Archive for November, 2009
Unlike the last one, I could kind of see that, a little bit.
But once again it’s one of these.
Okay, so one of my favourite moments in the entire original series is right out of “An Unearthly Child”…when Susan wonderingly tells her teachers that the fourth dimension is Space.
I love that. It’s a wonderful example of how SF stories, especially SF stories for kids, can hand you a bit of a science-koan and leave you to work it out for yourself. There’s even a time-honoured mechanism here: putting the cart before the horse. Warren Ellis did it in Planetary/JLA when he introduced the “loop of light” time machine — certainly a possible idea given the almighty E=mc2, but the hilarious thing about it is: what in this universe can make light go in a loop, anyway, eh? So, CART BEFORE HORSE, for sure, but it’s brilliant anyhow…it gave me that same shiver I got as a child, seeing Reed Richards explain “sub-space” by drawing a dotted line through a circle…he might as well have shoved a pencil through a tennis ball…I mean it presupposes so much, but it’s so beautifully Einsteinian: here’s what the picture looks like, now make up what it means please, attentive children…
I mean, for example: the Tardis is “dimensionally-transcendent”, right?
But another way of saying this is that the police box is really a three-dimensional door, to another locale outside of three-dimensional space. And that’s called a wormhole, folks: a spherical defect in spacetime, whose centre is a translation-point to Elsewhere. Of course wormholes are evanescent, and they don’t look like police boxes…at least not to us they don’t. But this is what it means to be a Time Lord, I suppose: you can make stable wormholes just to use them as the welcome mat to your house of super-science.
And this is what comes of putting the cart before the horse, you see?
But, hmm, did not expect to make that digression…
So anyway: Susan in the classroom. It’s an absolutely gorgeous possibilistic moment.
Why give it up?
Here’s what I might do with Doctor Who: just start from the beginning, but go in a completely different direction — a direction in which everybody gets to have a really interesting “main-ness” about their character. Susan and the man she calls her grandfather…and there’s something funny about that, there’s something wrong with him it seems…have left the home she describes, somewhat mysteriously, as “Gallifrey”.
And where is it?
And what is up with that old coot, anyway?
And that’s the show, but now here are the background details: “Gallifrey” is less a world than a condition — we are putting the “mau” back in gallimaufry, here — and it lies in the far future…or at least, as possibly Susan will one day say, “what you would call the far future”. It seems evident that it is a planet, her ellipsis notwithstanding…
…But whatever Gallifrey is, it’s ruled by the Time Lords, of whom the Doctor is one — and it seems the Doctor was being inducted into a prestigious order that the Time Lords spend all their very long lives waiting to get into, when abruptly he ran out on it and got Susan and commandeered the Tardis and took off into time and space. Eventually, you and I would probably recognize that what the Doctor was being inducted into was the Matrix, being connected to the total stored knowledge of the Time Lords…and yet this Matrix wouldn’t be very much like the one we know, just enough that the following proposition makes sense: that once having begun to join with it, the additional knowledge he received gave him the impetus to break off the process and go and escape with Susan. But he both left behind part of himself in the Matrix, and took something of the Matrix with him, and so this is Doctor Who by way of Vernor Vinge — modules of the Doctor’s personality and memory were swapped out with informational modules of the Matrix, whether purposely by him or accidentally as part of the process (which, maybe, at some point someone might refer to as “Regeneration”…which who knows why they would call it that, but let’s not make things sound too cut-and-dried, here! Maybe there’s a good reason!), and so he’s not the man he was…and a partly-amnesiac Doctor is just too interesting not to have right away, so pausing just long enough to thank Andrew for the idea I’ll now jump all over it…which is to say, he’s not quite the man Susan remembers.
Nor the man we remember, because this Doctor has an overriding purpose that we don’t understand, and perhaps neither does he: except it’s something to do with getting Susan away from Gallifrey. And I won’t say what that is, because the possibility doesn’t need collapsing: after all, why must Susan be less mysterious than the Doctor himself? The Doctor we know has been absolutely loaded with secrets and mysteries for over a quarter-century, and they’re still not all out, and people don’t seem to mind…they seem to like it, in fact, so let’s not be in such a hurry to get to boring conclusions about Rassilon or The Other, because what makes all this more interesting is that there’s nothing wrong with Susan’s memory…she’s just not telling what she knows, though she knows less than the Doctor what she knows has the advantage of being all in one piece. So, her grandfather is the only one who can pilot the Tardis, but he’s been both handicapped and augmented and generally changed-around…which makes Susan a necessary component of the show, because she is a young girl who is caring for her aged relative, at one and the same time that she is being protected by him and led by him…because as a family story, wrapped in a mystery, buried underneath science fiction, Doctor Who necessarily must enjoy multiple character viewpoints for us to identify with: Ian and Barbara in some sense stand in loco parentis to Susan in this strange situation (as do we, in a way!), and provide us with a sense of wonder at it all as well as a sense of wondering-what-to-do about it all…not to mention representing to us a certain issue of affection and forced romance that can be made much of but not necessarily too much…rather like the way it was handled between the Ninth Doctor and Rose. Which is all perfectly fine stuff, but additionally Susan is the show’s emotional centre, and her occasionally-fraught relationship with her grandfather is what carries our sympathies most powerfully…so we can switch our viewpoint-allegiance to her just as easily. As for the Doctor himself, he doesn’t need to change much from the Hartnell performance: just changing the relationship dynamics around him will be sufficient to bring in a faint suggestion of Lear, at the same time bringing a faint suggestion of the posthuman boddhisatva (or in this case: post-Gallifreyan), and of course at the same time maintaining about him all that is Who. Again borrowing from Andrew, I should say that the adventures through time and space represent an occupational therapy for him, after his episode of cognitive damage…even as he undertakes them only for Susan’s sake.
As to the general question of Tardises, the overwhelming question of just what in the hell it is that the Time Lords do all day…I would propose that the Tardises are used pretty much exclusively to bring people to Gallifrey, and never for gallivanting around the cosmos, so I think if at any point a marooned-on-Earth Doctor is desired, it can be accomplished…with the caveat that it might go down a bit differently. Possibly the Time Lords are ignorant of Susan’s existence/importance, and only want the Doctor…possibly there is something in the Doctor’s head now which ought to be in the Matrix but now isn’t, and that’s why they don’t know…you could do a whole bunch of Gallifrey-based revelations after you give it about fifteen years or so, that could be quite different from the revelations the series itself actually delivered…
And if you kept it going on that long, by all means change actors at some point, and even use the word “regeneration”…especially since that word’s been somewhat subverted or compromised, from having already been used in a different context. We just don’t know anything about these Time Lords. The Doctor’s physical regeneration may be very strange, it may be that he is growing younger. He may not actually be “him” at all, but manifestations of other Time Lords whose essences he’d stolen from the Matrix…who contributed to it the knowledge of whatever mysterious imperative it is that involves Susan in all this in the first place. It might be that. It might not be. The door’s open.
I would want to use the Mad Monk as a bit of a trickster-figure.
And that’s all I’m prepared to reveal just now: because I hope it all does seem possibilistic. In my head, this thing is writing itself on its own fairly well, even as we speak — so if somehow I’ve been lucky enough that it’s doing the same in your head, I can’t think of a good reason to get in the way of that.
Whoooo, I really did not think I would be able to come up with the slightest idea for a revamped Doctor Who! But happily, in the end…
…That seems to be exactly what I’ve come up with.
Time to open the champagne!
No, he’s not actually Tarzan, of course…I mean this.
And then this.
Hmm…so how do you update Tarzan for a new age, in such a way as to load him up with actual drama instead of just a few soap-opera elements here and there?
It’s an interesting question. And with a tip of the hat to Harvey Jerkwater, I think I’ve found my answer…though in the end I’m sure I’ll still like Andrew’s better.
…So the first thing you have to know, is that the word Tarzan means “crazy person”, in the language of the Kasua people of New Guinea. Except, of course, it really doesn’t: I just made that up. But what the hell, if I am trying to update Tarzan I am practically guaranteed to do something disgustingly colonial somewhere along the way, so maybe with this appropriation I have gotten it out of my system.
Well, we can hope.
You may have heard of the “Lost Volcano” of Papua New Guinea, where researchers recently discovered about fifty new bizarre species…and this probably shouldn’t be too surprising, given the unplumbed richness of that island. So high a percentage of the world’s languages, so many fascinatingly-preserved birds and plants and animals and customs, so much extraordinarily rough ground, so much territory simply unexplored, both historical and physical. It’s hard to set a Tarzan story in Africa in the 21st century without either collapsing from frustration or retiring from guilt: if we don’t know Africa well enough by now not to consider it “the dark continent”, it’s only because we’ve chosen not to know it. To blithely cling to Africa’s nineteenth-century “imaginative terrain” is probably even worse than clinging to the idea that a white person can be a better African than Africans themselves…the latter idea’s racist as hell, but it’s only passively despicable: all about shoring up a European mystique of superiority that’s never really stood all that firm to begin with. The former, on the other hand, is an active, willing refusal to accord Africa the rudimentary dignity of being a place, and the Africans the dignity of being real at all.
But New Guinea’s a different sort of imaginative terrain — the appendix of the world, long thought useless, but now recognized as the place where diversity is stored up against the day of catastrophe. For us twenty-first century types, New Guinea isn’t the locale of atavism, but the very site of the new: right over there, that’s where our science fiction is going to come from, postmodern, post-colonial, post-post-post…how to be new people, how to see new possibilities, how to do new things. Forget your old futurescape narratives of motors and metals and monies and monoliths, the old clashes of technology and tribalism…because here is where the heart is.
And thus: Tarzan.
I’ll just briefly set the stage: our heroine Jane, an evolutionary biologist by trade, very much the career scientist, is visiting the region with her zoologist husband and botanist father-in-law — her father-in-law is a very big wheel indeed, so their expedition is pretty large, and quite well-equipped: lots of high-powered experts, lots of high-tech gizmos. They are going inside the region of the Lost Volcano for ten weeks to live and work — deep into the hazardous zone where no one, whether New Guinean or Western, has been before.
