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Posts Tagged ‘imaginative fiction’

Since we’ve finished Doctor Who for now (we’ll watch the most recent shows as they reach DVD), Grace and I turned to watching Blake’s 7, a gift from one of my regular readers who’s enjoyed the Whovian thread.  The set was only available in Region 2, but I have a multi-region player, so it’s all good.  I’ve known about the series since the ’80s, but for some reason I never managed to catch it on PBS.  One thing that struck me immediately was how groundbreaking the series was; it may be difficult for younger folks to believe, but in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s sci-fi series were very episodic.  There were ideas and themes that ran for entire series or seasons, but it was notable when an episode even made reference to the events of an earlier episode, much less continued a big, complex story.  Blake’s 7 changed that pattern; most of the stories were still just stories, but several per season were part of a larger pattern of development.  I don’t know if he’s ever said as much, but it appears pretty clear to me that J. Michael Straczynski was influenced by it in the creation and structure of Babylon 5, which started the same way and grew over 5 seasons to one long, deeply-interconnected saga, setting a new standard in US sci-fi TV.

One of the things I love about British sci-fi is its valuation of characters and storytelling over flashy special effects, and Blake’s 7 definitely has that (though its effects are actually better than those in Doctor Who of this time period).  It’s also fun for me to see so many faces and names I recognize from “Who” in this one; chief among those names is that of Terry Nation, most famous as the creator of the Daleks, who conceived of the show and wrote every episode of the first season (another Straczynski-like feature, though Babylon 5 did that in a later season, not the first).  I was happy to see that Nation’s writing had matured and improved considerably since the ’60s; this is the Nation who gave us “Genesis of the Daleks”, not the guy who phoned in so many earlier Dalek appearances, so the quality of the first season is consistently high.  Another familiar Who name is that of the script editor, Chris Boucher, who had given us Leela (and three excellent Who adventures featuring her) the year before signing on to Blake’s 7.  Boucher’s script editor during his time on Doctor Who was Robert Holmes, who reversed the relationship by penning a number of Blake stories for Boucher.  Holmes was a good fit here; as an idealistic young man he had become a cop, but once he found out the nasty truth about policing he turned to writing, and many of his tales involve noble or charming rascals, scoundrels, anti-heroes battling corrupt authoritarian governments.  But while The Doctor is a bit of a rascal and has no use for cops or permits, Blake’s 7 takes it up a couple of notches by giving us an often-abrasive hero dedicated to bringing down the entire evil Federation, even if it means a lot of people getting hurt in the process (the entire second season demonstrates that pretty clearly); his crew, all criminals themselves (including a smuggler, a cowardly thief, and an extremely arrogant embezzler); and a stolen spaceship (it’s technically only salvaged until the actual owners try to reclaim it).  One last thing for now: among the series’ innovations was the season cliffhanger.  Until then it was highly unusual for a TV series to bait viewers back for the following season by leaving the heroes facing certain death, as in the old movie serials; Blake’s 7 did it every season.  Though it’s now de rigeur for dramatic series to do this, that wasn’t so until the Nineties; even in the Eighties leaving the viewers hanging for more than one week (the typical gap in serials such as Doctor Who) was pretty rare on both UK and US television.

I have a great deal more to say, but it’s so much I’m going to divide it up over several weeks.

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If I could give you jail time…I would.  –  Judge Alexis Krot, to cancer patient

There was only one proper choice for a song to commemorate this week’s celebrity death; the links above it were provided by Walter Olson, Cop Crisis, Radley Balko, Franklin Harris, Missy Mariposa, and The Onion, in that order.

From the Archives

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It’s coming…it’s coming soon.  –  Rodolfo

This seasonal video is kinda brilliant on several levels.  It was provided by Walter Olson, and the links above it by Tim Cushing, Missy Mariposa, Mike Siegel, Clarissa, David Ley, The Onion, and Mike Peters, in that order.

From the Archives

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The Limits of Resolution

My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose…I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy.  –  J.B.S. Haldane, “Possible Worlds” (1927)

If you’re anything like me, you were already tired of the “We’re living in a simulation” nonsense before it even got as widespread as it is now.  The idea that what we perceive as reality might not actually be real goes back at least to Plato’s cave and the Hindu concept that the universe is the dream of Brahma, but for the genesis of its current popularity we must turn from the sublime to the ridiculous, namely the movie The Matrix (which stole both its name and its central concept from a 1976 episode of Doctor Who and many of its details from the works of Philip K. Dick, most notably Ubik, but does justice to neither).  This currently-popular version of the philosophical exercise postulates a creation with the grandeur and inescapability of what we might call the “primordial simulation” models (wherein the “simulation” is either the natural state of the universe or was created by an eternal demiurge far beyond the comprehension of any being within the simulation), yet residing within some physical realm at least resembling the “simulated” universe in which we are imagined to exist.  Expressed more succinctly, the modern “simulation” fantasy as typically conceived imagines a simulacrum of a universe created by some finite being or beings for some definable purpose and existing within some physical instrumentality.  And such a model is, due to those arbitrary limitations, pure claptrap.

