Video: Cyberpunk Educator

The Cyberpunk Educator is "1980's study of cyberpunk film for structural, literary and political content. Or if you, prefer, the story of existentialist robots with guns."

The authors use the term in very broad sense and provide sometimes surprising, but always relevant connections, dispensing knowledge about number of notions, including some of the basic premises of Western Civilisation.

Beware: this free film, made available by www.cyberpunkfilm.com, is 1:40 hrs long, and can suck you in like the mythical heroes it discusses. Even if you don't fully agree with its conclusions, it can serve as a reminder to see again some classic movies.

Side note: it might be wise to dowload the movie soon, before the copyright lawyers get it. It even includes music from U2.

Cyberpunk Ergonomics: Best Position to Jack In

In his early cyberpunk works set in the Neuromancer universe, William Gibson envisioned hackers (cyberspace jockeys, cyber cowboys) jacking in into the matrix not seating in front of a computer, but lying down on their belly in a position resembling driving riding a high-powered motorcycle (approx. 45-degrees). The protagonists were sometimes depicted wearing VR googles, which obviously removes the need for a monitor.

In the Matrix, which recycled many concepts from Gibson's book, the characters also jack in laying down, this time on their back (around 180-degrees).

Other science fiction movies, such as Johnny Mnemonic and Minority Report, presented user interfaces in which the operator--sits or stands up-in an somewhat more conventional upright position (90-degrees) uses his hands to manipulate objects seen either in VR googles or on a transparent 3D screen.

Recent scientific study suggests that Gibson might got it right the first time, at least in respect of the need to be 45-degrees removed from the uptight 90-degrees:
"A 135-degree body-thigh sitting posture was demonstrated to be the best biomechanical sitting position, as opposed to a 90-degree posture, which most people consider normal," said study author, Waseem Amir Bashir, a researcher at the University of Alberta Hospital in Canada. "Sitting in a sound anatomic position is essential, since the strain put on the spine and its associated ligaments over time can lead to pain, deformity and chronic illness."
The article does not inform if the researchers tried the opposite, 'Gibsonian' position. But it might be a start of a whole new furniture ensamble.

Newton's Laws of Motion (Mechanics) and Einstein's Relativity

Sir Isaac NewtonNewton's Laws of Motion describe only the motion of a body as a whole and are valid only for motions relative to a reference frame:
  1. Inertia: an object at rest tends to stay in rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion in a straight line at constant speed unless acted upon by an external, unbalanced force.

  2. The rate of change of momentum of a body is proportional to the resultant force acting on the body and is in the same direction.

  3. To every action (force applied) there is an equal and opposite reaction (equal force applied in the opposite direction).
Albert EinsteinSpecial relativity overthrows Newtonian notions of absolute space and time by stating that distance and time depend on the observer, and that time and space are perceived differently, depending on the observer. It yields the equivalence of matter and energy, as expressed in the famous equation E=mc2, where c is the speed of light. Special relativity agrees with Newtonian mechanics in their common realm of applicability, in experiments in which all velocities are small compared to the speed of light.

The theory was called "special" because it applies the principle of relativity only to inertial frames. Einstein developed general relativity to apply the principle generally, that is, to any frame, and that theory includes the effects of gravity. Special relativity doesn't account for gravity, but it can deal with accelerations.

Sources: The entire text of this post is compiled by copying and pasting from relevant Wikipedia articles.

Clarke's Three Laws of Prediction

Arthur C. ClarkeArthur C. Clarke formulated the following three "laws" of prediction:
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Source: Clarke's three laws. Wikipedia. Accessed 30.11.2006.


SF Rock Music Stars: Queen

British rock band Queen has made significant contribution to science fiction by making music for two movie soundtracks: Flash Gordon (1980, DVD, CD) and Highlander (1986, DVD).