But of course they can’t just go in right away. First they have to spend a couple months making day trips, scouting the region for a good base camp site, interviewing the locals (let’s make them an as-yet-unencountered group of tribesmen living very close to the crater), etc. etc., and it takes a long time because the only thing like “air support” this expedition is ever going to get is some donated satellite imaging from time to time. The existence of this unexplored ecosystem is a treasure beyond price — the only way they’re getting in there no matter what is by being just about the most sensitive, non-intrusive expedition of this kind that’s ever been mounted. That’s a lot of the reason why they’ve got such nifty high-tech equipment, in fact: to make the whole operation as “clean” as humanly possible. And I know, it sounds a bit more like The Lost World than Tarzan, but work with me here. Anyway, but all this preparatory stuff is also pretty Big Science in its own right, you understand…and since Jane speaks the language and has a lot of similar experience, her job is doing the interviews with the local people. And we’re going to put some sort of clock on everything here, too — say that after the ten weeks the heavy rains are going to come, and it’s going to make things a lot more dangerous and difficult: people who go into the crater often don’t make it back out anyway, but no one who goes in there during the monsoons is ever heard from again.
So, tick-tock, tick-tock. Time passes, and Jane compiles a lot of data. She gets to go on just a couple of the day trips, but that’s okay because she’ll get to go on the first overnight trip when that comes along. Eventually it does, and she does…into the exotic landscape that stirs her romantic soul so profoundly. They could do some remarkable astronomy in there, even: the stars are so bright. And then of course you all know what happens next: Jane can’t sleep, and sees Tarzan, who’s come to investigate the overnight camp. She thinks she’s hallucinating, but then she sees him again later on.
Back outside the crater, she quizzes the tribesmen privately, and the story gradually comes out: they are actually not the first white people ever to come there, or to be curious about the Lost Volcano. Many years ago, a small group showed up — and what happened to them is unclear, but it appears they all went into the crater during the monsoons, and were all lost, except for one little boy. Who, miraculously, came back out alive. So the Kasua, for whatever reasons of their own they had, tried to rescue him and raise him…but the boy kept running off. He wouldn’t live with them. For years and years, just when they thought he must be dead by now, at the fringes of their firelight they would perceive an occasional shadow, listening to their talk. And sometimes they’d catch him again, and sometimes they’d think they’d saved him for good this time, but he always got away again and ran off over the lip of the volcano. And that’s why they call him Crazy Person…but Jane knows another word for him: feral child. And as Harvey informs me, feral children aren’t world-beating jungle supermen, they’re children operating at tremendous disadvantages, with tremendous cognitive and physical deficits — they don’t learn language, they’re small and weak, and they don’t generally live very long. So it seems incredible, impossible, that one could have survived into adulthood in this uttermost wild spot. Well, he’d gotten some help from the Kasua, so maybe that explains it a bit…but still, what an astonishing possibility this “Tarzan” represents!
So naturally, when the ten-week expedition gets underway, Jane has Tarzan on the brain, and she ends up meeting him. And maybe our story would be different if Jane were a psychiatrist instead of an evolutionary biologist, but she’s not — she can’t help seeing Tarzan as a functional part of his environment, though she knows this is wrong. She can’t help seeing him sympathetically instead of clinically, and scientifically instead of sympathetically, and ultimately romantically instead of scientifically, all at once. Oh, but not that sort of “romantically”…Jane is happily married, and Tarzan is a bush-man…but rather his very existence speaks to her aforementioned romantic soul in such a way that she finds herself torn over what to do about him. Thanks to his interactions with the Kasua, he can make a decent approximation of baby-talk in their language, and so they can talk, and become fascinated by one another…of course Jane knows she can’t really believe they are developing any sort of actual human bond of the type she knows, but part of her believes it nonetheless, interpreting Tarzan’s behaviour as though it were the behaviour of an ordinary human person. An ordinary human child, though in an adult human body.
An ordinary human child, who needs a…
And then — you saw it coming! — something happens to trap Jane in the crater-region during the monsoon season, as the rest of her expedition is forced to escape, and she discovers that Tarzan is not like an ordinary human person, and not at all like a child. As they go deeper into the backcountry, that seems to grow more exotic with every step, this fancy starts to desert her, to be replaced by another…she starts to see Tarzan as a beast, among other beasts: wild and uncontrollable, mysterious, with his own private and unfathomable nature.
And yet he cannot be this, actually. In reality, human beings are human beings the world over, and they’re all the same: they live in groups, with language and culture to aid them in survival. They didn’t “come up” from the beast-world in some arbitrary way, so they can’t go “back” to it that way either: these are artificial, prejudicial distinctions. Tarzan is very, very strange, because he’s lived his life since childhood completely free of all the ordinary evolutionary advantages that belong to human beings…
And there’s never been a human being like that!
At least, not one that lived to see maturity.
His trademarked call…what is that, anyway?
The food he eats, and gets for Jane (unwilling to eat some of the meat he gets, she’s frequently given different kinds of plants as a substitute), how did he learn about it?
The animals in the jungle…how could he have survived them? He seems to have an extraordinarily supple sense of tactics, but he also seems…well…crazy. He bursts in on a conclave of peculiar apes with merry abandon, and doesn’t get killed…are they playing with him, or trying to kill him and failing? Or, is there a difference? He can out-obnoxious monkeys and birds, he laughs to play with dangerous reptiles, he hunts jaguars by jumping on them from tree branches, it is crazy, it’s all crazy, and suddenly in a moment it comes to Jane that the animals think he’s a crazy person too…but, what makes him that way, and what makes it successful behaviour? There’s no evolution at work here, neither past evolutionary fruits being gone back to, nor new evolutionary features being gained — that’s not how evolution works. So it must be something else…
Tarzan learns a bit of English, and in teaching him Jane also learns a portion of his mysterious self-made language, the squeaks and grunts, the bizarre vocal expressions so unlike the vocalization of animals or people, the fractured pieces of Kasua, the odd bit of English stirred in…she is getting inside his head, and it’s a very weird place. What must an acultural existence be like for a human being? Is it just an endlessly shifting gallery of stimuli? What lies beyond the fear-filled existence of the foredoomed feral child, what’s it like to be a competent feral adult? Jane begins to make the connection you have surely made already: Tarzan’s not a savage, he’s a sophisticate. His mode of existence has far more in common with that of a Western urbanite, than it does with the civilized, grounded existence of the Kasua — everything is in a constant state of flux for him, as it is with our own alienated masses. He plays with language by himself, since there’s no one else to play with — he’s made his own niche in this rainforest’s startling ecosystem, out of nothing. Not being able to evolve to fit it, he’s done something far more novel than that, he’s made it fit him, somehow…he changes the parts of it that are around him, he habitually breaks every one of its pre-existing rules, and pre-existing roles.
Tarzan survives by being an artist.
Hey, but wait a minute…
Does that actually make any sense?
Oh, shit…what in God’s name has she been eating.
He just gives her stuff, and she eats it. But he’s a unique singleton living off in an uncharted, unsurveyed wilderness! Jesus, he’s given her berries. Holy shit, he’s given her mushrooms. What in the fuck was she thinking?
How long have they even been out here? Are the rains still falling?
Curse her romantic soul, it’s going to end up killing her! This guy isn’t a treasure-trove of botanical knowledge, that’s the Kasua…!
So, long story short: yes. Jane is tripping. She’s been tripping for days and days, but now she’s peaking. Suddenly she sees Tarzan in vivid hallucination, first as a victim reeking of superhuman tragedy, a lost human with needs he can’t even acknowledge, nothing but mute hurt and pain…then, terrifyingly, he’s an infant cannibal, coming after her to eat her romantic soul, her brains, the soft parts of her body…
Jane freaks, takes off suddenly at a dead run into the jungle. Tarzan is surprised, and runs after her. To protect her?
But wouldn’t that urge be foreign to his very way of thinking?
Suddenly he is a wild beast on her trail, hunting her. He’ll kill her if he catches her, crunch her bones, slurp down her blood…she has to get away. But get away to where? Back to so-called “civilization”? But every person there is secretly a Tarzan, every person there is a singleton, negotiating their world’s capricious stimuli by practising a distant, inhuman form of art…and she’s one of them too, and she cannot even get away from herself…inside her is a Tarzan, the idea of Tarzan now coming for her, coming for her…the monster gliding deeply, coldly, under the attractive skin of her false identity…
Tarzan is now freaking a little, himself. Jane is moving fast, really fast. Too fast for the jungle. He bolts up a tree, spies her charging along. He gives his weird neither-fish-nor-fowl yell, to freeze her. It works…
…And then a jaguar comes right at her from out of the bushes.
Tripped-out Jane’s response?
She goes for it.
Faster than a blink, she does something Tarzanesque to it, something stupidly unexpected: she puts her whole arm right down its throat up to the shoulder and grabs its jaw with her other hand to hold its mouth open while she messes around down in there. The jaguar is…well, let’s say startled. Jane is toast, of course; but she’s bought herself about a quarter of a second. Maybe just an eighth.
(Oh dear, this has gone a bit of the rails, I think…whoops…)
But fortunately this is time enough for Tarzan to swing down on a vine (on a vine! What?) and kill the jaguar before it tears Jane to shreds. In the aftermath, Jane has her final hallucination. Once again, she sees Tarzan…
…But this time, she doesn’t see him as a child, as a victim, as a beast, or even as an idea. Against all expectations, she suddenly sees him, with alarming vividness, as a man.
And it is at this point that they consummate their relationship. Very new stuff, to Tarzan! As at last, the real irrevocable human connection is made, and cemented.
So, end Part One.
And then Part Two naturally goes like this: the rains end, and Jane’s husband and father-in-law return, and what with one thing and another Tarzan and Jane leave the Lost Volcano for the outside world. And here are a bunch of your major soap-opera elements, right in Part Two where they should be…but in a sense, to Tarzan it’s all one: he’s still an environmental artist, the outside world is just as full of madness to him as was the jungle, and he deals with it the same way…I hope you can picture it all as automatically as I can…but then in Part Three he and Jane return to New Guinea, to, I don’t know, thwart the evil plans of bioprospecting poachers? There’s a lot of new (old) knowledge in Tarzan’s jungle, but Tarzan himself is still the major repository of it…”how did he survive” is still a very important question that he will never be able to answer. But Jane might be able to answer it, in time, and that’s her new field of research: discovering what Tarzan knows, that he doesn’t know he knows. And it’s very fruitful research indeed, but then that’s where the danger comes from, too. The world spins on into the twenty-first century, and times change, but people don’t: the last storehouses of biodiversity, as they become more vitally important to the human race, also become focusses of wealth, power, and all that crap. Meanwhile the “archive” that Tarzan’s unmarked, uncatalogued experience represents still has Elephants’ Graveyards in it, waiting for Jane to discover them…
Oh, and I think that’s probably all I can manage for tonight. But I think there’s enough there to do more stuff later…I mean, in order to interpret Tarzan’s experience lucidly, Jane will have to spend a lot of time with the Kasua, who as previously mentioned are the only source of cultural knowledge in the region…it probably ought to be that in Part Two it’s discovered Tarzan has not only a fortune waiting for him in the outside world, but relatives…the geopolitics New Guinea is embedded in today might easily offer thrilling extrapolations for future Tarzan stories…
Hey, just think of it as being written by Kim Stanley Robinson instead of me, okay?