The problem with this version of the idea lies in the very concept of a “simulation” as a thing that requires a “simulator”, rather than recognizing it a state intrinsic to the mathematical structure of the cosmos itself (a la Plato) or else as a product of a form of existence as far beyond our comprehension as the totality of the universe is beyond any given individual who might ponder their state of existence (as in Hindu cosmology).  But the Matrix-style simulation fans aren’t imagining an open-ended, intrinsically unknowable system; quite the opposite.  Instead, they postulate a very complex but still finite formal system, resident within something like a supercomputer (albeit an immense and very advanced one).  However, no formal system can adequately describe itself*, which means it also cannot adequately model itself; any simulation of this sort must therefore be of dramatically smaller scope and lower resolution than the world in which its simulating mechanism resides, just as no fictional world or electronic simulation within our world can ever be as large or complex as our world.  If our universe were truly a finite simulation within a knowable, physical system, there would be some point, probably but not necessarily on the scale of the infinitesimal, that we would be able to perceive the limits of granularity.  Sooner or later, our instruments would reach a point at which the resolution of our universe was no longer sufficient to allow us to subdivide structures into still-smaller parts, and given that our theoretical models already extend down to phenomena smaller than a billionth the size of the smallest particles we can detect, which are themselves far tinier than the electrons whose movements define the contents of our own computers, I think it’s safe to say that isn’t likely to happen.

*If you’ve never studied Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, here’s a very accessible book which might help you to understand both its narrow implications for mathematical modeling of phenomena and its philosophical implications for the universe as a whole.

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Diary #596

When I arrived back in Seattle last week, I found the 7th season of Afred Hitchcock Presents waiting for me, courtesy of Antonio Lorusso.  And a few hours before I left to return to Sunset, the postman dropped a copy of Cabin in the Woods into my mailbox, courtesy of Mike Siegel.  Thanks so much for the birthday presents, guys!  Both of them arrived a few weeks after my birthday because both came from the UK, despite both being American productions (this is especially weird in the case of Alfred Hitchcock Presents because every season but the seventh is available in region 1 DVD).  As for Cabin, I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, but have somehow managed to avoid spoilers for the past 9 years, so I’m quite looking forward to viewing it for the first time; after half a century of horror viewing I’m pretty hard to scare or even surprise.

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Sophia got carried away.  –  Brass Against

To commemorate the passing of one of the titans of musical theater, I present the opening number of the first production for which he wrote both words and music (still one of my favorites of his oeuvre).  The links above it were provided by David Ley, Scott Hechinger, Emma Evans, Mike Siegel, Walter Olson, Cop Crisis, and Scott Greenfield, in that order.

From the Archives

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It feels good to know that I played a small part in paralyzing a cho, LMAO.  –  Garrett Osbon

When the name Casino Royale was re-used for one of the James Bond franchise movies in 2006, those of us who remember the David Niven/Woody Allen parody from 1967 couldn’t help being amused, but apparently someone decided to juxtapose the two in a more direct way.  The video was provided by Franklin Harris, and the links above it by Clarissa (x2), Jesse Walker, Billy Binion, and Cop Crisis (x2), in that order.

From the Archives

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Diary #593

When I got back to my office in Seattle two days after my birthday, I found two packages waiting for me.  One of them, from a reader who has enjoyed my Doctor Who thread on Twitter but prefers to remain anonymous, contained the complete series of Blake’s 7, a BBC serial from the 1970s I’ve heard lots of good things about but have never seen.  It was only available in Region 2 format, but that’s OK because I have an all-region player (which is how we watched The Sarah Jane Adventures, since it’s badly overpriced in Region 1 format).  We’re going to start watching it in December, after we’re done with Doctor Who up to the last season; the current season won’t be out on disc until probably sometime next year.  And I’ll definitely be sharing my thoughts, though not at such length as I have with Doctor Who!  The other package was from one of my regular gentlemen, and contained the Meat Loaf disc you see at the bottom of this picture, plusaspecial edition of John Coltrane’s masterpiece A Love Supreme.  When I left for Sunset last Thursday, I wanted to listen to at least one of them on the way home, but realized too late I had packed them in my suitcase and I wasn’t going to pull over to dig them out.  But that’s OK, because I’ll be going back in two weeksand  I’ll listen to them then.  In case you’re wondering, I actually prefer to listen to discs in the car because it’s the only time I can do so without usually being interrupted, including by myself.  Yes, I also listen to music while getting stoned, but for that I just use Pandora so I needn’t deal with changing discs, or miss something I really want to hear because I drop off into a drugged sleep.  Two other readers have told me there are packages on the way, so I’ll tell you about them when they arrive.  And though you can’t see it clearly, this picture also contains another of my presents:  Jae is decorating my office and I’m already using it even though it isn’t yet finished!

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I could be wrong, but I could also be right.  –  Alida Bailleul

One of things I’ve always liked about Blue Oyster Cult is their willingness to do songs about topics other than the typical ones, including a number about sci-fi, fantasy, and horror movies, such as this seasonal offering.  The first and last links above it were provided by Cop Crisis, and the others by Jonathan, Miranda Kane, Franklin Harris, and Jesse Walker, in that order.

From the Archives

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I’ve always been dedicated to the idea of this as the time of year for spooky fun.  So every year I collect all the spooky, creepy or scary content from the previous year into one place just before Halloween.  If you’ve come to my blog in the past year, or don’t remember previous editions, they are “Trick or Treat”, “More Trick or Treat“, “Tricks and Treats“, “This Trick’s a Treat”, “Tricky Treats“, “A Trickle of Treats”, “Tricking and Treating“, and “Tricks for the Treat“.  Horror, death or Halloween-themed columns of the past year include “Dead on Arrival“, “The Mysteries“, “Could It Be…Satan?“, “The Sparkle of a Star“, and “The October Country“; there are creepy or spooky-fun videos in Links #541#553#566, and #590, and here’s a collection of spooky or Halloweeny links:

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