I had the opportunity to participate in a conference at Cappadocia University (Turkey) presenting on foodways in SF stories: Perfect Sense (movie, U.K., 2011); The Rain (series, Denmark, 2018); Tóxico (movie, Argentina, 2020); # Alive (movie, South Korea, 2020); Severance (book, U.S., 2018); "So Much Cooking" (short story, U.S., 2015).
Many interesting talks on the pandemic topic in fiction, film, and culture in the final program. Worth it to revisit some of the keynote speaker conversations Kim Stanley Robinson and Larissa Lai / Maggie Gee.
Living in an earth bubble during these COVID-19 times reminds me of a few lost in space stories. Below are four videos to make you feel a little claustrophobic and appreciative of planet earth while waiting in your home boxes for the vaccine.
1st the Swedish movie Aniara (2018), directed by Hugo Lilja and Pella Kagerman, based on a poem by Harry Martinson, takes us on a space trip to Mars. Unexpectedly, space debris pushes the ship off track, and years pass with everyone surviving on algae. Initially, it seems okay as the people seek time with the special AI machine named Mima. Mima provides a full-body immersion into one's happy memories on Earth, but then the machine breaks. Everyone mourns the machine. It seems the human way of life is changing for the worse, but people still have a stocked bar, techno dance club, and cocktail parties with the Captain. Eventually, a cult forms, which does provide some escapism with orgies, babies, and a new sense of meaning. However, years pass, and things don't get better. Throughout the movie, we see an array of human behavior on display from capitalistic tendencies to human's capability for violence, love, depression, education, fun, survival, blind faith, and all sorts of emotions and actions when pushed into difficult situations.
Image 1: Aniara: cult on baggage cart plan to canonize Mima
Image 2: Aniara: Mima, AI machine mourned
2nd HBO tv series, Avenue 5 (2020), created by Armando Iannucci, is a humorous satire of a space ship cruiser knocked off course. It shows a funny version of how humans might react when abandoned in space. People are angry, but life goes on, and they solve their problems in funny ways. For example, after the actual Captain dies in space, they shoot him off in a gold casket. Then his casket is caught in the ship's gravitational pull, so he and other funeral crates circle them repeatedly, showing up in the windows at odd times. In another situation, a poop halo forms when excrement, said to act as a radiation shield, begins leaking. Eventually, the poop halo is lit up as a multicolored shimmer with a Pope John Paul II sighting in it. An excellent example of a pareidolia (random image becoming something significant - a phenomenon). Also, there's a moment of food scarcity when the waiter says there is only one tiramisu left, but other than that, it seems lobster and elaborate cakes are still available.
Image 3: Avenue 5 gravity problems
Image 4/5: Avenue 5 flying coffins and flying body parts
Image 6: Avenue 5 Poop halo and Pope
3rd An American movie, Passengers (2016), directed by Morten Tyldum is an idealized version of living on a space ship with a few things going wrong. In this story, thousands make the journey to colonize a distant planet. Unfortunately, to make the journey, you must sleep hibernate, and this one guy wakes up too early. Now what to do? At this point, it kind of reminds me of that childhood dream of wanting to be trapped in a mall after it closes. For the guy in the movie, well, he woke up to an empty ship. He takes advantage of all the amenities since no one is around. He lives in the best suite, plays with all the toys, yet still can't get a good coffee. The food/drink machine says, "Sorry, the mocha cappuccino extreme is reserved for Gold Class Passengers, sorry, sorry… large coffee" so there is corporate-driven class status even in dreamland for this passenger.
What we have in this story is a little love, adventure, and a robotic bartender who makes everyone feel good. It wasn't a movie I want to see again and again, but it's light entertainment for now. Possibly, a good one for COVID-19 isolation since it's less depressing than the others.