Both are great albums, even though not everybody thinks so. Concerning the later, Wikipedia notes:
The original movie had a well-regarded soundtrack by Queen, including "Princes of the Universe," which is also used in the Highlander television series title sequence. While an album specifically tied to the Highlander movie was never released, the Queen album "A Kind Of Magic" (a phrase spoken twice in the movie by Connor) featured most of the songs from the film, as well as other music on the same theme. Notably, Queen's version of "New York, New York" (playing while The Kurgan drives Brenda through New York) was never released by Queen. All the Queen songs in Highlander were purposely written for the movie, except the song "Hammer To Fall" which had been previously released on their album The Works in 1984. Queen saw an early screening of Highlander, and decided to compose music for the film's entire non-symphonic soundtrack. They wrote many of the songs specifically to match the mood of the scenes when the songs were played, notably Brian May's heart-rending "Who Wants To Live Forever" concerning the doomed love of Connor and his original, mortal Highland bride.
Higlander-related videos:
Flash GordonFlash Gordon is mostly instrumental, and had one single "Flash's Theme," "notable for its pounding, repetitive bassline and the camp humour of the snippets of dialogue from the movie that it contains." The linked video clip features key scenes from the movie.

Update: 50 Queen videoclips.

Promoting science fiction content (a book)

Author David Luis Edelman shares his experience on promoting his book, including activities that turned out effective, inconclusive and those which were just plain flops (via Digg). Most of the activites were done online, but one stands out:
Made a conscious effort to make friends in the science fiction industry, mostly just because it's nice to have more friends (although the Machiavellian in me notes that several of these friends have had some very nice things to say about Infoquake on their blogs and such)
Compare and contrast with advice by comedian Dane Cook (web promotion) and writer Cory Doctorow (speaking in public) in Wired How To.


Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow

It is highly appropriate that the cyberpunk founding father William Gibson was one of the people who reviewed Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe (entire e-book available for free download, print for sale), writing that it's "Utterly contemporary and deeply peculiar—a hard combination to beat (or, these days, to find)." EST has a similar rhythm of storytelling and ability to include the reader in the rational and emotional life of the protagonist as the Neuromancer, disseminating lucid cultural and deconstructivist commentary along the way.

The difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine is the dissection versus the observation of the thing in motion. The difference between reading a story and studying a story is the difference between living the story and killing the story and looking at its guts.

School! We sat in English class and we dissected the stories that I’d escaped into, laid open their abdomens and tagged their organs, covered their genitals with polite sterile drapes, recorded dutiful notes en masse that told us what the story was about, but never what the story was. Stories are propaganda, virii that slide past your critical immune system and insert themselves directly into your emotions. Kill them and cut them open and they’re as naked as a nightclub in daylight.

The theme. The first step in dissecting a story is euthanizing it: “What is the theme of this story?”

Let me kill my story before I start it, so that I can dissect it and understand it. The theme of this story is: “Would you rather be smart or happy?”

While Gibson's book and related works served as introduction to a host of almost entirely new visual concepts, such as virtual reality interface used for data surfing, accessible by physical jacking in into the network (later reused in the Matrix), Doctorow's book builds upon experiences of most readers, most of whom come with a history of using textual internet communications, providing a feeling of familiarity to readers who have used chat channels, esp. IRC.

Classic Dune and other SF Games Available for Download

Abandonware website Abandonia offers a delightful selection of classic computer games, including many finger-eaching science fiction titles. Towering among their peers both in terms of the media and the genre are two Dune-inspired games, the adventure-strategy Dune (I), and the strategy Dune II.

The first Dune game (1992) is based on the David Lynch's movie interperation, and combined elements of adventure in which the only way to advance in the game is solving problems pointed out by other characters, and strategy - moving troops and resources using a full-scale map of the planet. It features graphics that look good even on modern computers, and solid level of gameplay.

Dune II (1992) has important position in real time strategy (RTS) genre history. It features one of the first sucessful execution of many of the basic principles of the genre, including "production" of soldiers through building various structures.

Other Dune-based games exist, but failed to provide similar impact to these two.

Highlander, Amber Chronicles: common plots

A group of persons with a strong ability to evade death under circumstances which would kill an ordinary human being, have been waging a war for domination/survival/salvation for centuries, using mainly swords or other types of cold steel blades. In the beginning, the hero (viewpoint character) is clueless, but as the story progresses he pieces his hidden identity and reveals the secrets of the universe and his own heroic nature, especially in times of hardship and pain, helping humanity overcome great dangers.

