Let me tell you a little secret: as a freelance writer, I tend towards selecting topics that are personally gratifying. As such, I try to reserve my freelancing for speaking to other people whose work I respect or idolise in some way. A prime example: my recent phone interview with Paul Auster, which was exhilarating. I was sweatingly nervous the whole time. Please enjoy.
Natalia reads her latest topical speculative fiction: Voter Turnout. Listen and download for free. Vapes! Drones! Tattoos! This story has it all.
I have some new short fiction for you. It’s about voting, elections, and, of course, the future. Coming October 5th, watch this space and/or my FB Page (have you “liked” me?) for the release of a new short story and podcast reading.
In the meanwhile, if you’re in the USA, please consider registering and doing your civic duty, because what happens in the USA impacts all of us. Therefore, Americans have Superpowers! https://vote.usa.gov/
Until Oct 5th, tho!
As a speculative fiction writer, I willfully live in a bubble. I read other sci-fi writers here and there, but other than movies, I avoid anything new or modern. For the past five years I’ve been working, on a sci-fi book. As my publishing debut, I have tried to write from inside this aforementioned bubble. I don’t want the outside coming in, making my work impure and self-conscious.
At an after-hours dinner party in St. Petersburg, Russia (that’s a normal situation to drop in here, right?), I began talking with another musician from London, who was seated next to me, about my book. My elevator pitch was ill-formed and clumsy, but from what I managed, she suggested some similarities to the film Ex Machina. The film was on my must-view list. But unlike many of my peers, I’d rather sleep than stay up all night catching up on the latest TV series. I’m very behind on pop culture. I have two kids and I like sleeping. That’s my excuse.
I’d bumped the film up on my mental list, and left it there. I’d get to it eventually. I had writing to do. Having recently completed a first draft–bringing the story to a point where I can present it to others–I’d have to step out of the bubble and contextualize my work. Let in friends, peers, my first set of readers, then make edits and changes to please a wider audience, and, hopefully, publishers.
This morning I researched a “science hotline” that Hollywood uses to fact check and review fake scientific ideas for feasibility. The Martian was successful partly due to this type of cerebral investment by its creators. Viewers who were actual engineers and biologists could appreciate and engage with the story, because the on-screen concepts were founded in real-life science. My story has science: AI future science. I’d have to call the hotline.
But something caught my eye: “What’s this on the sidebar: Ex Machina. They must have called the hotline!” I clicked. I read. And then, an explosion of synergy. I still had not seen Ex Machina, nor read anything about it beyond a one-line synopsis. While the movie’s science-y stuff and setting described, as in this article, was very different, there was an uncanny and WTF detail I couldn’t deny: the lead character’s names were identical to mine: Nathan and Ava.
Of all the names, of all the millions (billions?) of combinations of two separate names, not to mention the edits and development the Ex Machina script must have gone through… And in my case, having changed my main character’s names a few times: how did we arrive at the same pair?
In an interview with a screenwriter’s magazine, director and writer Alex Garland mentions the genesis of one of his character’s names from Ex Machina:
“Well when I was first working on this, I called her ‘Eve’. But then I thought that this was too prosaic, because of Adam and Eve and that kind of thing, so by changing it to Ava, it felt like it had some of the qualities of them name ‘Eve’, but it wasn’t as on the nose. And also, ‘Ava’ looks like it’s an acronym–like it stands for ‘Advanced Vehicle Automation’, or something like that. It just felt right.”
More importantly, how am I, somehow, randomly, intuitively, spiritually, synergized to this writer/director, via the ether? Alex Garland: who is this guy? How could I find him, and when I did, what would I say to my new Internet boyfriend? Very quickly I realized the creeping and cyber-stalkery were going nowhere. Turns out famous people are really hard to get a hold of via the Internet. CRUSH: OVER.
Days later I sought out Ex Machina on Netflix and watched it. Conceptually, brilliant. Aesthetically and visually, lovely. Casting, great. But I was left perplexed: why so gendered? Maybe that was the point. At risk of spoiling the film, I was deeply offended by the impractical footwear and outfits available to the women in this film. That said, the compound where the film mostly takes place is, definitely, a fetishized laboratory. If that’s possible. Garland has created a fantasy world where shirtless and sexually frustrated men go to ogle robots whose main programming is set to “Self-Preservation via Cockteasing.”
