The readers who want a book now are the book’s most dedicated consumers. Word of mouth has become even more important in 2018 than it was ten years ago, thanks to the advent of social media, online book sites, and all kinds of blogging.

. . . .

Let me tell you, as someone whose novels were traditionally published for decades, it sucks when your publisher makes a totally stupid decision that’s going to have a negative impact on your career.

If you’re a smart author, you’ll know what the impact will be. Most traditionally published writers happily know nothing about the business of publishing, so when they get their royalty statements and their sales are down yet again, or when they are unable to sell the next book in the series, or when their publisher cancels their fat multi-book contract because sales are down, those writers are surprised. (See my blog post on “Learned Helplessness”  to understand some of this.)

. . . .

This comes at a perilous time for Tor. Their founder, Tom Doherty, moved upstairs into an honorary position in March, and was replaced as President and Publisher by a long-time corporate middle management guy who might or might not do a good job. If this library thing is any indication… well, you already know how I feel.

I feel somewhat bad for the writers stuck in this library situation. Not entirely bad, mind you, because if they had learned business, they would know that their publisher has a habit of chewing up and spitting out writers like crazy, and has for decades. Three books and out, usually, unless something takes off. And it used to be that awards and award-nominations were enough to save a writer at that company. That changed as the bean counters rose to the top of the business, and will probably get worse now that Tom is gone. He loves science fiction, and would occasionally swoop in to save a great voice that wasn’t selling well.

I doubt that will happen anymore.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Crypto – A Bitcoin Horror Film

11 September 2018

Not exactly about writing, but short and (for PG, at least) interesting.

Making fantasy reality: Alan Lee, the man who redrew Middle-earth

3 September 2018

From The Guardian:

For artist Alan Lee, nature has always provided a gateway to other worlds. Now 71, Lee remembers growing up in Uxbridge, on a council estate that bordered a wilder landscape. It was what you might call a liminal childhood – on one side, the recently minted avenues and structures of social housing, on the other, “a short walk into this strange landscape of canals and fields and woods”.

It’s that sense of crossing from one world to another that has informed his work, especially his association with JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth, which has formed a large part of Lee’s oeuvre over the past quarter of a century.

His latest project is just released: the third “rediscovered” Tolkien novel, The Fall of Gondolin. Edited by Tolkien’s 93-year-old son Christopher, this volume – like its predecessors, The Children of Húrin and Beren and Lúthien– has been assembled from the author’s detailed notes. Tolkien, who died in 1973, always intended to publish these prequels to the main Lord of the Rings trilogy.

. . . .

Lee first encountered Tolkien aged 17 while at Ealing Art College. A fellow student gave him a copy of the first in the Lord of the Rings sequence, The Fellowship of the Ring. “I was just amazed,” he says. “I had grown up reading a lot of folklore and mythology, and this had elements that I recognised – elves and dwarves and dragons and magic rings. I just devoured it.”

. . . .

While he was working the graveyard shift, the entire faculty at Ealing College had departed and been replaced, and when he returned to finish his course he found a much staider atmosphere, heavy on graphic design and advertising. But reading The Lord of the Rings had reignited his childhood love of folklore and myth. “While everybody else was working on campaigns for Volvo, things like that, I was quietly sitting there illustrating ancient Irish folk tales,” he says.

. . . .

Lee also created a series of illustrated books on fantasy, which came to the attention of Jane Johnson, an editor at Allen & Unwin and responsible for the Tolkien list. She showed his work to Christopher Tolkien, who agreed that Lee was the perfect choice to illustrate a lavish edition of The Lord of the Rings, to be released in 1992 to mark the centenary of Tolkien’s birth.

That was the start of Lee’s 20-year association with Tolkien’s world.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

3D “visual novel” explores life in a future city-state circa 2039

28 August 2018

From Fast Company:

It’s 2039. You’re a hacker named Chloe living in the East Asian surveillance city-state of Abraxa. Once apathetic, you reconnect with old friends and find new ones as your district is blocked off by a mysterious corporation. Quickly, you set about disrupting its surveillance network by hacking into the city’s architecture with machine-aided perception, forging political alliances across ideological divides along the way.