Image 7: Passengers coffee and breakfast
4th Nightflyers (2018) tv series based on George R.R. Martin is a suspenseful journey into space to investigate an alien signal. I'm focusing on the S1:E6 "The Sacred Gift" where they find what appears as an abandoned ship full of women. This episode fits the lost in space motif. These women have drifted with no contact for a decade. They were scientists and developed a cloning process for a constant food source. We eventually learn they are now a cult with a kind of ejaculation torture for men. They use men's seeds (sperm) to grow their clone food. So we have a little cult, cannibalism, and torture. Not much good there for humanity. This is an example of isolation on a space ship gone very wrong.
Image 8/9: Nightflyers food source
Learned lessons for when stuck on a space ship
And expect some unexpected sex moments, maybe with a cult or just a crazed scientist on the space ship. I guess that crazed scientist scenario would apply more to the High Life (2018) movie directed by Claire Denis. I didn't mention it cause that is literally a story about prisoners sent to live on a space ship versus paying customers accidentally becoming prisoners in space. Probably no difference in the end.
I'm feeling this COVID-19 isolation isn't half as bad as being trapped on a ship in outer space. I feel a bit cheered up now—good old Schadenfreude.
What real science-fictional themed architecture interests me?
I’ld say the buildings by Ma Yansong of MA Design (MAD) are truly otherworldly. There is the Ordos Museum located in China’ s Inner Mongolia “inspired by a desert vessel” he saw in the Star Wars movie (“The Boba Fett of Architecture” April 5, 2020 LA Times). The Lucas Museum under construction in Los Angeles is another science fictional movie looking design of MAD. The illustrations of it show a space ship or sleek slice of a hovering cloud.
Reference LA Times
Natural History Museum in Los Angeles is amazing.
In one night, I saw all this in the museum.
Then I never went outside again.
Pretend we are living in post apocalyptic conditions or a world that is fighting climate related devastation. Kind of seems one of these scenarios might be a little true. A bit dramatic sounding, but wouldn't this lead people to find ways to better nurture the environment in the present.
I thought about what technological or scientific discoveries could reduce the human impact on earth. Right now we are tremendously successful as consumers and waste creators. Sounds almost good in the way I phrased it, but what in recent years might help change these patterns.
This lead me to fruit and vegetable preservation. It is a leap to go from suffering earth with desperate people in survival mode to concerns about asparagus and berries not turning wilty, mushy, furry, and trashed. Yet, we have Apeel Sciences (Goleta, California) and Hazel Technologies (Chicago, Illinois) developing the preservation tools that could enable less waste by extending shelf life of these fresh food products. At first I thought, oh no, more preservatives in food, that's not what we need, but their innovations are different.
Apeel Sciences (LA TIMES article, Caitlin Dewey, 06/20/18) created an all-natural coating that decreases that outer fruit/veg skin spoilage. The impact of this type of technology is greater than I realized. I later read that asparagus has a short shelf life and has to be flown by air to the sellers quickly. Longer asparagus shelf life could mean less likely carbon emitting air plane travel required to travel to seller/consumer. Think of all the fruits and vegetables that require quicker delivery or are disposed of because they may appear or are spoiled due to their short shelf life.
Hazel Technologies created a sachet to toss into the shipped containers of fruits and vegetables to decrease the chemical process causing decay. What the small sachet does is "shut down the food's response to ethylene, a chemical naturally emitted by many fruit and vegetables that triggers the loss of firmness, texture, and color" (LA TIMES article, Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz,12/27/19). By emitting an ethylene inhibitor, this sachet reduces the decomposition of the fresh food, not by changing the food, just its shelf life. This is remarkable and something I could see later on a home-use basis.
Impressive food preservation innovations could mean mangoes from India, okra from Honduras, avocados and cherries from U.S. all shipped farther. I realize eating locally sourced food is a better option versus expecting it to be shipped at long distances. Though not everyone has the access. Also, even these locally grown foods can spoil quickly. Having tons of spoiled food waste in landfills is hardly beneficial to anyone, except maybe scavenging animals, insects, and birds. These new innovations could curb food waste and prevent that cinematic apocalypse that everyone oddly craves for in a religious, secular, or technological sense, or where zombies have claimed all the malls, grocery stories, and restaurants.