Oh, this bloody thing almost killed me, and now suddenly Andrew’s got a new one up…
Curse you and your manifestoes, Andrew! I knew nothing good could come of all this!
Since you have already MEMED everybody who reads you, I don’t suppose I should say I’d like to see what RAB’s Tarzan or Doctor Who would be like…
But, y’know…I think I will, anyway. He did miss the Darkseid one due to Marc saying everything, after all…so that’s clearly his fault and he should be made to pay…
And hey…anyone ever read “Showboat World” by Jack Vance?
I wanna do some Jack Vance blogstuff pretty soon, I think.
Okay, now I’m just rambling.
Just wish I could get the embedding to work…
Gonna do about a million of these.
BLACKEST NIGHT SUCKS, BLACKEST NIGHT SUCKS, BLACKEST NIGHT SUCKS…!
Oh, hello there.
You must be the members of the Unofficial Geoff Johns Blogospheric Defence League. Hey, pleased to meet you!
I think it’s time we had a chat.
Now I understand you’re growing up, and your bodies are changing, and that’s a little scary sometimes. And that’s why you love Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and Flash and LSH work: because he speaks to you, he is telling your stories. And that it’s nice to have someone out there who’s telling your stories, is a fact I will happily concede; you don’t know how many times I’ve wished to see somebody out there telling my story.
But! This isn’t a contest.
Today in the venerable Globe And Mail newspaper, on the back page where they put annoying essays about how cleaning one’s oven gives one an elemental feeling of connectedness to one’s grandmother, was an op-ed piece by a woman in her mid-sixties who works as a university administrator, who chafes at the question which is always being put to her by her peers: so when are you going to retire? She looks around and can’t fathom the attraction of the constant, useless, “adult play” her retired friends engage in, are so busy with, have been consumed by…prosyletize for. Am I right, people? she seems to be saying. I think the ladies in the house know what I’m talking about…
I studied this in school, as it happens. Some people find the transition from working to retired life very challenging. But where this woman finds her difficulty is in thinking it’s everybody else who’s embracing a delusion. The Sufis say:
“Until you have real knowledge, your belief is mere coalesced opinion, no matter how it may seem to you.”
And this is precisely the stumbling-block. They also say:
“The way a master teaches is often incomprehensible to the student…they are trying to understand the workings of something, when in reality they are in urgent need of its benefits. Without its benefits they will never be able to understand its working.”
Which is a fact very readily apparent to every senior person in the working world, but invisible to every junior in their charge: because it’s about experience. The older person tells the younger that experience carries wisdom with it — but the younger person’s own experience is that experience just doesn’t tell you much of what you need to know, and so they look on the older person’s experience with an understandable dubiety. They have only their senior’s word for it, that the senior’s experience is worth listening to…
…And their own word disagrees. Because not having gained the benefits, they can’t understand the workings. Five years of working basically explains to you that your own experience is pretty much for shit, as far as extractable lessons go. Therefore you conclude the same is true for everybody’s experience…
…Because that’s what your own experience is telling you. But your own experience about what experience is worth, doesn’t offer much in the way of extractable lessons either, and that’s the information you’re missing: the information that every blade of grass and grain of sand hollers out to the older and wiser person…
…But which they sometimes forget too. As our friend the university administrator has forgotten it: confusing her reluctance to give up her identity in the sphere of conventional accomplishment and achievement, for her peers’ self-absorption. But really she’s the one who’s not seeing things as they are, here — because until she takes retirement, her beliefs are mere coalesced opinions, no matter how it may seem to her. To the people on the other side of that divide, there is actually no divide — and that’s the benefit they’ve received from biting the bullet and letting go, and willingly ceasing to be the people they thought they once were. Our administrative friend (if you read her as I do) sees a conflict, maybe a madness — an irrational commitment to a spurious ideal of self-gratification. A selling-out?
And what do you see, O Unofficial Geoff Johns Blogospheric Defence League?
To me, you look like a bunch of people who think they’re being attacked by zombies. But me and the rest of the blogospheric folks who think a lot of what Geoff Johns offers is unwholesome pandering, non-nutritious nostalgia, are not seeking you out. You are seeking us out. And when we meet you, a whole lot of the time it seems you are being really shifty, moving your goalposts, passive-aggressively inviting us to consider that maybe the fault isn’t in our Big Stars, but in our little selves…I mean if we’re as rational as we claim, can’t we allow that we may be playing the opposite, of the role we think we’re playing?
Wouldn’t a rational person have to allow for the possibility, that maybe their belief is mere coalesced opinion, and that actually they’re acting contrary to their own stated point of view?
I don’t say this because of that fellow I was talking to on Geoff Klock’s blog, I’d just like to make that clear. I am absolutely not writing this in response to him, I have no problem with him, he and I are good. But he did get me thinking about how in really the oddest places online, if you say you think Blackest Night’s a piece of shit, or that Geoff Johns is no good, suddenly there will pop up defenders of his to invite you not to worry about the mote in their eye. Indeed, I don’t mean to reference any specific person, or any specific instance, at all…but I’ve noticed this going down. And I didn’t really feel like it was happening for real, you understand…it was nothing like the painfully-obvious campaign of the Civil War Comment Troll from a couple years ago, the “but these characters have always been this way, and anyway even if they haven’t what are you all getting so worked up about, the next event’ll just cancel it all out and return your precious backward-looking status quo to you anyway, and um maybe it’s just comics dude? Peace” guy I used to chase around from blog to blog calling bullshit on…no, I knew what that guy was doing. But this was a bit less clear to me, for a while.
And now it’s not. Which is sort of why I set this little weblog-update trap for you, because I know now that you really are out there, and I wanted to speak to you, all of you, all together, just one time. And say stop this. Because I can understand your mistake. Indeed, the thing about zombies and other monsters — but especially zombies! — is that they’re a mask of gruesome fear thrown over the fair face of self-recognition. That’s what these things are, they’re just a scary veil draped over a mirror. Which is just what they’re supposed to be, because no one wants to look in a mirror for real, not really look in a mirror…but once you’ve looked, that horror disappears, and everything’s okay again. Hell, it’s better.
It really is!
And that’s the fun, the frisson, in that reading. But to bring that reading to your fellow bloggers, no, this is not on. Uppity art-comix snobs. We really aren’t, you know?
Would we even be here, if that’s what we were?
We don’t want to take your Geoff Johns comics away. I even like Geoff Johns, myself. And I fully support your fun reading of crap comics that speak to you. However geeked-out you want to get, I’m for it.
But this thing where you come and get on people’s cases for saying Blackest Night sucks…
Well, I am getting out my flamethrower, okay? Because this is not cool, and so I refuse to play the zombie here. You can be the zombie for a change, if the game “Zombie” is all you want to play.
Final Crisis? Blackest Night?
Well, it could all be happening right now, couldn’t it?
But this is too metatextual for me. We are not the fucking superheroes, people. Neither Geoff Johns nor Grant Morrison is writing us, you know.
So let’s leave all that Good vs. Evil stuff on the other side of the veil.
(ps. Comments to this post that begin with the word “um” will be deleted unread.)
(pps. Holy shit I am now convinced Johns is a Meta-Genius! You think he and Morrison had this planned all along?)
(ppps. Our sentence is UP.)
So, the experiment’s been and gone.
What have we learned?
Well, the first thing we’ve learned is that non-comics people can read these things, and more than that — a lot of them think they’re so cool that they will read them. So here is a testament to the joy of reading pictures in glorious Broadsheet-O-Vision: if you’re looking for your entry-level comics, here they are…except they’re not really “entry-level” at all, because comics don’t need an “entry-level”. Because that’s a myth, you see? A story we tell ourselves (still! after all this time!) about how people really would like our special thing, if only we could ease them into it slowly enough.
Which is bullshit: because they already like comics. It is already their thing. Possibly it’s even more their thing than it is ours; unless that “them” and “us” is a wholly illusory distinction, a wall that only exists when you’re on the wrong side of it — a wall made of illusion, meant to protect an illusion. And what’s the illusion?
The illusion is that we’re the connoisseurs, here.
But we’re not. They are.
Because they like the art, and think the stories are stupid. Which is a very accurate thing to think, because most of them are. But the other thing they know is that stupid stories don’t matter, unless they really want you to take them seriously…”ooooh, look, Batman’s having a moral crisis…!”
(Seriously, who reads Batman for the moral crisis parts?)
…And then the stories make it so you can’t even enjoy the art anymore, but if the stories just exercise a little bit of restraint then whatever stupidity they have can be ignored…
So that would be your “entry-level” comic, then. One that can be enjoyed; one that is a pleasure to read, rather than a pain.
And most of the Wednesday Comics offerings were that; but there were a few surprises in there too, I believe. So, without further ado:
Batman: it’s hard, I find, to specify exactly what makes a good weekly page work. There has to be conclusion, in the sense that (as Paul Pope’s lately remarked) the page has to be a whole work…I mean let’s not say “done-in-one”, why are we always saying “done-in-one”? The Wednesday Comics format shows, I think, why the extolling of “done-in-one” virtues is stupid…you can be all done in one page, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still want to know “what happens next”! And yet you have to play those cliffhangers nicely, I think, since it is just a page: you have to play them just so. The page still has to be a whole work, it can’t just be build-up to something really cool that’s coming later after you’ve done your chores…the page has to satisfy in itself as well as make you want to read more. But if things are in such a state that those values have trouble coexisting with each other, if you can’t get one kind of satisfaction without giving up the other, hoo boy…that’s a big problem.
And it seems to me that the casual reader understands this. Which maybe is why they’re the casual reader: they’re uninterested, any old way, in being teased, splash-paged, or re-raised to death. We rant on and on about wanting done-in-ones because we can’t just drop a book when it thinks it’s so much cleverer than we are it can afford to jerk us around like that, and so for us the done-in-one is the antidote to a way of storytelling that aims at devaluing what you just read. The big twist comes! None of that shit you were reading before matters, it was all just preamble, it’s the next installment you need to get! Well why did I read this then, why am I reading this?
