Voter Turnout: New Story

Natalia reads her latest topical speculative fiction: Voter Turnout. Listen and download for free. Vapes! Drones! Tattoos! This story has it all.

Thinking Out Loud About Alex Garland RE: “Ex Machina”

 

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Alex Garland

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.

Random Movie Review: Gattaca

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Gattaca is a dividing movie that people either love or have selectively forgotten. Director Andrew Niccol, who, if I may digress, also directed Nick Cage’s best film, Lord of War, paints an incredible portrait with Gattaca‘s stylised near-future First World. Where Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow failed to integrate a post-WWII fashion sense, Gattaca brings it with architecturally stunning shots populated by beautiful people in perfectly tailored, vintage-future clothing.

The main story line is carried by Vincent (Ethan Hawke) who was born as an in-valid, or person of lesser genes. Vincent dreams of flying in space, and so gains access to the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation by pretending to be the genetically perfect, but now paralysed, Jerome (Jude Law). There is much male hair-brushing, nude body-scrubbing and urine-collecting as Jerome and Vincent successfully swap identities by duping Gattaca’s genetic-scanning system.

Perhaps the most overdone moment in this film is a flashback to Vincent’s childhood as he competes against his younger brother in an impossible swimming challenge. Under grey skies, an orchestra of ever-swelling strings accompanies the boys as they struggle against choppy water. The sequence beats us over the head, illustrating the fragility of human life but serves a necessary purpose in revealing the protagonist’s overall dedication and perseverance.

Nothing says 90’s blockbuster like Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, and, introducing Jude Law. Gattaca was culturally topical, too. The eugenics-obsessed Western World was primed for this film, it being released a year after IRL scientists in Scotland introduced the world to Dolly the Sheep, the first successfully cloned mammal. Trust me, in 1996 that was a really, really big deal.

Gattaca‘s brand of speculative fiction schlock is right up my alley. Overwrought and extreme genetic tinkering, Big Brother scanning our DNA, with a duplicitous murder mystery plotline thrown in for good measure. Science fiction liberates storytelling by providing a brutal mirror to shine against our modern society. For similar reasons, Gattaca was nearly demoted to “Natalia’s Second Favourite Film” by the much grittier Children Of Men. But this was fuelled mostly by my short-termed celebrity crush on Clive Owen.

Gattaca succeeds because it is a well-conceived movie. It is complete, as Art should be, in its casting, costuming and set design. I also commend Gattaca‘s pacing. A continuous underlying tension carries this film, skillfully buried beneath the forced grace and poise the protagonists must maintain to pull off their scheme. Our dark personal secrets make life challenging enough. Imagine also having to obsess over the idea that losing an eyelash might condemn your freedom forever.

Check the super 90’s trailer here:

Covers

What to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon? Why, design some cover images for my short stories! I just added a new cover for Final Fridays, in anticipation of “publishing” the two other stories I’ve been working on. So, this is kind of a non-post, or a post showing off my non-Photoshop skills. Either way, happy weekend!

Now Reading

Bought this from a small bookseller in Manchester, UK. About a comet that essentially destroys the Earth. Slow-paced, VERY 70’s. I’m having a love-hate relationship with this book, since it is an epic 600 pages. But I must finish it so I can move on to some J.G. Ballard (who I am dying to read) OR Asimov’s Foundation series.

Have you Subscribed yet?

Tuesday 17 May: The pressure is on to produce something enthralling, tantalizing, a teaser that will leave you wanting more. What am I talking about? The great science fiction writing project, of course! Ok, ok. Not that great. But on Wednesday 1 June I will post (via Scribd) my first piece of publicly available fiction! And if you subscribe to my Scribd page you will be rewarded with a free download of the podcast of ME! reading the story. Let it be known, that it is pretty short, and could be described as “The Office” meets “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” But I’m just sayin’.

So my excuse for not writing here is that I’m writing somewhere else. Also, I was just asked to basically create art for a super cool camera company (details to follow) and since I’m not a visual artist, this makes May the month of reinvention!

Book Review and Notes on The Science Fiction

Last night I finally finished reading The Windup Girl. This is the first book I’ve read – honestly – in years, a statistic I am slightly embarrassed to reveal. I used to read way more: reading would inspire me, make my vocabulary better, make me think more analytically. But then I went through a phase of either starting books I couldn’t get in to or just being a too-tired new mom to dedicate the time. So I would get my “intellectual” fix from the pages of The Economist and call it a day.