The AAA/CAA anthropology conference is happening soon and somehow on my search for their program I came across this wonderful site that combines SF musings with anthropology. I teach a course, Anthropology through a Science Fiction Lens, so this was fantastic to see how the blog author had pulled together the conference panels with futures/science fiction themes. I've included a screen shot, but visit the tomorrow culture blog site here.
The full anthro conference program is here. This year's theme is "Changing Climates/ Changer d'Air" scheduled for Vancouver, BC CANADA November 20-24, 2019.
Reading the obituaries reminds me of all the cool people who lived. Today, no exception, I read that Pedro Bell passed in LA Times. He created the album covers for Parliament Funkadelic's music that were like science fiction stories. Read the LA Times obit and see a few of his futuristic animated covers.
Scienceandfood.org had a panel talk about future of food in extreme environments May 7, 2019. Topics covered were: NASA astronaut food, food and culture, new tech for producing food, and diverse ways to grow or bioregenerate food, and even 3D printing food for more variety and familiarity.
Midas World by Frederik Pohl
An incredible book of robots. Each story presents a different perspective about a world where advanced robots and humans coexist due to the amazing technological advancement of cheap power.
I checked this book out in the library, then bought it because it's a book written in 1983 that unexpectedly brings to mind current concerns of A.I. and automation taking human jobs. Each story is different and a progression of what happens as robots became the dominant population.
Initially, I checked out the book for the last story "The New Neighbors" which twists the reader's expected point of view. I began reading and thinking it was about a retired Chicago man named Ralph with a dog named Cissie. Then I realized it's a retired robot named Ralph, living in the Towers, a high rise building, who lives amongst other robots. When a human couple, the Albrights moves in, Ralph chats with the wife and eventually is invited to their apartment for lunch. The differences between humans and robots are detailed, as Ralph describes to the Albrights his interchangeable accessories in which he can add a liquid and solid digestion system, thereby partake in coffee and food at times. Or he can add an enhanced communication faculties when necessary. He equates his abilities to add accessories much like humans might choose to take an umbrella or camera with them depending on the situation. It's a shifting of perspective when reading this story, since the reader is in the head of the robot and not a human. Consequently, we have an insider's perspective to the robot prejudices against humans and the underhanded tactics the robot residents employ to run out these new human residents.
After that story, I had to read the entire book to see what other intriguing details would emerge about a robots way of life and human problems in a robot world. Those irreplaceable human jobs, such as white collar positions of doctors and politicians, easily replaced by robots. The ability of robots to simply change a program and part, meant they could have new languages and skills instantly, with none of the human learning curve.
Two other stories in this book, "The Servant of the People" and "The Farmer on the Dole" suggested that humans and robots would both experience job elimination. In the "The Servant of the People" the human politician, who once fought for robot rights, now finds himself competing against a robot who can easily re-program itself/himself to fit the audiences, which is becoming more of a robot constituency. In "The Farmer on the Dole" we are introduced to a robot who is experiencing obsolescences as the farm jobs are dwindling so it/he undergoes some adaptations and moves to the city. In the urban areas, there are too many robots and not enough jobs, even with the adaptations, updates, the robots appear to live a homeless, purposeless existence, even with the odd job creations for robots, such as working as a thief.
Although, I was more interested in the robot evolution, the theme of human de-evolution is bizarre and entertaining in some ways, as mandatory shopping and playing are required, which eventually leads to furry bear dress-up therapy for one human. What an imagination Pohl had.
This image is from a review of the game, Paranoia: High Programmers
It reminds me of dystopian SF stories.
LINKS for image -- Gamer Nation News / Gord Sellar Review
South Korean Science Fiction Event - USC campus
South Korean Sci-Fi talk held on University of Southern California campus, February 20, 2019. Opportunity to buy this new translation book of South Korean science fiction (LINK) and listen to speakers read science fiction in English and Korean languages.