So, the good news is that Batman sustains the interest in a reasonable way, a way you can communicate with and participate in rather than some crazy interest that’s only interested in itself…but really it’s only because of the art. The story’s dumb, and kind of boring. Which is okay; because I’m beginning to suspect this is a hard format to write for if you’re used to something else, and I’m really just here for the art anyway. Not that the writer doesn’t have anything to do with that, either: wow, you unfold this thing and suddenly you’re looking at two eyes looking back at you, BAM! And reflected in them, the Batsignal. You couldn’t start the whole thing off more perfectly, knowing perfectly well that you need both writer and artist to do it so nicely and neatly. Then you get graveyard shadows and guns, then if you’re me and you accidentally open the next installment upside-down, you get a page where everything’s reversed except Batman himself, hanging from the ceiling, and you think “oh SHIT that’s a beautiful trick!” until you realize you’re an idiot…but you know, it doesn’t matter, because the whole package is still there. I mean whatever with this noir-ish plot, we all know what the deal is, right? And it does get a little plodding when the art has to go through the plot — Lord, but you simply cannot get away with any decompression in this format at all, it is absolutely punishing — but in the end it’s all attractive, and most parts of it are worth lingering over a good long while, and it doesn’t bloody well tease the crap out of you…although it’s interesting to note that this Batman does have problems with the beginning of each new page, Week #9 in particular (as gorgeous as it is) being something that both begins and ends very stubbornly in media res…which is, you know, not so hot. I mean, that’s like a page out of a comic book, that kind of thing, and so we see that even this wonderfully moody Batman team isn’t just going to be perfectly perfect at it all right out of the box.
And we could contrast this with Metal Men and Metamorpho, a little bit, because they’re a bit hung up in the same way. Metal Men would make a simply awful comic book, because it’s all really dumb and it’s quite hard to care about it, the art notwithstanding…but as dumb as it is, because it’s as dumb as it is, it manages to give you value-for-page: because it’s pretty superficial, so the tension’s pretty superficial, and so it should light up at the end and play a little jingle called “Oh No It’s A Cliffhanger”, and so there you go. A work of art it ain’t, but you can read it. You’re not going to run screaming from it…
…Uh, that is, up until the part where it all goes a bit Crossover Event-y and the Metal Men all die…oh, Didio, and you were doing so sort of okay at this game! Yikes. Well at least the man’s consistent about what he thinks “drama” is…
…But up until that point, everything’s definitely got the right kind of fade-in and fade-out, and I think that is not nothing…because the form’s being engaged with properly here, even if the story starts out sucking, and then finishes worse than that.
But then there’s Metamorpho, and it’s got a great story…and a great artist, and a lot of great self-conscious use of the form…and yet it seemed to lose people almost as much as the Metal Men did. Personally I thought it was a LOT better than Metal Men, but…I don’t know, did it seem to anyone else as though it begged to be given two pages at a stretch? Oh, the form, the form…it’s a punishing form. The pace has to be different…I think Gaiman and Allred accomplished something quite remarkable, in that they almost got it down perfectly, but in the end what they had was too much fun for them to compress any further. It seems as though there is something about the caesura within a single page that’s important too, as important as the caesura between pages…
Which is something a lot of people seemed to have a little trouble with. Deadman, that started so brilliantly (it remains one of my favourites), soon lost a bit of its grip on that…Superman, oddly enough, found it but not in time. And my God, when it finally did it was instructive as hell: because it revealed that the words weren’t really doing anything for the story. And previously I’d thought it was the art that was letting it down! But it wasn’t, and I think that’s another lesson this experiment has taught us…Superman, and I hate to say this, is a much better read if you only look at the pictures…uh, and if you cut out one or two of the pages…a rather disjointed strip, actually…
Whereas Green Lantern was not disjointed, but simply (it seems to me) didn’t suit this form much at all. Perfectly fine story, perfectly terrific art, but there was something in it made for living in the confines of a book…just as, I think, the Supergirl feature profited by being placed outside the book, that one can envision it being wrapped in so easily: essentially a twelve-page backup story, that found a greater sense of episode as twelve isolated pages, that allowed it to finish more strongly than it probably would have in another format. And yet these weren’t failures or triumphs, so there is not as much to say about them…I don’t think we learned much from them. More interesting in that light is Hawkman, and the Catwoman/Demon strip…and oh God I had such hopes for the Catwoman/Demon strip, in a way it did everything right…and yet nothing really happened in it, did it? An interesting development: right across the page in Hawkman we see the same — the SAME! — impressive facility with the single-page format, but the idea is so much cleaner, the meaning is so much more urgent, and the character makes so much more sense…I mean, I’m no particular fan of The Awesome, these days, but after my initial disappointment with the “we flap” dialogue — which I thought was a bit too awfully cute — there was no point at which I was not grinning at the Awesomeness of Hawkman. No point at which I wasn’t thinking of how much more of this I’d like to read…
And it’s the same, of course, with Adam Strange: in which Pope seems to tell much more than just twelve pages worth of story, somehow. Adam Strange finds the time to get lugubrious, to cut away to different locales, to invest its characters with a tingling sense of purpose that’s lacking in all but a few of the Wednesday Comics that surround it — Pope says he missed the boat a little bit on this one, but I’m not so sure he did: mania on Rann and depression on Earth barely even calls for the old business of whether or not Strange is delusional, but it’s not awful that it’s there, if only because it does indeed point to what’s important: a certain quasi-Ballardian curiosity about what this updated John Carter signifies. So this could be something, this strip…something we haven’t really seen before, or at least something we haven’t seen for a long time…
Which puts it neatly in company with Kamandi, another of the Wednesday Comics that seems to know how to do everything right. Like Green Lantern and Supergirl, I can’t find much to say about it: like them, it accomplishes everything it sets out to do, the only difference being that, like Hawkman and Adam Strange, it really is suited to the page-a-week broadsheet form. That Metamorpho came so close to…!
Which brings us to Flash, because what it accomplished with its “double-stripping” solved a problem Metamorpho couldn’t get itself around, and also covered a lot of the same ground in terms of story, that Superman and Teen Titans did…only, with a little more freshness. I mean, these are all “classic” stories that I’m incredibly sick of, you know? And not only that, but stories that require a certain level of background knowledge — stories more or less in synch with the regular books, in the regular DC universe. Superman chats with Batman and Lois Lane in a way that to an “entry-level” reader suggests there are a lot of character dynamics going on in the “modern” version of Superman he doesn’t know about, and that seem really dull…similarly, though I grinned when I saw the “Iris West” strip, and liked Gorilla Grodd, I can easily see their inclusion as “just for me”. Well, but whatever, everyone knows what the Flash can do, and focussing on Iris’ problems with being his girlfriend is a LOT more accessible and entertaining this way, then it would be in a book. A LOT more, did I say that already? I want to see another Flashy time-travel story about as much as I want to eat a can of No-Name Cream Of Mushroom Soup, but the nice thing about this particular kick at that can is that it’s got a reason to exist…which is something you can’t say for other Flash time-travel stories. I mean, you know, YAWN and everything, for the time-travel conventions this thing employs — I do not need to see those — it seems those have been the absolute backbone of every piece of shit comic DC has put out for decades — but at the same time there’s an air of “right, covered that!” about this fairly-breezy strip that I can’t help but endorse. Yes, by all means, if we’re going to have it, let’s get done with it…if Flash must be constantly engaged with these mini-Crises, let’s just give him one that settles the issue. Noticeably, this thing would be absolutely boring as sin if it didn’t have Iris in it, and I think very possibly that’s the point: it oughtta be a point well-taken, too. I am not sure I’d call this Flash a smashing success, in fact I think it started much better than it ended — not sure the “travelling through comics” bit really accomplished much, and the climactic episode in #11 seemed overwrought, if very nicely-drawn indeed…I liked it all, but it seemed tacked-on to the material from the first few issues whose light-hearted SF-romance strip-mashing I really enjoyed…
…And besides, I think Wonder Woman did all that quite a bit better, don’t you?
I may be in the minority, here. Certainly Wonder Woman had its flaws — at least, one senses it really needed a much bigger page to be read properly. But if any of the Wednesday Comics deserves to be printed in a nice, glossy, hardcover edition it’s this one: by far the most ambitious effort in the bunch, it’s only held back from being the very best of them by the unfortunate printing conditions…and you could seriously have knocked me over with a feather when I got to the Fenris page and realized how very, very, very much I wanted this to be an ongoing, and for it to replace the stodgy old Wonder Woman of the regular comics that over the years we’ve grown to love and not give a shit about…perhaps as a Vertigo title? My goodness, DC, isn’t it about time you gave up on the “superheroic” Wonder Woman that nobody likes, and accepted some new Wonder Woman people would like? Isn’t it just painfully obvious by now that as soon as Diana Prince hits the public domain she’s gonna be an unbelievable sales sensation? Due to all the people there are who would know what to do with her, if only you would let them. I think DC could stand to have three or four separate NEW Wonder Woman titles, myself…
But so, a Vertigo series, well maybe…but to not see Caldwell’s work in some oversized, page-a-week format would be a sin on the level of killing a mockingbird. The non-comics readers I showed this to ooohed and aaahed over it like you wouldn’t believe…of course they couldn’t read the thing, hell even I could barely read it…but the important thing is, they got it. Even though they couldn’t read it. And they were dazzled by it. And I like to think there’s nothing here that clearer printing couldn’t solve, in a sense it’s a failure but in another it’s a giant success, because in all ways but one it is marvellously well-suited to the broadsheet page-a-week form, and don’t let yourself be fooled by the complicated swirl of the panels, because kids like solving puzzles…and here we are really talking about it, this is genuinely a kid’s comic. So Caldwell wins, because I’ll be re-reading his Wonder Woman for a long time to come, and pining away for it…even if it’s not on newsprint.
Which just leaves Sgt. Rock…
But of course there’s absolutely nothing to say about Sgt. Rock now, is there? It’s Joe Kubert drawing Sgt. Rock, it’s timeless. Nice script by the young’un, too. So, let it be known, I’ll read as many of these as the Kuberts can make, I’ll just read ‘em and read ‘em, I mean this one is just like Wonder Woman in that sense, except it is obviously not an experiment, it is SGT. ROCK BY THE KUBERTS and it doesn’t need my summation, anymore than it needs my introduction. Each person I showed Wednesday Comics to simply hollered out: “hey, it’s Sgt. Rock!” Yes, I replied. Yes, it is.
And so what else is there to say?
Wednesday Comics. Make more of these, DC. But then for God’s sake don’t just let the cool stuff lie there, after.
Call it a dry run.
This blog-post originally composed on the 5th of November.
But no: actually that’s not really significant.
Ah, hello there, Bloggers! Long time no see: I’ve been busy. But now I’m back.
So if you stick with me, I believe I can guarantee you a point of some kind.
And also, no fooling: some weird wild shit, somewhere a little further on.