These are the common plot elements of both the Chronicles of Amber (Corvin cycle, first published 1970-1978) by Roger Zelazny, and the Highlander movie franchise (1986+).

While the Zelazny books weave a fast-paced, intricate tale with considerable consistency, the storylines of Highlander franchise lack the later.

For instance, the Amber characters rely on swords because laws of physics work somewhat differently in their home world, in particular, gunpowder does not have the same effect as on Earth, so they can't use firearms.

In Highlander, the only reason given for having swords as weapons of choice is the premise that only decapitation can kill an 'immortal,' and all other wounds, even from hundreds of bullets, heal soon enough. If a body can regenerate internal organs in a flash, why not grow a new head, too?

Amber characters have strong regenerative powers and immune system, but can be killed through any sufficiently severe wound or disease, which sounds more plausible to anyone with even a shallowest knowledge of anatomy and physiology.

Latter Highlander movies and TV-series pile more inconsistencies. The second part represents McLeod (Christopher Lambert) and Ramirez (Sean Connery) as alien exiles sent to live on Earth as punishment "for leading a revolution" on their home world - where use of firearms is abundant. No explanation is offered about the origin of all the other 'immortals', especially the evil ones, which number in hundreds. This also contradicts Ramirez's explanation in the first part, who simply states that they are a force of nature, part of the order of things ("why does the Sun come out"). Probably playing on the appeal of Scotch-spiced anglophobia to the American audience (think of the effect of Bravehart and the Patriot, in sequence), latter works introduced more Scottish 'immortals,' such as Paul McLeod.

In general, even the primary casting contains a charming inconsistency: Frenchman Lambert plays a Scotsman with not much of a Scottish accent, while Connery, a Scottsman nationalist, plays an ancient Egyptian comming from Spain, speaking English with a strong Scottish accent.
  • If you are Highlander fan, read Zelazny's books to see what your favorite movie should have grown into, and very possibly learn about its true origins.
  • If you are Zelazny fan, see only the first Highlander movie and consider the possibility of Brad Pitt playing Corvin if anyone ever decides to mine the books for movie series, LOTR-style. Avoid grief by paying no attention to the execution of the later and lamer sequels of the Highlander franchise.


Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson

Melancholy Elephants (full text) is a powerful short story by Spider Robinson from the book with the same name, is worth reading by all interested in workings of modern economy, intellectual property and copyrights. It relates some principal concerns in both enterntaining and intellectually stimulating manner.

She struggled to get back on the rails. "Well, it takes a lot less than that to equal `infinity' in most minds. For millions of years we looked at the ocean and said, `That is infinite. It will accept our garbage and waste forever.' We looked at the sky and said, `That is infinite: it will hold an infinite amount of smoke.' We like the idea of infinity. A problem with infinity in it is easily solved. How long can you pollute a planet infinitely large? Easy: forever. Stop thinking.

"Then one day there are so many of us that the planet no longer seems infinitely large.

"So we go elsewhere. There are infinite resources in the rest of the solar system, aren't there? I think you are one of the few people alive wise enough to realize that there are not infinite resources in the solar system, and sophisticated enough to have included that awareness in your plans."

Take note: it's not about climate crisis, but about limits to human creativity. Creative Commons addresses some of the issues from the story.


Matrix Revolutions, Dune Messiah: common plots

In November 2003 I published the following observation in a review of the Matrix Revolutions:
The male hero, facing enormous challenges threatening his life and his community, has a female lover who is also his helper (but, without offspring). Tremendous force gathers strength to destroy all that he holds dear. Regular people believe him to be their savior, in spite of his personal doubts. A powerful conspiracy is in the making, including persons positioned very near. The traitor attacks, blinding the hero (burning his eyes out). But, the hero can still see, thanks to mystic power bestowed upon him. He manages to circumvent obstacles and accomplish survival of his project. His mate dies in the process, and he soon follows. But, his destiny is reached; his task, accomplished. Thus ends Dune Messiah, an inspiring novel, part of enormously popular series by Frank Herbert. What a coincidence! Matrix 3 uses all these plot elements, also.
In the meantime the only place I came across discussions on this topic are Wikipedia articles about fiction inspired by Dune. They even seem to be lacking from the official Dune Novels website forums.