TED Chiang discussed his interest in broader issues-philosophical issues raised with new tech. Then he used the phrase, cognitive cyborg, to describe contemporary humans, suggesting, "our dependence on tech in daily lives may make us less human because of current reliance on smart phones and Google"
Reading things backwards offers such funny joy. ETAGSNIOL Entertainment is setting up theme parks with characters, rides, and buildings based on movies they produce. United Arab Emirates and soon South Korea will have built their own "Hunger Games" and other movie worlds for audiences to play in. I'm trying to imagine how I would create a teaching activity where students take one scene from a sci-fi movie and re-imagine it as a theme park ride, restaurant, or merch item.
LINK to LA Times article and photos
Afrofuturist, Apocalyptic, and other sorts of Science Fiction themed music work are so wildly bizarre and entertaining. While teaching the Anthropology through Science Fiction Lens course I tried to play examples of sf music from movies and music videos. I'm trying to remember all my examples now. * the grizzly bear example is a little more magic than sf but it reminded me of Melancholia apocalyptic film. And this Billy Ocean video, is just crazy unexpected sf. There are sounds of sf movies that are totally recognizable too that I should make a list of for future reference.
Tallying ideas for next art series. I have ideas and sketches, but don't know if I have the energy needed for the time and physical expense in creating them.
Saint idea is a series of sports figures with back problems, Tiger Woods (golf), Brook Sweat (volleyball), Hulk Hogan (wrestler), Steve Kerr (basketball/coach), Mike Williams (football), Steve Nash (basketball), Usain Bolt (track), etc. Kind of like this Chewbacchus sticker on candle or Saint Cat Lady card.
Cryptocurrency idea is more about the digital coins and there super dull imagery. Possibly a reimagining of them like medallions, beer coasters, or a quilt of invisible money (not really invisible, like Wonder Woman's plane, but in a way invisible since it relies on electricity for it to exist)
Music and Science Fiction idea... There are lots of songs and even bands with SF theme. These cover images from the Dub mixing guy, Hopeton Overton Brown, known as "Scientist" are like wild SF comic books/video games. He even battled Prince Jammy on a few.
Everything is Sci-Fi lately. Actually, it might be that I'm looking for it and I am teaching a class about it. Even so, I'm having imaginative dreams that have to be influenced by my readings/viewings . One night I watched Amazon's new series project, Oasis, with Game of Throne's Robb Stark as ecumenical space preacher, and then I found myself dreaming in a Scottish spaceland with everyone trilling their words as aliens approached. Though I never really saw the aliens, the dream people just seemed to be chatting to aliens saying, whit's yer name wee man, and things like that. Vivid dreams are so trippy. I'm sure I was levitating too.
Anyway, I wanted to post my recent class topics. I sent these pics to friends the other day. So much research goes into my blended course, though I'm sure they're thinking, yeah, yeah, whatever, that's some loco...
I realize this blog is boring, so I think I'll pepper it with offensive Halloween costume images. Not today but in the future. Today I'll just post a picture I made.
Just thinking about food in a pill form. Can't imagine it being any better than my smoothie that taste like greens regardless of what else I put in it. What if certain food items were no longer available because of overfishing, climate problems, etc. Would we find a substitute or turn to virtual reality experiences or scent machines to give us a whiff of that food we so crave. I'm reading about this scenario now.
"Imagine a world where, say, salmon has become extinct. Maybe you could use a virtual piece of salmon sushi, a salmon-like smell, and a real chunk of some other fish in the middle of a hand roll to give people who’ve never tried it a sense for what it’s like to eat salmon sushi. Or perhaps using scent along with virtual reality could help you eat a healthier diet without feeling that you’re missing out. You might see and smell a juicy cheeseburger while actually chomping on a plant-based patty." Article: Virtual reality and food LINK
Always interesting to imagine a future of possible scenarios.
Image: Food in a pill LINK
Tiff Graham (TiGra) experimenting with ideas