So anyway, we were talking about what Star Wars got right, and we were talking about what Star Wars got wrong, because we were talking about the thing that makes Sean Witzke roll his eyes even more than discussions of Star Wars — i.e. we were talking about the elusive beast called canon. So what’s the interest? What’s the upshot?
As far as I’m concerned, it’s this: that the original 1977 release of Star Wars is the only thing that really “counts” as Star Wars…and that the original novelization of the movie, along with its “sequel” Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye, and two or three crucial elements of The Empire Strikes Back, function comfortably as part of a deuterocanon…
…And beyond said deuterocanon, there’s nothing else to know.
So, that’s where I’m coming from, and no doubt to many it seems like a reasonably weird place. Really no Empire, no Return, no prequels, no further novelizations?
Is that really (I hear some of you saying) the best I can do?
Actually, it is…because this is how I choose to assert the “ownership” most fans feel toward Star Wars, in which sense of fannish entitlement I am no different from they. It’s only that, into that grand space of potential narrative explanation that George Lucas abandoned so totally, I choose to inject my own indifference as an organizing through-line. Star Wars, to me, is much better off as a splintered failure than a triumph of rational reunification…and so I passionately assert my fannish interest in it to propose that all the wood has gone through the chipper, and all the chips have simply fallen as they may, and the tree is done, but at least we still have its “before” picture to look at so let’s let the past tend to the past while we move on to something else.
If I did have to attempt a recreation of the tree from its chippy constituents, here for your (possible) amusement is what I would probably end up allowing:
The Sith were the original practitioners of “force magic”, and ruled a terrible Empire, until the rebellious, sickeningly “good” Jedi Order arose out of them, and wiped them out ’til there were only a few left. Sometime later than this, Luke Skywalker’s father becomes a Jedi Knight, and fights alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi and probably Darth Vader too, in the Clone Wars. But then afterwards, foolishly choosing to go against his Force-peer Vader as he turns to the dark side, Skywalker is killed…and eventually the rest of the Jedi are also killed, all except for Obi-Wan Kenobi, because he has become somewhat depressed. Perhaps he feels Skywalker’s death at Vader’s hands is his responsibility, his failure…but in any case he survives because he has elected to follow the “guru” path and retire to some out-of-the-way planet as a hermit and teacher. His motivation in this isn’t entirely pure, however: he does not teach when he is on Tatooine (because at this point “teaching” would be the same as Rebelling), so much as he simply tries to protect and provide for the son Skywalker left behind there. This doesn’t really work out for him, though: he’s rejected both by the Skywalker family, and by whatever passes for Tatooine society. Heck, they don’t even call him by his right name: and over time he does less and less about more and more, just a cranky old goat out in the desert, until it doesn’t even matter that he was once a Jedi.
And so in time…he is the only one left, because he really ceases to be one at all.
Meanwhile Vader allies himself with the political forces of the Tarkinites and their Emperor — a very un-Jedi, and even un-Sith, thing to do, but as we shall see he has his reasons. The Tarkinites fear him, but their Emperor seems to favour him; so at least in part, the Death Star is built to put him in his place. Vast scientific forces trump Vader’s obscure power — and yet he is on the Death Star as the Emperor’s enforcer, and everybody knows it. It’s a funny situation for him to be in, since he’s so dismissive of technology: but as the Emperor’s enforcer he is there to make sure the Death Star is used as the Emperor wishes it to be used…even though he himself would rather have an Empire of the Force.
Even if he can find no adherents.
But then meanwhile, back on Tatooine…somehow events conspire to bring Skywalker’s son into contact with his father’s teacher, with disastrous consequences. Luke’s family is destroyed, forcing him into the life of a Jedi apprentice and a political actor…and Obi-Wan feels the currents of the Force swirling around him again, after all this time.
So…it’s a kind of redemption for him?
Or at least: an opportunity for redemption…
…Finally achieved when he sacrifices himself to Darth Vader’s lightsaber, in order that Luke may escape the Death Star. And then whatever happens next, remains to be seen.
Cue X-wing bomber runs, Han Solo’s absolutely unanticipated intervention, Darth Vader’s defeat, and the destruction of the Death Star.
And then…on to “The Empire Strikes Back”, which picks up as the Rebels are already fleeing the “ice planet of Hoth”…but nothing of interest really happens until Han Solo flies through the asteroid field. Thus it is established that Han Solo is awesome, you see? Which is one of the elements of Empire that made it into my original deuterocanon, as it happens…ohh, that asteroid chase…!
…But in it, the Falcon takes a hit from one of the TIE fighters (or something), that cripples its hyperdrive system. Meanwhile Luke, flying to the Rebels’ rendezvous point with R2-D2, hears Ben’s voice telling him he “must seek Yoda”, the famous and ancient Teacher Of Jedi, though he’s not a Jedi himself — and this is the second important deuterocanonical element — and so Luke flies to the Dagobah system against R2-D2′s wishes, where he meets an annoying creature while spending the whole time looking for the magical Jedi Teacher Yoda, but never finding him. Along the way, he encounters many problems and must get better at using the Force to surmount them…but of Yoda, there’s never any sign. Meanwhile again, Han and Leia keep trying to flee the Imperial forces but the Falcon’s hyperdrive isn’t working…they therefore must go to many different planets and moons (including the third moon of Endor) in an effort to evade the Star Destroyers. After tossing stormtroopers galore at them, Darth Vader enlists bounty hunters to track them down instead, because he can’t just run around all over the place looking for them, because he’s got a job, damn it…and also it’s hard to justify such a huge fleet’s mobilization only for REVENGE, which is what this is: as far as Vader knows, it was the Millenium Falcon that was responsible for the Death Star blowing up, and the Empire’s enemies must be punished, sure, but…no one’s really ever heard of Han Solo anyway, you know? And to admit Leia Organa survived the destruction of Alderaan would just be stupid, at this point. After all, the remnants of Republic aren’t exactly perfectly quelled, you know…
And thus there is a series of showdowns between Han Solo (previously demonstrated to be awesome) and the various bounty hunters who are after him, and he beats them one by one…until the smartest bounty hunter, one Boba Fett (the only one who really plans to sell him to Vader instead of to Jabba), corners him and cleans his clock. Epic battle: and then Han is frozen in some kind of ice-block to be taken back to Vader. Boba Fett doesn’t care about Leia Organa (who by the way is in love with Luke Skywalker) because the specifics of his contract ended up excluding her…nothing personal, Vader, it’s just business…which is a painful irony, because Han might’ve won the big showdown if he didn’t think he had to protect Leia (who he’s in love with by the way) at all costs. Just before he’s frozen, Han tells her: “I love you”. She replies: “I know.” Then POOF! It’s just Leia and Chewbacca and Threepio, and the downed Falcon. Leia and Chewbacca get it moving again unexpectedly quickly with the help of the Ewoks (because Han was nice to them, or saved them from being blown up, or something), then they head for the Provincial Capitol where Vader and the Star Destroyers will be…the gas-mining colony called Bespin. Hooray, they’ve got there before Boba Fett, because the Falcon’s so fast! With some difficulty they evade the Imperials, but then are captured by the (supposedly) less well-trained Governor’s Army. But actually this army seems pretty darn well trained, you know…
Too well-trained, to not be in the pay of the Empire?
And then finally “Return Of The Jedi” starts with Luke having flashes of Han and Leia being in trouble…just as they’re rescued by Lando, the Provincial Governor who nonetheless owes Han a favour, and who is also (conveniently) part of the anti-Sith, anti-Vader movement within the Empire. Leia and Chewbacca and Lando (and Threepio) try to rescue Han from Boba Fett…once Boba Fett hands Han over to Vader, though, Lando’s hands will be tied until such time as the anti-Vader movement gives him the okay to “free the Emperor from Vader’s control”. But gradually it’s revealed that the Emperor is a Sith too, and Vader’s master: the Empire is just a front, for the resurgence of the Sith. Leia and Chewbacca (and Threepio) thaw Han out, but then the stormtroopers attack them — then Lando musters his troops against the Imperials, and all looks like it’s going to turn out fine, until Vader walks in and announces that “my Master approaches”. A super-Star Destroyer moves in, and the Emperor arrives — blowing the pro-Emperor/anti-Vader coalition to bits.
And back on Dagobah, Luke realizes he has to go to Bespin and save his friends. His annoying native companion reveals himself as the Exalted Jedi Teacher Luke’s been seeking all this time — it was all a trick! And finally we have the raising of the X-Wing from the swamp, and the “do, or do not” prescription: Yoda lets Luke go, because “always in motion is the future”, and all the bad stuff we’ve just seen hasn’t actually happened yet. But Yoda has stayed alive just for Luke, and when Luke goes he will die…so here is the last test, and Yoda will not be able to tell Luke if he’s passed it…he will not be able to tell him if he really is ready. As Luke flies off to Bespin, insufficiently trained — he really must “trust the Force” now — Yoda’s face is lit in red, and he hears a voice as a ghostly head appears behind him: the successful Force-penitent Obi-Wan, who seems dubious about the whole thing with Luke, there. They have a brief conversation about destiny and hope and all that nonsense…with the sense of it being that both Force-Masters must now fade away, awaiting the outcome of events. If Luke is killed, the Dark Side will have triumphed, and they’ll have no rest in the Force because it will sicken — this is the cosmic dimension of Luke’s story. But if he succeeds, they’ll be able to come back because the Force will be reinvigorated. Until and unless that happens, though — they’re out of the picture.
So Luke goes to Bespin, and he fights Vader and is almost killed by him…until the Emperor himself attacks Vader, because he’s decided he would prefer Luke as apprentice instead…after it’s revealed it was Luke (not Han) who destroyed the Death Star even while Vader tried to save it…so it’s Luke who is truly at one with the Force, and that’s a tool the Emperor can use. Vader roars: naturally the Sith apprentice must always slay his master, but that isn’t what the Emperor intends, and Vader will not be allowed to choose his time. They fight, and Vader kills the Emperor…then turns to Luke and says there’s an Evil Apprenticeship available. But, is it really “evil”? It’s because of Luke, after all, that the Emperor has died, and Vader has won…clearly the Force “wants” Vader to be Luke’s teacher, now that Obi-Wan is gone…and one day Luke will be Emperor, because there is no more Jedi stock left in the galaxy. Vader, unlike the Emperor, has a vision of a future bigger than himself: he was always a religious Force-fanatic, deep down, so he’ll be happy to leave the whole thing to Luke in due time. Luke can sense Vader is telling the truth, and they have a conversation about Luke’s father, in which Vader tells Luke that it’s his destiny to accept Vader as his new, spiritual father — OMG, just like Obi-Wan was! — and in this way Vader will atone for what he’s done (OMG!), by encouraging Luke to bring a “new balance” to the universe. No more Sith and no more Jedi: just Luke and his descendants, bringing peace and hope and order and all that stuff, on into eternity.
But after a little of this temptation, Luke comes to his senses, terminally fries some important control apparatus, and dives down a cooling conduit instead. The Cloud City begins to fall, and its people, led by Lando, evacuate hurriedly. The Imperial troopers, alas, don’t make it. In the confusion, our heroes get away to the Falcon, but the hyperdrive still isn’t working. R2 unlocks the docking clamps, is about to repair the hyperdrive, then Luke lands on the hull and R2 must go out to retrieve him…so it’s Threepio who must finally get through to the Falcon’s computer, and wire himself in as a hyperdrive shunt – “OOOOOH-OOH!!! — and they hit hyperspace and they’re gone, leaving Vader to a pretty cool death scene.
Epilogue: outside the disc of the galaxy, the Rebel’s remaining base floats, and we see the wrap-up. Luke will go to Dagobah, alone, and live there in the jungle…Leia, conflicted now about her feelings for Han, would nonetheless want to go with him, but the last thing Luke now wants are children so he tells her she can’t. So Leia and Han and Lando will go to the third moon of Endor, and the Rebellion will go on until a New Republic can be founded. The various ships depart, and go their ways…we see the ghosts of Yoda and Obi-Wan shaking their heads as they discuss Luke’s sad, self-imposed exile, which they see as a mistake, Vader’s last victory…”That boy was our last hope,” Obi-Wan says. But:
“No,” Yoda replies. “There is another.”
And then there’s a fourth movie that comes out twenty years later, and it’s directed by Peter Jackson and it’s awesome.
And so phooey, Bloggers: that’s as far as I’m willing to go. So what do you think of my solution?
I mean it pretty much just takes off someplace of its own, doesn’t it? Awful. And so surely letting the chips fall where they may would be better than this: this outright rejection of five-sixths of all that’s “supposed” to be Star Wars. For heaven’s sake, you know: talk about entitlement…!
Why it’s practically an atrocity of entitlement!
And yet consider this, too: my new Internet pen-pal Nate has gone completely in the other direction with it. And is what I’ve wrought so incredibly different in kind from what he has?
“Just wanted to say I enjoyed your column on the Star Wars prequel
Upon watching the train wrecks that are the Star Wars prequels, I began
to understand how Lando felt when shafted by Vader in Empire.
To begin with, how can it be that Owen Lars met the droids in Episode
II, when he showed no discernible sign of previously seeing them in
1977’s Episode IV?
How can, when Anakin, already deep in the thrall of the dark side,
echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, “If you’re not
with me, you’re my enemy,” Ben responds “Only a Sith thinks in
absolutes”, when the whole point was that both the Jedi and the Sith had
fallen into a trap of believing absolutes, with Luke’s task being to
restore balance to the Force? The clear implication was that the Force
had a yin-yang aspect, which both the Sith and Jedi had lost sight of.
The core story arc thus was to be Luke’s restoration of that balance
despite opposition from both the remnants of the Jedi and the Emperor.
In choosing to put those words in Obi-Wan’s mouth, Lucas betrayed his
Mon Mothma should have been a young woman on the Senate (Gillian
Anderson would have been perfect). The backstory on Mon Mothma was that
she was a young Chandilaran politico within the Galactic Senate during
the rule of Chancellor Valorum and was opposed to Palpatine being
elected. Despite this she remained a senator after Palpatine’s
disbanding of the Republic into the Galactic Empire and his
self-declaration of Emperor.
Episode Three should also have kicked off the plot of the Bothan spies
in the final.
Anakin picking up with Sith Pirates (i.e. Mandalore Red Guards), whom he
would draft into service for the Emperor, was also overlooked.
Since “A New Hope” practically took the plot of Kurosawa’s “Hidden
Fortress”, the prequel should have included a tribute to his other great
film, “Seven Samurai” with a band of Jedi attempting to take back a
planet from the Trade Federation and their mercenary Mandalore Pirates.
Otherwise, since Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” spells out
the template that Lucas utilised for the Star Wars Trilogy perfectly, it
also includes a section on THE HERO AS A CHILD, so this could have been
used for Anakin’s infamous rise.
There was also no need for a Rebel Alliance in the prequel.
Howard Kazanjian, the producer of Return of the Jedi, on the parallels
between the original trilogy and the prequels:
“In the trilogy, there is a competitive love triangle that develops
between Luke, Leia and Han. This love triangle ends peacefully when Luke
learns that Leia is his twin sister. In the prequels, George has planned
a love triangle involving Luke and Leia’s mother, Anakin Skywalker and
Ben Kenobi. The consequences of this love triangle are devastating with
great betrayals and forever changes the fate of our heroes and villains
in the films. So those who watch the trilogy for the first time after
seeing the prequels will be scared to death that the same horrible fate
that beset the heroes in the prequels will happen to our beloved heroes
in the trilogy because of a dangerous love triangle that divides and
destroys close friendships, but fortunately this does not come to pass.”
27 October 1997
I would therefore have developed this love triangle along the lines of
King Arthur, Lady Guinevere and Sir Lancelot of the Camelot legend.
Arthur = Ben (the oldest of the three), Guinevere = the Young Queen
(younger than Arthur/Ben, but older than Lancelot/Anakin) and Anakin =
Lancelot (the youngest of the three).
In Episode II a 30-ish Ben would court the young Queen, who would then
be in her late 20’s, and asking for her hand in marriage, she accepts.
The young Queen was the focus of Ben’s life and would be the only woman
that he would ever love (that is why he lives all alone as a hermit on
Tatooine because he never gets over the loss of the young Queen).
Enter the conquering hero in Episode II: The young, hot-shot Anakin (in
his early 20’s) becomes one of the most decorated warriors of the Clone
Wars and catches the eye of the young Queen. It is love at first sight
for Anakin and the young Queen and they carry on an affair behind Ben’s
The young Queen consequently leaves Ben for Anakin, completely
devastating Ben, who considers this to be the ultimate betrayal at the
hands of his two closest friends (the young Queen and Anakin).
Consequently, Ben and Anakin’s friendship is destroyed. Palpatine takes
advantage of this situation and lures Anakin to the dark side. By the
time Ben realises what has happened to Anakin, it is too late. As a
result of his turning his back on Anakin and the young Queen, Palpatine
uses Anakin in his rise to power. Ben carries the guilt of Anakin’s
fall from grace and the demise of the Republic for the rest of his life.
And tries to resurrect his mistakes vicariously through the young Luke
Further ties to Arthur’s story could be drawn with the Jedi Council
being the equivalent of the Knights of the Round Table, with perhaps
Yoda as Arthur, Coruscant their Camelot, Anakin their Mordred whom they
refuse to advance, and Palpatine as his mother.
Or alternatively, after Luke and Leia’s mother becomes pregnant, Anakin
begins to become cold and cruel (like Michael Douglas to his wife in
Falling Down) and she falls in love with Obi-Wan (Greek Tragedy).
Speaking of their mother, in the Empire Strikes Back when Luke says
“there was something familiar about this place,” I would posit that he
and Leia were born on Dagobah, and became separated soon after. Whilst
Obi Wan’s brother Owen Lars was to watch after Luke, Leia was sent to
Bail Organa on Alderaan. Luke and Leia’s mother must have survived the
birth and came under the protection of Bail, since Leia recalls her
mother in Return of the Jedi. Alderaan would have been a better
substitute for the cloning technology to have been developed upon.
I also hated what was done with Boba Fett. My favourite revelation was
his charging Jabba a higher amount than the original bounty price, on
the basis that the frozen Solo had become a unique work of art created
by Darth Vader. But I digress… considering Fett had a string of Wookie
scalps on his shoulder and his ship was named Slave I, perhaps he was
originally a slave-trader for the Empire.
Why did he and his crew exclusively get the Empire’s contracts? Could
it perhaps be that he had assisted Vader in his rise to power.
In Dark Empire II # 2, Zasm Katth and Baddon Fass, two Imperial
Dark-Side warriors, state that Boba Fett was a former Imperial
stormtrooper guilty of murdering his superior officer.
You’ll recall Han Solo had also been at the Imperial Academy, but was
sent packing for some unknown infraction. Had Vader perhaps noted Fett’s
mean streak, and made a deal for him to assassinate an Imperial Officer?
I would posit that the Imperial Officer in question was going to
sabotage Vader’s position at the Emperor’s side, so Darth promised he
would set Fett up with a sweet deal as a bounty hunter if he did this
one little job for him. To ensure Fett was not hunted down for the
crime, Vader manipulated circumstances so the young recruit, Han Solo,
who had a record of insubordination, took the blame for the murder.
This leads to Han escaping the Academy, and stealing the slave Chewbacca
away with him.
Otherwise, the braids Boba Fett has on his shoulder are not Wookie
scalps, but are instead from young Padawans he killed during the
“cleansing” of the Jedi temple.
The Battle Droids in the prequels should have been the chrome war
droids, akin to IG-88, thus further tying in continuity.
I would also eradicate Naboo, retain a planet with underwater elements,
but make the aquatic race the Mon Calamari, from which Admiral Akbar
originated. This would explain why his race was sympathetic to the
Alliance… perhaps even have a Mon Calamari end up being a Jedi.
You could then have the Quarren/Squid Heads (who destroyed their own
planet) team up with the Trade Federation. As part of this alliance,
they are promised the planet of the Calamari, since they need an
underwater world to birth their children in. The planet consequently
falls into a Civil War, hence why the Jedi are called in to start
Palpatine should have had the Jedi hunted down and carted off to
encampments to be mass murdered/ sacrificed, ala the Holocaust, so he
could harness their energy via a Sith ritual to power himself up to
become the Emperor. Those surviving Jedi later develop the technique of
dissolving, so he cannot use their energy to become even more powerful.
And I wouldn’t overlook Tarkin’s role in helping Palpatine getting
I would liken the Great Jedi Purge and Palpatine’s secret betrayal of
his Separatist Council allies that resulted in their deaths at the hands
of his apprentice, Darth Vader, on Mustafar, to be very much like the
Night of the Long Knives when Heinrich Himmler’s SS troops attacked the
rival SA and killed Ernst Röhm and other leaders, eliminating Hitler’s
sole remaining rival and his power base.
I would have Coruscant alternatively named Chandilar.