I’m on a science fiction kick. As a genre it is liberating, allowing for adaptability to style and genre, a realm where ideas propel the language. Often I find other forms of fiction restrictive in this way: where I am easily distracted by an author’s choice of words, language before the ideas. With sci-fi I let it slide: I don’t know why, I just don’t really care if the choice of words isn’t executed with laser-like precision. Maybe I find some sort of sense of satisfaction, newly inspired by my own “not-good-enough-yet-now-good enough” writing style. So now I read the sci-fi and I write it. And now I write about it, in the form of this one-paragraph review:

The Windup Girl: Author Paolo Bacigalupi drops us into a world where calories are the currency. A near-future, dystopian Bangkok that is threatened by rising sea-levels and a “gene-hacked” food supply. Oil is out: energy is kinetic. Disease is manufactured, and people live in a caste-like militarised Kingdom. I won’t lie to you: life in this world sucks for everyone. Though it is a city in delicate balance: each character’s life is under constant threat, comforted by any fleeting moment of stasis. Everybody needs each other – as with any society – needs one and other to complete their job, their task, to ensure survival. It is a beautiful, tropical world that has been created by Mr. Bacigalupi, one that is being coaxed by its characters into a continued existence. As a reader, I got familiar with it, intrigued by it. Then, towards the end, this fragile balance is upset in a major, major way: it is fucking destroyed. So awesome, so satisfying. Loved it. Thank you, sir.

Anyhow, selfishly, this book kind of mind-fucked me. I had begun writing a piece of sci-fi last year before knowing that The Windup Girl even existed. There were several similarities to what I was writing – not a totality, but the thread of food being totally industralised, and the world being at the mercy of some forces of nature, were common to my thing. I suppose those themes probably exist in tons of sci-fi: they are prevalent issues in today’s society, and that is was sci-fi does best: critique/troubleshoot our real world problems.

And so, I’ve convinced myself to finish my short story. It is a story that should belong to something longer, but there is still an independent story in there. I’ll make it available on my Scribd page (which is in it’s infancy, I admit). Follow me and get this first piece of writing as soon as it’s up. I’m giving myself one month – until June 4th, 2011. Everyone who follows me on Scribd before then will be rewarded with an exclusive audiobook/podcast version of the story, read by me!

I guess reading books can still be inspiring…

Sci Fi Digest

I recently entered a writing contest at one of my favourite websites in geekery, io9. I also recently learned that I did not win said writing contest. I had a hunch I wouldn’t: the story I submitted was a good story, not so much full-on science. The science was there, it just wasn’t overbearing like it is in the winning stories. Mine was Fiction-Science, more than Science-Fiction.

Anyhow, don’t be discouraged because I’m not. I’ve had loads of ideas coming through, nurtured by all kinds of random things and human interactions – including seeing Lynda Barry speak. She was very inspiring.

This morning I started a story (it’s more of a screenplay than a story) with the tentative title: Higgs Boson Brûlée. It’s about robots wanting social sophistication. In mid-descriptive sentence, I felt compelled to refer to this video from yesteryear:

Yeah, I was imagining “people” like that: half mechanics, half clothing, the way they look and move is human-esque, but their primary reason for being designed and built is something totally mundane and/or inhuman. I further interrupted my writing to share this thought path with you. Here’s an excerpt of what I was working on:

MURIEL and THOM have just finished eating. What have they eaten? We’re not sure, their plates filled with scraps of tentacled sea-creatures oozing black goo, a brightly coloured sponge in gasoline jus with rainbow-sheen. A flat bowl of amoeba risotto, a dark blue lumpy mixture that emanates tiny busts of phosphorescent light.

Awesome, RIGHT?????

P.S. I’m planning on recording myself reading my contest-losing story and making podcasts available soon. Hopefully before February.

Inspiration to Write Science Fiction

Currently, this photo in a recent edition of National Geographic magazine is inspiring me to write a short story of the science fiction genre. Tentative title: “Migrant Robot Worker Fantasy” (hommage to a joke by the GREAT Paul F. Tompkins, but not topically related).

Delinquent Blogger

Feels like weeks since I’ve been here. I keep meaning to write something, then I get distracted by something else that has to be done. We’re in the final stages of production of The Dears album, and I’m pretty much completely psyched about it. Also, I’ve been working on my science fiction novel which is coming along nicely but is a real drain on the wordsmith portions of my brain. Thus, explaining my absence here.

Saturday night, just before bedtime, my daughter pulled out three of her stuffed bears and asked me to make two of them some clothes so they could be more like the third, red-shirted Winnie the Pooh. I’ve made low-rent bag-shirts out of felt for her bears before, so I told her we could do it in the morning and sent her off to bed. First thing Sunday morning I was requested to make good on my word and produce aforementioned bear clothes. Really? I negotiate to have coffee and breakfast first and decide to go for it: I busted out the sewing machine. I did not go for it that far, since I didn’t bother trying to change the colour of the bobbin thread. Gauche, I know.

I was instructed to make two shirts: one blue and one yellow. I found scraps of fabric I’d used for other projects and started in, first making a blue shirt for the panda bear (accented with a bowtie made from gingham Mokuba ribbon). After making the yellow vest for the second “Snowy” bear, was feeling a little confident and added a skirt with ruched front. That’s right. From scratch, patternless, using mismatched threads and crappy scissors.

May I present to you, four hours later, Snowy and The General in their Sunday best: