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.

Flash Fiction (2) – A Poetry Book & Podcast

As 2013 draws to a close, I’m pleased to announce my participation in the Yellow Bird Project’s “Selected Poems by Indie Rock Stars.”

While I’d hardly call myself a “star,” much less self-identify as an “indie rocker,” the inclusion of a mysterious piece I wrote called “Flash Fiction (2)” is tons of fun. You can sign up to receive a poem a week leading up to the release of the poetry book in January. And if you scroll down and look through the “A Taster” section, you can both read AND listen to my reading of the piece. Anyhow, I’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s an honour to be included.

Here’s a very weird illustrated portrait of moi taken from the book:

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I hope everyone out there has a great holidays and happy new year. All my love to you, Natalia.

Literary Death Match: Less Slam and More Smack-Down

I shall be guest judging at Montreal’s upcoming Literary Death Match, where poets try to, uh, out-read each other. I like the competitive angle — there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek here, too — poetry readings should be fun, less “slam” and more “smack-down.”

Anyway, I’m supposed to give hilarious and constructive criticism, which really makes me wish I could be a little drunk for this event. But, alas, I will be 8 months pregnant. Which (total change of subject) brings me to the internal chuckle I get out of the mileage I’ve gotten out of that portrait. In reality, I feel like an over-inflated balloon has been implanted under my skin, while I get my lungs and intestines repeatedly punched and kicked by the small person growing inside me. IRL, I look like this:

Still TOTALLY HOT, I know. I can’t help that….insert smiley face of your choice, most likely 😛 to denote deep sarcasm….

Montreal’s 3rd Literary Death Match will be held Sept 18th at La Sala Rossa. Show starts at 7PM. Click here for FB event info.

Pregnant Natalia photo by Murray.

Coming Soon: Morrissey Fan Fiction

Inspired partly by the faux-nnouncement that Morrissey would be retiring from show biz in two years (a statement he later said was “wishful thinking” on the media’s part), I decided to write a piece of fan fiction. I’ve never written anything (with any kind of seriousness) like this before. And I’m sure veteran writers of fan fiction would likely scoff at my only scraping the surface of how deep a “fan” can go. What I’m writing is more “The Wrong Boy” than some sort of made up day-in-the-life of Mozzer. That’s not my style.

While it’s not yet finished, I’ve been obsessed with writing this story. It is dark yet romantic, and at times threatens to cross the line separating YA and A fiction. But that’s how I roll: I like to dive into something without knowing too much about it. Artistically, it’s often the only way to keep your mind free, and your muses unburdened by influence or unwritten rules. What is popular, what “sells,” these preoccupations pepper the mind in evil, counter-productive ways.

So I write without prejudice, and expect to be critiqued with full prejudice, because that’s how I’ve come to understand the Western World. We are natural-born haters, because it would be impossible to like and to agree with everything. Opinion drives us, it defines us, and the internet has given each of our opinions an equal voice.

Anyway, this is not about that. This is about the next short story that I’m pushing through. This is the “hype” post, with the story itself coming soon. This piece is a little therapeutic to me since it’s slightly personal, but a story I’ve been trying to tell since my teenaged years. I was just always too close to tell it. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Recently, Murray and I produced a documentary about The Dears (we’ll talk more about that later). We had to dig through boxes and bins of archival material: analog photos and photocopied press kits, 3.5″ diskettes and cut-and-paste artwork. In this digging, I was forced to look through my “personal archives” as well. Maybe you don’t keep these things, but I have bundles of letters from my family, friends, ex-boyfriends and crushes. I have writing journals and diaries from my high school and university days — memories, stories, feelings I know I’ve long forgotten but that are well documented.

A person changes so much as they grow — every experience, the big and the small, moulds us whether we like it or not. Our opinions harden and soften, we are shape-shifters, never the same, never looking back…

So in many ways, this story I’m writing is a reflection of that. It is completely fiction, and has been totally fun to write. And I got my pal Joe Ollmann to “bang out” some cover art for me. I’m excited to let you read it! It’ll be on my Scribd shelf soon!

FLASH FICTION (1)

As I was writing this piece of fiction, I was in tears. It was meant to me the culmination of a short story, the tender moment that ends it all. But in the meanwhile, that short story (d)evolved into something longer, into a greater beast. The beast has left my big sappy ending floating, like a piece of paragraphical driftwood, among more meaningful ideas. Solid stuff that is lodged firmly in the sand. 

Though I love the interaction in Flash Fiction (1), it has no place in my fiction-science world. I wondered if — stripped of the deeper character portraits and adventures that were originally behind them — this epic send-off could hold its weight?