Another thing that annoyed me was Ben Kenobi being called Ben in the
prequel instead of Obi-Wan. IIRC, Ben stated in Episode IV that:
“Obi-Wan Kenobi, I haven’t gone by that name, since…oh, before you
What with Kessel being the planet where spice was mined, like Arakkis, I
would have made this the birth place of Palpatine, like the Emperor from
Since Owen was Ben’s brother, and being a Jedi ran in the family, I
would have made he and Beru Lars retired Jedi, using their powers to
farm moisture on the desolate Tatooine.
Perhaps R2 – D2 could be revealed as more than just an astromech droid,
but rather a Jedi Knight! You’ll recall that a great deal of those
coincidences swaying the course of fortune to the Alliance were a result
of the Force influencing our little friend, including his knowing
exactly where to find Obi Wan Kenobi using the Force, hence the initial
argument with Threepio after the escape pod landed and his insistence on
where to go. Artoo influenced the weak-minded Jawas to turn in the
opposite direction to then pick up Threepio. At the Jawa sandcrawler,
when Uncle Owen selects the red droid, Artoo uses the Force to explode
the motivator on an otherwise good unit, forcing himself to be chosen.
With many of the scenes on the Death Star, Artoo more than just plugs
into the main computer, he influences it and works with Obi Wan in
forcing the hand of fate, as he does in the final Death Star trench
scenes. In Empire and Jedi, the force flows through Artoo like a conduit
in many of the scenes. On Dagobah, Bespin, and in Jedi Artoo ejects the
light sabre to Luke to rescue his friends from Jabba. It all makes a lot
of sense when you watch the movies with this in mind.
In the novelisation of Star Wars, Obi Wan, looking back at the fall of
the Old Republic and the Jedi Knights speaks about “the later corrupt
emperors,” note the plural. This suggests a means by which Palpatine’s
identity could have been concealed with a more obvious evil character in
the forefront with Palpatine lurking in the background maybe as an
assistant or as a co-Emperor.
You could also build a better third movie than what we actually got from
Return of the Jedi with elements from Shadows of the Empire! Imagine, if
you will, that the rescue of Han Solo didn’t occur on Tatooine, but
instead they had to pluck him out of a squabble between the bounty
hunters – that a ‘BlackSun’ sub-plotline lead the action directly to
Coruscant – that the second Death Star was being built over Coruscant
itself and that Luke’s confrontation with the Emperor happened right in
the very seat of Imperial Power! Now THAT would have been a fitting
conclusion to the trilogy! *sigh* – if only…
In Star Wars, you’ll recall Luke saying, “My father didn’t fight in the
Clone Wars. He was no knight – just a navigator on a space freighter.”
So he would fly the Falcon. On Mos Eisley, Obi-Wan knew fate was
helping them when Han introduced himself as “the Captain of the
Millennium Falcon; maybe you’ve heard of her?” “Should I?” answered Ben,
tongue pressed firmly in cheek. Ben knew that the Falcon had once been
owned by Anakin Skywalker.”
Crazy shit, eh? And I have no idea what Nate is talking about there, mostly; superficially, he and I are quite clearly at odds in the way we choose to approach our fannish enthusiasm, because where I want to blow it up because of how ugly it’s gotten, he would prefer to save it…
Ugly bits and all!
…And so at first glance it seems each of us must find the other to be something of a kook (really, Nate, Calamari? and what in the hell is a Mon Mothma, or a Mandalore Red Guard?)…
…But if you just give it another look, we are not so far apart. Because even though it’s in the attempt to save all the crazy, ugly stuff I’d prefer to see abolished and forgotten, deep down Nate’s position on Star Wars is just like mine: we both recognize that the creative absence at its centre is dragging all the meanings it once carried, or promised, down into a big black hole of Who Cares. So, I’d just toss it all; but Nate must actually flirt with destroying it all, finding ways to actively contradict it all, in order to rescue it from the garbage can. Sadly the wonderful flight of fancy called (I think) The Skywalker Paradigm is beyond my poor Internet reach now, or I’d use it to demonstrate how very close Nate comes to embracing a complete subversion of George Lucas’ brainchild — with Darth Vader the hero, Obi-Wan Kenobi the villain, Luke Skywalker the psychotic Doomsday Weapon of a corrupt counter-insurgency, and R2-D2 as the Force Mastermind behind it all who’s trying to hold it together — and it’s really too bad I can’t find it (although that Adam Star’s Esoteric Star Wars is still out there, even now picture-less, somewhat makes up for that lack), because my point here is that cohesive alternative explanations for all the shit that’s falling down a black hole need alternative attractors, “negative energy” if you will, a sort of narrative “anti-gravity”, if they’re to establish themselves in the slender zone of stability between total implosion and total detonation…which is the only place complexity ever lives. And so the spinning-up of inconsistencies in the Star Wars movies to create a plausible dismantling of everything those movies claim to be showing us, is a powerful tool for challenging the black hole’s pull; Nate does offer three other things here, as “anti-gravitic” mechanisms of this type, which are rather more conciliatory than the hilarious “good guys are really bad/bad guys are really good/everything you know is wrong” reconstruction, but I think it’s fair of me to say that it all begins with the possibility of a fully negative reading — fair to say that this negative interpretational possibility is what supplies the licence necessary to find other interpretations that lie somewhere between negative and positive.
And the first bit of “anti-gravity” Nate offers here is (of course!) all the insane ephemera of the Star Wars “Expanded Universe”: which George Lucas has pretty much asserted his right to cherry-pick elements from without regard to whatever pre-existing consistency they may be founded in…but which Nate points out are not perfectly eliminable regardless, by finding ways in which they actually support the “arbitrary” order which was intended to replace them. Just as, in the second “anti-gravitic” instance, he points out that Lucas’ Campbellian enthusiasms themselves imply a hidden “mythic” structure to the Star Wars story that can’t be simply hand-waved away. Myself, I’ve got no time any longer for the love triangle of Lancelot and Guinevere and Arthur, nor necessarily for the Hero’s Journey…but Lucas still does, and so I think when Nate invokes Campbellian formulae to explain how the Star Wars story “should” have gone, the Star Wars canon must be found to tolerate his revisions as at least “possible” or “allowable” ones…
And finally, the last countervailing force arises (again; but we should be expecting this by now) from Lucas’ own willingness to let the chips fall as they may: as Star Wars comes to be a sort of foster-home for any SF genre-conventions from other sources, that anyone wants to throw in there. Cloaking devices and spice planets, tractor beams and mass cloning facilities — well, Star Wars began by mashing things like this up anyway, only with a bit of a new shine put on them, and (as previously mentioned) when your universe is one that supports aliens playing Benny Goodman tunes on fucking clarinets you’ve already shown a willingness to take things on board…
But in the absence of a firm authorial grip on this intake, it’s not long before the logic these devices bring with them must start to show, too: not long before the profusion of details, the accession to convention, begins to be suggestive (again) of an order that’s no less necessary for not being expressed — that is perhaps even made more necessary for that lack of expression.
Or else it is all just, in Jog’s (was it Jog’s?) memorable phrase, three-chord rock; and so legitimately playable by anyone.
And if you go and visit Nate’s blog, you’ll find a lot of this crazy stuff, this mad and obsessive chasing after reconciliation, this heroic attempt to save even the worst of it all…because hey: what other parts need saving, anyway?…which is not by any means my sort of freak-flag to be flying, but as I’ve said before, the great thing about “trash culture” (name courtesy of the PrettyFakers, by the way) is that it’s a free culture, a culture built on transgressions, on forbidden interactions, on FANTASY, yo…and so even if it’s not my kind of freak-flag, it is still I think a very admirable kind of freak-flag, being so all unapologetic about its geeky energy and affection. Three-chord rock? Heck, Nate’s getting twenty-minute prog drum solos out of it, over there. It’s maddening. It’s crazy. It’s technically disallowed. But that’s what makes it beautiful!
Of course, I would say that…
Considering the sort of thing I write when I think I’m in private conversation…
So here, rather likely not for your amusement, is an excerpt from an email exchange I had with my friend Jack, of the aforementioned PrettyFakers. Quoth I:
“So the latest thing about the Large Hadron Collider is something that I’m not sure ought to be taken seriously — I mean, I don’t know if I believe the people suggesting it are being serious, it seems more likely to me that it’s a deliberate joke, a Sokol hoax for string theorists. I certainly laughed when I encountered it for the first time a few days ago… But it made me think of doing a bit of brushing-up, and so I went around the web reading this and that, finally once again coming across the gedanken that I hate most of all, the time-travelling billiard ball. The billiard ball is struck, and heads toward the corner pocket, within which is concealed a time machine. KER-PLUNK! It emerges from the other corner pocket at just such an angle that it strikes its past-self and knocks it off course. The first billiard ball, Billiard Ball #1, never sinks into the time-machine pocket at all. Now, there’s nothing really wrong with this, it just annoys me when people call it a “paradox” — of course it isn’t one, the billiard balls represent particles interfering with one another, and one particle’s the same as another whether you have a time machine or you don’t. You don’t even need for there to be a time-travelling particle to stop Billiard Ball #1 from going into the time machine — you could explain your attempted translocation not working in a number of different ways. As always, what makes the paradox a paradox is incomplete information about the total system, where “incomplete information” doesn’t stand for “outright misprision”: the casual assumption that “time” exists as either a) something seperate from space in GR, or b) as something we feel justified in saying we know anything at all about outside of GR. Physical theories of time-travel are all mistakes, woefully premature: time travel is still, as I seem to keep on saying, primarily a *literary conceit*. As far as we know, spacetime’s just spacetime, and there are just coordinate locations in it, and that’s the whole of the story. “Time travel” is a misnomer, as far as physics goes, because our physics currently doesn’t include a conception of this sort of “time” at all.
But anyway. Then I read something sort of interesting: a revision of the billiard-ball business that shows it’s possible for Billiard Ball #2 to just nudge Billiard Ball #1 enough that its trajectory is deflected, but it still makes it into the corner pocket. Now this is far more interesting: the folks who went at this “nudge” scenario mathematically saying they’ve proved consistency can be preserved even in the presence of a notional “time machine” of this type…that indeed for all possible Billiard Ball #1 nudges, a Billiard Ball #2 path is generated that will provide the appropriate nudge. So, even if you were a person who was wedded to the idea that it was a bunch of time-travelling particles causing the LHC not to fire, you see…even if you were a person who believed in paradox, in a sense relied on paradox, you could still have a “Chronology Protection Principle” (I resent Hawking “coining” that phrase more than I can say) in action that permitted time-travel.