I wonder if the tagline: “AI JUST GOT A WHOLE LOT SEXIER!” ever came up in any Ex Machina marketing meetings? I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to feel an even deeper connection with my impossible boyfriend, Mr. Garland. I wanted to be swept away by this film. I wasn’t. I still like and admire Mr. Garland as a writer and director, but now we’re just friends.
I wrote for VICE over decade ago under my real name and also a bunch of pseudonyms, one of which was The Bolshevik Empress. And, unrelated, here we are again. But no more fake names!
Let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading.
Hey everyone! I am so excited to announce that the next (6th) album by The Dears is out 25 September, 2015. It’s called Times Infinity Volume One (Volume Two will follow in
2016 2017). Here’s the first track we’re sharing. Take a listen!
Anyone born after 1985 should stop reading here and click through to the next article. This won’t interest you. From 1987-1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG) was seminal sci-fi TV viewing. Other than Dr. Who and Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series, science didn’t have much of a place on the boob-tube back then. TNG was kind of a big deal — giving hope to our planet through their visions of a united humankind — this space soap opera kicked hedonistic competitors like Dallas and Dynasty to the curb, with holodecks, lasers, hyper-spatial voyage and alien race relations.
Twenty-seven years after the show first aired, Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard), Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker), LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge), Michael Dorn (Worf), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), Brent Spiner (Data), Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), and John DeLancie (Q), together comprising the main crew of the USS Enterprise (specifically the *ahem* NCC-1701-D) plus their biggest adversary (Q) will appear on stage together as part of this year’s Montreal ComicCon. I had the opportunity to speak with the charming and outspoken Marina Sirtis about haters, sci-fi and being true to yourself.
For the giant nerds, here is the raw audio interview, where you can hear me being nervous, trying to make lame jokes and getting called “Natasha.” Edited text of the interview is below.
How you feel as a woman in the sci-fi world, specifically cast as one of the essential crew members of the USS Enterprise?
Bear in mind that sci-fi, at the end of the day, is action/adventure, so by its very nature it’s more skewed toward boys than girls. After saying that, however, Star Trek has always been at the forefront of [equality]. Nichelle Nicholls from The Original Series, not only was that groundbreaking because she was a woman, and she was on the bridge as a regular character, but she was a black woman, on the bridge, as a regular character in a sci-fi show. [TNG] started in ‘87 and went through to ‘94, and although we were doing a show about the 24th century, the show was actually written by 20th century men. Gates [McFadden] and I were in the caring professions — she was a doctor and I was a psychologist — so it made me sad when Denise [Crosby] quit the show, because she was security chief, and it would have been really cool to have a female security chief. But as the series went on women got more and more important, and in Voyageur we have a female captain. People sometimes forget that because the show is set in the future, they think they are written by future people, but they’re not written by future people, they’re written by people now, with all their hang-ups and all their bigotries and, you know, all the bad stuff as well as the good stuff.
And written for an audience that has all those characteristics as well…
Our geeks are really forward thinking generally. That’s the good thing about the technological age, is that the people who are at the forefront of it are very modern people, and so that’s wonderful.
Let’s talk about the Internet and the Haters. I saw that you’re on Twitter (@marina_sirtis) and you very readily engage with anyone who has something to say.
I find a lot of people in my profession don’t express their opinions about things because they want to be liked; they don’t want to ruffle any feathers. I have never cared about that, to be honest, I’ve never cared what people thought of me. I know who I am, I know what I stand for. And the people who hate me or the people who disagree with me or the people who write vile things to me on Twitter: it makes me laugh. Because I don’t care: these aren’t my friends, these aren’t my family, these aren’t people that I’m going to hang out with. And at the end of the day, I’m with Voltaire: I may not agree with your opinion but I will defend to the death your right to express it, so, um, knock yourself out, really.
I read a story of you breaking the news to your parents that you wanted to become an actress, and your mother, especially, not being supportive.
When I said “actress,” she heard “prostitute.”
That’s very old school.
Yeah, well, she was an old Greek woman.
That said, how important is determination in a young person’s life?
One of the things I do when I meet young people at conventions — I’m not shy about giving advice to total strangers…ever — but I do say, especially to young teens: What job are you going to do when you grow up? and at least 75% don’t know. I feel so lucky that I knew from the age of 3 what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, because no one in my neighbourhood had ever become an actress; I come from a blue collar neighbourhood in North London, where, if you were successful you were a secretary. And, fortunately, as often happens, there was one teacher — one teacher — who said: OK, how are you going to do this? And she guided me, and believed in me, she was the only one. And it only takes one person.
How do you know when not to give up?
You have Coronation Street in Canada, right? When I was a kid watching Coronation Street — this is way before your time, when the show was in black and white — there were these three old ladies who sat in the Rovers Return, Minnie Caldwell and Ena Sharples [and Martha Longhurst], and they were in their 60s and 70s. I always said: Look at them — they didn’t make it until they were 60 or 70, you know? It takes one [acting] job, and that one job might come when you’re in your 20s or it might come when you’re in your 60s. I mean, I’ve done other jobs, I’ve worked in factories, I’ve served food to people, I’ve worked retail; I think I’m the only actress who’s never been a waitress, mind you, but I’ve done every other job. But you do those jobs to eat, and you just keep following your dream.
Do you think in recent times there’s been a resurgence in interest in science fiction?
I don’t think it’s a resurgence, I think it’s just been growing exponentially since [TNG] was on the air. When we started, sci-fi was alternative entertainment. Now, it’s number one at the box office every week: it’s sci-fi, sci-fi, sci-fi. I’m going to pat ourselves on the back and say that TNG was partly responsible for the surge in interest in sci-fi, because we had people watching our show who never liked sci-fi, they just liked our show. The total atmosphere, the business has changed. Gone are the days of Forrest Gump…Forrest Gump probably wouldn’t even get made if it was taken to a studio today..
It’s true, it would have to be A.I. or something.
It would be Forrest Gump in space.
About the Re-Engaged event, is this something that is on tour or is it exclusive to this edition of the ComicCon?
We did it for the first time, what we call our reunion tour, in Calgary [in 2012] and it was so successful, we said: Well, this is something we should do everywhere, because obviously this is something that the fans want to see. It’s wonderful, [and] the fans love it, they love to see us all together, because they’ve heard for nearly thirty years that we all loved each other and that we all got along, but then we hear that from every actor from every talk show, but when they come to see us on stage all together, and they see it with their own eyes, they believe it. I think we’re pretty much the only show ever in the history of Hollywood that after 27 years are all still best friends. The whole cast. Not a group of two or three there or two or three here. All seven of us love each other to death, look out for each other, and enjoy each other’s company. In fact, generally, we don’t bring our significant others because we don’t want them around. We want to hang out with each other and misbehave.
Note: This is a longer version of an article that originally appeared in CultMTL.
Maybe I was a bigger nerd than most, but when I turned 18, I was really excited to finally be able to vote. As a teen in Toronto, I went down to the polling stations at the Polish church on Bloor St W, or to the Keele Community Centre, and always voted. Even if I barely knew what I was voting for, I knew it was my duty as a citizen, as a Canadian, to give at least the smallest toss about politics. I also began doing my taxes, which I looked forward to. At the time I liked filling out forms. Today, not so much.
As citizens of the “free world” — North Americans, at least — we have a great power bestowed upon us: the right to vote. Yet this basic right is often taken for granted. Understandably, enacting one’s support for politicians can be frustrating, but fundamentally they are chosen by us to manage our tax dollars. And listen up: you pay taxes. Even if several years delinquent on your income taxes (unlike 18-year-old me), everything you buy has a range of taxes and tariffs included in the price you are paying. Essentially if you don’t vote it’s because you couldn’t care less about, well, anything. You might as well become a feral anarchist. Goodbye. Have fun living alone in the forest. WITH NO INTERNETS (which, incidentally, is taxable).