I propose to you, then, a piece of “flash fiction” or whatever you’d like to call it (Wikipedia also suggests: sudden fiction, microfiction, micro-story, short short, postcard fiction, short short story). I assure you that I adhere to zero rules of writing (except for common grammar, I hope). Word length? Bah! Story arc? Heave ho! 

So without further ado, I present, Flash Fiction (1) by Natalia Yanchak.

Me Party

I spent the latter half of 2011 with my head out of the music industry cloud. I’ve been luxuriating in a stress-free world of science fiction and artificial intelligence. I’ve been reading and writing more than anything else. But then the year turned to 2012 and I realised I would soon have to remove my head from the clouds and return to planet Earth.

With this came an odd realisation: Should I spend so much time on writing fiction? Or should I try to make music? The logical side led me to a classic dead end: “Well, Natalia, whatever you choose, it will be a terrible way to sustain yourself.” Which I naturally shrugged off. I am in too deep to worry about something as stupid as money. 

Instead my head floated off into another cloud. A creative cloud, wondering how to preserve my dignity but still have fun with it. I’m no songwriter, and therein lies the problem. I have no confidence from being surrounded by actual songwriters. In fact, shoddy songwriting is one of the things that maddens me the most about popular music. And by popular I don’t mean only Pop, rather all the inescapable musicians, the stuff in the “press.” It adds to the argument that there are too many bands, too much mediocre music, everybody wants to be a star but they rarely know why.

A bonafide songwriter knows. They know because they have no other choice. They aren’t rebelling against their parents or doing it because they can (i.e. rich kids). They are doing it because they have to. I know, you guys are reading this saying: “Oh, whatever. As if.” But it’s true. Or at least it used to be true. What is popular these days, what comes up through the ranks, is not based on good songs or incredible inspiration. It is half-assed and financially backed. And all that is fine. It’s cute. I guess it is what people need in an age where great marketing rules the roost.  

But this rant has been ranted before. Which is why I keep my head elsewhere: this is wasted breath. Wasted bandwidth. I’m exhausted by it, by the rules, the gatekeepers. I know. I get it. I’m not getting in.

So then, why not make something frivolous? I ask myself. Why not fall in line and further saturate the music world with more gratuitous art? Should I do something I firmly believe that I have no business doing? I wouldn’t make it for primarily for you, but for me first and you second. Would that offend you or interest you? Would you download it? Would you pay for it? Would you want to hear it? 

And PS: don’t panic. These sentiments have nothing to do with The Dears. The Dears are alive and well. We’re just staked out in a bomb shelter living off of rations and bottled water.

 

From The Airplane

Since we left California its been raining non-stop. My jacket is perpetually soaked – things just don’t dry out on the bus, even though when I wake up every morning in my bunk I am completely parched. The humidity doesn’t reconcile for whatever reason. Our shows in Portland and Seattle had good turnouts and Murray and I met some super nice bloggers and blog readers afterwards. Even though I caught cold (probably due to perpetual alternations between sogginess and dehydration), my voice barely made it through the last gig, yet am truly grateful to everyone who came out and to the general success of the tour; to the graciousness of Secret Machines, the awesomeness of my band mates, and to the support of our label, friends and families.

I’m on the plane now, flying Seattle to Montreal: in 4 hours travelling what took us 18 days to complete. Additionally, I am writing this the old-fashioned way: paper, scribbly unpracticed letters with a hotel room pen. Surprised there are no gadgets involved? Neptune’s watching the Emperor’s New Groove on my laptop and the Blackberry is nearly dead. So to paper these thoughts are recorded – a reminder that I remain manually literate in a disgracefully digitally-dependent world.

Oh, and it was still raining when we got back to Montreal. We never should have left California.

Another Driving Blog

Driving has made me consider the world in a different way, and that not having driven for the first third of my life has allowed me unreserved psycho-spatial perception. My surroundings as a driver, now, are definite and rigid: thoughts must be controlled and while thinking and driving could be considered as multitasking, the differ greatly from thinking while traveling as a passenger.

Driving only permits short term ideas. For example, a driver cannot write and conceptualize a full video treatment (as a passenger I recently wrote a treatment for the song “Dream Job”). But a driver can form a full thought — that is, beyond “Stay in this lane,” or “Don’t kill anyone.” Like I started this blog post while driving, and (probably illegally) typed it in stages into my BlackBerry at various stop lights.

I would strongly recommend for any city dweller to avoid getting their license as long as possible. Not only is your life’s carbon footprint diminished incredibly (think of the children), but the time you spend waiting will render you closer to yourself: you will have a tighter relationship with your consciousness. And think of all the video treatments you could write?