Okay, where this all comes from, and then where I think it all goes: the wacky things said about the LHC’s failure to discover the Higgs boson are all about the LHC acting as a universe-splitting time machine — nature abhors Higgs bosons, so whenever the LHC gets turned on, the LHCs that have already been turned on in the future interfere with it in such a way as to cause our universe to select itself as a universe where LHCs don’t detect Higgs bosons [EDIT: Because the thing hasn't successfully been fired yet, is what I'm saying]. Now this is actually SF, in fact I believe I read this story many times in the 80s and 90s. The most hilarious suggestion has been that we ought to make up a million-card deck, in which 999,999 cards say “turn on the LHC” and only one says “DON’T”. Then we pick from the deck, and if we get the card that says “DON’T” then we know the universe just split, so there’s no point turning it on.
(I swear to God this is a hoax. It must be, surely?)
Anyway, so to the paradox-minded this scenario presents a problem — if we don’t turn it on, how do we receive the “message” not to turn it on? The “nudge” theory of time-travelling billiard balls sort of solves this imaginary problem, though only generally and not specifically: you can have a time-traveller change his own time-travelling past without leaving yourself lots of paradoxical loose ends, because the billiard ball can still go into the pocket…and as it turns out no matter which way it goes into the pocket, there’s a way for it to nudge its past-self so that it still goes into the pocket. In other words there is always room for complication in the liminal, infinitesimal region between “happened” and “didn’t happen”…because the time machine exclusively produces “near misses”…it can’t hit the target, it can only hit around the target…if you like, it can only hit “fractions” of success, and of course we’ll never run out of fractions.
(You were saying something about the Mandlebrot set, I believe?) [EDIT: he was, and yes I was trying to be clever with that, so sue me.]
So…it’s fine and everything, although I think they could’ve just asked me about it instead of wasting the time of people with genuine qualifications…but I see an interesting situation arising from this whole “nudge” revelation of “Chronology Protection”, which is: if chronological consistency (I guess that’s what we’re calling it now) is always preserved by these “nudges”, then we get rid of paradox merely by getting rid of the time-traveller’s ability to detect any changes in the past: because the “nudge” corrects chronology in such a way as to make all [experienced] pasts consistent with all observed presents. For every trajectory, a reconciling “nudge”; for every nudge, a reconciled trajectory. And then why not another nudge, and another, and another, ad infinitum? It wouldn’t matter: we wouldn’t know. The past would be in a constant state of perfect revision. More: if time-travel were physically possible, we would have to expect that it is already going on naturally in the universe somewhere: much as the argument against naturally-occurring traversable wormholes is that if they’re out there, we should already be detecting time-shifted radio signals from them. So if time-travel were possible, and the “nudges” were factual, we could reasonably expect that the past is fundamentally ephemeral: one “second” ago it was a different past, and now it is this one…in another second it’ll be something else again. An old stoner’s imagining: did you ever really look at your hand, man?
Of course “Chronology Protection Principles” are not very scientific anyway…who says they’re needed? Who says the universe has to care about the seeming paradoxes that befuddle human beings? Maybe it doesn’t matter at all, except to us — and maybe the way we’ve chosen to care about it is wrongheaded: “must get rid of this paradoxical result somehow, it threatens the theory!” That is, of course, epicyclical thinking…both in that it’s not scientific, and that it’s historically ignorant: because our model of the universe is no longer one in which we can reasonably wish to “preserve consistency” — we are already long past the point where it makes sense to chase the ideal of some perfect Principia or other, aren’t we?
The other day I ran into a friend of a friend in the liquor store, who studies Philosophy of Fiction, and over a couple of beers we got to talking about that…suddenly in the middle of me trying to explain an idea I had about Japanese SF (basically that Japan has already lived through the post-apocalyptic motif of the West’s SF, so when Japanese SF offers us post-apocalyptic landscapes the usual Western “cautionary” reading of such a story is superficial: Japanese authors are not warning their audiences that nuclear proliferation is a bad idea, good heavens! But rather every apocalypse signifies a failure of imagination…), she exclaimed:
“And that’s why communism doesn’t work!”
She’s a self-styled libertarian, thinks Michael Moore is a hypocrite because his movies make money, etc. Jejeune stuff. Looking back on it, what I should’ve said (good-naturedly, of course) was:
“Bitch, who the fuck said anything about communism working? Is that what you think your “side” has as its big sockdologer, it’s big philosophical credential?! Because if that’s what you think, you need to get working on some fresh material…!”
I didn’t say that, though, and in relatively short order she’d pressed into my hands an SF book she’d been reading, in which all “modern technology” stops working one day — as it turns out it’s a VERY transparent libertarian-survivalist fantasy — ugly to encounter — which I said was something like we’d been talking about, it’s a future that isn’t extrapolative, it’s just arbitrary…but then she promised me, PROMISED me, that in the second book somebody comes up with a scientific rationale for the big change.
So I was reading the book, and noticing some strange things: all electrical devices go dead, gunpowder doesn’t burn so much as it smoulders, dynamite doesn’t explode…and yet matches strike, and kerosene lamps burn. Hmm, most peculiar…could this really all admit of a scientific rationale, even one good enough to suit a bit of SF-noodling? I couldn’t wait; I came up with the best theory I could. I thought, maybe, maybe you could get away with it if you stipulated that every molecule over a certain weight with single-bonded oxygen atoms in it, suddenly had one of them disintegrate into its constituent protons and electrons. Then right away each molecule grabs some atomic oxygen again, and so the ozone layer’s back up (well, it’s pretty dicey I’ll be the first to admit), but the damage is done: air’s a good insulator, but it isn’t perfect, and that’d be a lot of current flowing around suddenly — maybe enough to drain batteries, maybe not enough to kill most living creatures. A couple of very big “maybes”! [EDIT: Actually it would be a disaster on an unimaginable scale] But then nitroglycerine would undergo a chemical change, and so would saltpeter…but kerosene wouldn’t, water wouldn’t, hydrochloric acid wouldn’t, DNA actually wouldn’t (I was surprised to discover that)…it could, at a LONG stretch, maybe work well enough for soft SF. But then I found out that, in this book — and you are not going to believe this — STEAM power doesn’t work… And then I threw up my hands, and went to Wikipedia to find out what the later book’s explanation was.
Because I mean really, STEAM power doesn’t work?
The answer was: “high energy densities” don’t exist anymore, because something (I won’t tell you what, because it’s teeth-grindingly hideous) is draining them off. But of course this is really incoherent: what are “high energy densities” anyway, when they’re at home?
Anyway I have been avoiding the Phil. of Fiction girl when I see her in the grocery store — don’t want to have to tell her that the book is awful junk. [Also she is nice.] But the comparison I was hoping to make here is: that “Chronology Protection Principles” are basically the same sort of thing as “high energy-density drains” — they’re both things which don’t count as explanations, only as handwaving excuses for continuing to hold a belief in abstract entities that don’t really exist. For the survivalist-SF book, that abstract non-entity is “modern technology”…an absolutely useless category unless one wishes to attack another abstract non-entity that couldn’t exist without it: “modern society”…and for a certain kind of physicist it is finality: ironically, the ability to say that the past is immutable. We know this, we know that, we’ve settled the matter, we’re moving on…! But of course we are not: because moving on is what “finality” definitionally prevents. The essence of the problem of progress, and why Richard Dawkins refuses to be interviewed by philosophers of science…and just incidentally, what Principias everywhere both rely upon and are ultimately demolished by: definitional prevention.
Oh, how I look forward to my friend Tyche’s “paper” on “The Rhetoric of Kurt Godel”! I think physics is in the midst of a war of rhetoric, and no one knows it…more and more, I’m convinced that the application of a little Phil. of Sci. is absolutely necessary, if we want to get past the point of simply shouting our creed at one another. The key has to be in a more general sort of science education, but I don’t know how we can get it. I guess I’m trying to do my bit for it here and there, and hoping it all adds up…which I’m sure it will, because things generally do add up…but at the same time I’m hoping it won’t have to add up to anything so drastic as a “revolution in thought”, or anything like that. That way of framing things in science ought to be damn well staledated too, by now. Well, one can hope it is.
So…short version is, I guess: how could I do otherwise, but support Nate’s crazy Star Wars fan-fixes? When, again, he and I are just the same: neither of us can sit still for stories whose arbitrariness is presented as the entire reason for us to sit still. One hears it all the time, on the geek circuit: “The Avengers are whoever the owners of the trademark called “The Avengers” say they are.”
Which is true enough, I suppose.
But: not at all an explanation of anything.
Uh…see what I did, there?
Yeah…yeah, you’re right.
This was a real long one.
So…you think maybe I shoulda quit when I was ahead?
This interruption in an otherwise-ordely system of blogging brought to you by a disgusting fridge, and a disturbing car ride.
You know, I am not against the public broadcaster playing popular music. But there’s a time and a place, and the place is CBC-AM, and the time is midnight, and the music in my opinion should not be quite so heavy on Ben Folds Five.
If you know what I mean.
And CBC-FM especially should not be clogged with somebody’s pathetic attempt to soothe senior citizens with emo-pop…or even Alternadads, for that matter. Even Alternadads have more than one kind of musical interest, CBC! And in fact, even as ordinary people, Alternadads change too…though heaven help them if they do, because where, if this ridiculous drive-time full-court-press indie nonsense continues, is a person supposed to find their classical music and their jazz? Christ, is Opera at the Met next up on the chopping block, in this new hip hell you’re trying to plunge us into?
Jesus Christ…have you started dyeing your hair?
But that’s crazy behaviour; you haven’t been young for years. Hey, CBC, you know I love you. But you’re screwing up. My father is now irritatedly flipping away from you, and onto KING-FM. Yes: a radio station from the States is now delivering less annoyingly commercial music, than you are. I mean, what is this bizarre wish you seem to have, to make yourself more “relevant”? Relevance is in the eye of the beholder, CBC…by all means, if you must, toy with it on TV: drown me in Being Ericas and The Hours and irresponsibly-edited late night movies, IF YOU MUST…
…But really: is this the proper function of the FM station, to just play loads and loads of Rufus Wainwright? Is that what you think we want? Is that how you handwavingly approximate “culture” these days? Can you not imagine anyone being interested in opera if they are not brought to it by a love of Atom Egoyan, or something? Do you imagine there are people out there who find Beethoven dull?
CBC, you don’t have to turn on the red light, you know? The truth is, we’re all going to get older some day, and when we do we may not have the awful time to waste on keeping up with what the young people are into, that we currently enjoy. At some point we won’t look so pretty as we’re fooling about with it. At some point we will want something different. Some Satie might be nice. Louis Armstrong. Vivaldi. Maria Callas. You know: old people’s radio.
Doesn’t that sound nice?
If it doesn’t now, that’s only because it will later on.
Now for God’s sake stop all this nonsense, and start acting your age again.