This is the world of Solace State, a 3D visual science fiction novel about a near-dystopian future. Made by Tanya Kan, in collaboration with other Toronto-based artists and developers, it is an attempt to fuse three worlds of particular interest to its creator: cinema, gaming, and activism. Solace State, which is still in development, tackles various themes, from corporate surveillance and governance to ethnic roots, immigration, and economic justice.

Kan, whose academic background is in political science and cinema studies, tells Fast Company that Solace State grew out of time she spent in Hong Kong in 2012. Though Canadian, Kan has roots in Hong Kong. While living there, she quickly noticed a city in a deep state of rapid cultural and political flux. For one, a major housing shortage was hitting one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. She saw people struggling to feed and shelter themselves and their families. Kan queried Hong Kong residents about how they motivated themselves to find decent food and housing, stable jobs, and careers, as well as care for their city’s environmental health. These conversations formed the basis for the Solace State script.

“I started thinking about how I can represent East Asian culture in a way that is in an interactive medium, and how can I talk about an emergent kind of activism and advocacy,” Kan says. “I took a lot of pictures of [Hong Kong] as photographic records so I could build up a 3D city. I wanted a story that articulates some of our generation’s concerns in the sense of what kind of life do we have, and how can we find a future worth living for.”

. . . .

With this concept in mind, Kan began searching for a format that would fit the story. Ultimately, she decided to combine her cinematic and gaming influences into a 3D visual novel. Given the format’s inherent interactivity, Kan wagered that it would allow players to make difficult choices in striving for social change, while also creating (and maintaining) social cohesion.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

The Maker of the Maker of Middle-earth

28 August 2018

From Christianity Today:

Who was J. R. R. Tolkien? Nearly everyone knows him as the author of two of the most beloved books of the 20th century: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Many also know him as a member of the Inklings and a close friend of fellow writer and scholar C. S. Lewis. Fewer know Tolkien’s work as a literary critic, a world-class academic in medieval literature, a linguist, an inventor of languages, and a visual artist or realize that he was also a devoted husband and father.

Much of this is captured this year in a nearly comprehensive exhibit at Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries on Tolkien’s life and legacy. “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” has been billed as the exhibit of a generation, and it is indeed that. But there’s a glaring omission: any mention of the author’s devout, lifelong Christian faith. Without that piece, we cannot have a true picture of Tolkien.

. . . .

The exhibit is certainly the most well-rounded portrayal of Tolkien to date. We see his imaginative capacity expressed in nearly overwhelming abundance, and we see a tender glimpse of his childhood and of his family life with his wife, Edith, and their four children.

The aim of the exhibit, as expressed in the catalog book, is “bringing to the public’s attention the fullest picture possible not just of the life and work of a remarkable literary imagination, but of a son, husband, father, friend, scholar and artist.”

. . . .

He was baptized as an infant in the Anglican cathedral in Bloemfontein. He followed his mother when she entered the Catholic Church. He was an altar boy at the Birmingham Oratory. After he was orphaned, his guardian was a Catholic priest, Fr. Francis Morgan, for whom he retained a deep respect and affection ever afterward. He was a regular Mass-goer throughout his life. He translated the Book of Jonah for the Jerusalem Bible. He wrote in his letters of the personal importance of prayer and the Eucharist. He, along with Hugo Dyson, played a crucial role in bringing C. S. Lewis to faith. Yet apart from a brief mention of Morgan’s guardianship, none of this is shown in the exhibit.

. . . .

Several examples of his Elvish calligraphy were displayed; one could have been selected from the prayers that Tolkien translated into Elvish, such as the Lord’s Prayer. Both the 1956 letter and this translation show the way that Tolkien’s faith, and indeed specifically his prayer life, had an influence on his writing—exactly the kind of influence we would hope to see emphasized in an exhibit on an author.

. . . .