While some may swirl away in these #YOLO daydreams, a harsh reality reveals itself: Canada has a voter turnout problem. Historically, Canada has an approximate average turnout of 74 %, ranking it 30th among democratic countries worldwide (the highest being Malta at 94 %). In our last federal election turnout was a paltry 61.1 %. No wonder PM Harper is still in there. Canadians couldn’t care less.
When I gather this sentiment from peers and friends — young people, artists, musicians, thinkers — that they didn’t vote, I am endlessly frustrated. What is preventing people from voting? “All the candidates are losers,” they say, or: “I spoiled my ballot,” which at least is closer to the mark than not voting at all.
Having lived in Montreal for nearly two decades, my biggest moment of “Rage Against Apathy” came after the last provincial election — hot on the heels of the Maple Spring, when Montreal’s student and young adult population took to the streets to protest tuition increases. The generally peaceful protests cast a larger shadow, vocalising a general discontent with governmental ways. But the real frustration set in when, after walking the streets of my neighbourhood, talking with protesters, ruining cookware, and listening to their voices THAT MANY OF THESE PEOPLE STILL DID NOT VOTE.
Were the protesters faking it? I lost a little respect for the “red squares” because few stood behind the cause. People cared enough to march around for hours but could not care enough to march for 10 minutes to the polling station around the corner. Granted, overall voter turnout for the post-Casseroles election did increase: youth aged 18 to 35 turned out at an average rate of about 64 % in the 2012 provincial election, compared to about 42 % in the 2008 elections. Overall turnout in 2012 stalled at 74.6%.
The moment Pauline Marois pinned that little felt square onto her lapel, everyone’s hearts melted and suddenly young people thought that she cared. The PQ put a Band-aid on the problem by shutting down the hikes. Which, ironically, would be meaningless in an “independent” Quebec — university tuitions would increase drastically should federal transfer payments to Quebec be discontinued. But I digress.
All this, taken together, is the irony of politics. At the end of the day politics is just business and asset management. The frenzied actions of politicos asserting their salaried positions in office. It’s plain to see how this stuff can appear totally boring to young people. Politicians have been suitably branded as “uncool” and therefore not worth it. Blame PM Harper’s normcore hairstyle and his World’s Most Boring News Capsule, 24 Seven. Or that Quebec’s Liberal leader Philippe Couillard reeks of “dad” and PQ’s Pauline Marois is a snore (except in GIF form). And the other two? Bandwagoners.
I decided to call someone who cares. Alison Maynard is part of the Vote It Up campaign, created by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) in association with Quebec’s Chief Electoral Office. Vote It Up is a non-partisan organisation aimed at the specific demographic of 18-35 year old Anglophones in the upcoming provincial election. I asked Alison why young people aren’t voting:
“Accessibility and motivation are the top two reasons why youth are less likely to vote. Generally there is a lack of motivation, in that youth don’t see a significant difference between political parties, and don’t have an enjoyable experience throughout the process of voting.
“According to Elections Canada, youth are more likely to vote when they are contacted directly by a political party. If there is low voter turn-out by youth, political parties are not reaching out enough to this demographic. For the first time, polling stations will be setup in educational institutions across the province, which will hopefully increase youth voter turn-out.”
In an attempt to remedy this, Vote It Up is running a comprehensive social media campaign, as well as offering a rundown of each major party’s platform. The info has been distilled down by issue and is useful even for old farts like myself to get a sense of what each party is on about.
Why the focus on young Anglophones? Alison continues: “English-speaking Quebec is a diverse, confident, recognized and respected national linguistic minority that actively participates in and contributes to the social, economic, cultural and political life of Quebec and Canadian society. English-speaking youth represent 15% of the total youth in Quebec, while the total population of youth (both Francophone and Anglophone) is 2 million, representing 25% of the population of Quebec.”
At the end of the day, electioneering, like the Radiohead song, is a wailing, cowbell-driven, hot mess that often feels as though it is going nowhere. But we can’t leave it at that. We have to own it, own our roles as citizens of Quebec, no matter how “meh” or “un-cool” it may seem. The Casseroles ignited a spark in Montreal’s youth, we have to find a way to keep that burning. Did the Quebec Charter of Values smother or fan that flame? I suppose that on April 7, Quebec will find out.
This blog also appeared on The Huffington Post Canada