There is also a small subset of readers and critics who emphasize Tolkien’s faith in the wrong way. Tolkien himself described The Lord of the Rings as a “fundamentally religious and Catholic work” (in a letter that could have been, but was not, quoted in the exhibit), but it is not a religious allegory, as Tolkien himself makes very clear. When I lecture on Tolkien to Christian audiences, I am often asked: “How can we use The Lord of the Ringsfor apologetics?” My answer is that we should not try to use it at all. As a literary critic, I recognize that skillful analysis of literature can yield great insight—including for apologetics—but if Tolkien’s work is used merely as a tool to convey an explicit Christian “message,” it is inevitably oversimplified and its effect deadened. It is possible that the Tolkien Estate and the Bodleian, in aiming for a nuanced portrayal of Tolkien, wished to resist this particular type of pigeonholing and were too cautious as a result.

. . . .

Tolkien himself was explicit about the theological foundation of his creative work, writing in his great essay “On Fairy-stories” that “we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

Tolkien’s granddaughter Joanna mentions that one of his fundamental values was “his profound belief in God.” Clyde Kilby, in an interview, remembered him as a “devout Catholic,” and his friend and fellow Inkling R. E. Havard wrote of “the depth of feeling” of his religious convictions, noting that these were “apparent … but never paraded.”

Link to the rest at Christianity Today

Noon in the antilibrary: Science fiction: What happens when fake news is everywhere?

19 August 2018

From the MIT Technology Review:

Marius cursed and jammed a mic stand between the crash bars of the TV studio door. “If SWAT’s on its way, we don’t have much time,” he said.

“I don’t understand.” Michaela, who up until a couple of minutes ago had been streaming their interview live, still sat on one of the oval chairs under the hot lights. “What are they talking about?”

The cube-shaped television studio had black-painted walls surrounding the bright stage area. Big monitors on the walls were showing the same “live” feed as they had five minutes ago, but now a red banner flashed at the bottom of the screens: ACTIVE SHOOTER AT COMPLETE PICTURES BUILDING.

Michaela pointed at a moving figure on the screen. “That looks like you—but—”

Marius nodded. “Uh-huh. Apparently I like assault rifles.”

Adan, their cameraman, had called up a local news feed after the first shouts of panic and confusion filtered through the studio’s thick doors. What it showed was entirely and completely not what the three of them were seeing. Marius was inside the windowless second-floor studio, empty-handed, yet the monitors showed what looked like a drone feed of him moving into and out of view through the building’s windows on the 10th floor. He was armed, and every now and then he would pause and shoot, calmly and methodically.

Marius shook his head in disgust. “Hey, Adan, could you give me a hand with this?”

The cameraman was hunched over his laptop. “Sorry, gotta figure out who’s hijacked our signal.”

“The same people who own the SWAT team,” said Marius. “But forget what I said. I think you’d better get out of here.”


“Look.” Marius pointed at the monitors. They were showing a jumble of witness cell-phone videos. “There!” A jiggly shot showed a man lying in a corridor, dead eyes staring upward, a dark stain on his chest.

“But …” Adan gaped. “That’s me.”

“Yes. This scene’s not real yet. Listen, Adan, I mean it: you need to leave. The SWAT team’s not on their way here to save any of us. They’re here to make sure that what’s up there”— he pointed—“matches what’s down here.”

Michaela stood up, staring at him. “So it’s real. The anti­library is real.”

“And soon, the antinet. Michaela, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I knew they might be watching. Figured they’d be mad if I revealed it, but I never imagined they’d do this.” With the door at least somewhat secure, he went to join Adan at the mixing console. “Any luck?”

Adan shook his head. “I don’t know whether they’re intercepting our feed in here, at the router, or somewhere outside.”

“All this footage,” said Michaela. “It’s being computer­-generated in real time? Like you said—by an antilibrary?”

“Yeah.” He smiled ruefully at her. “You got more than you bargained for, I guess. Honestly, I was only going to talk about Augmented Manners. I guess you pushed my buttons, I—”

“The SWAT team’s not on their way here to save any of us. They’re here to make sure that what’s up there matches what’s down here.”

“That’s okay.” She glanced at the monitors, a little rueful herself. “Digging for the truth is what I do, or used to. Apparently I’m good at it … What do we do now?”

The TVs showed a black armored personnel carrier plowing up the avenue, with the Complete Pictures building a few blocks ahead of it.

“I think,” Marius said with a grimace, “we’re about to disappear.”

Link to the rest at the MIT Technology Review and thanks to Jan for the tip.

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