The first thing most people want to know about me is the deal with my name. The full story actually goes pretty deep—if I were a character in a book, I would even say it was at the heart of a character-building moment… READ MORE –>
I’m a pretty laid-back guy and don’t often succumb to nerd rage. In fact, I kind of like Ewoks (especially when served with BBQ sauce) and I don’t even hate Gungans (except Jar-Jar).
But there’s one little blight of ignorance floating around that never fails to grind my gears. If you ever want to start a fistfight with me, skip the mamma jokes and the shoving, because your best chance is simply to utter these four words:
Boba Fett is dead.
Well, I mean, of course he’s dead because it all happened long, long ago (in a galaxy far, far away), but what I mean is that he didn’t die in the sarlaac pit. It’s simply impossible.
Now some will argue on my side because in various books and other franchises he arises, Messiah-like, to continue hunting bounties. But if it doesn’t happen on-screen it isn’t cannon. The same goes true for people who point to the Robot Chicken episodes showing his hapless attempts to escape and his squabbles with his fellow digestees.
I make my argument strictly based on canonical movies. In celebration of May the Fourth (be with you), here are my four air-tight reasons why Boba Fett would never succumb to a little thing like a sarlaac.
1. Jango Fett
Okay, yeah, I admit Jango is dead. Decapitation is clearly a career-ending injury, even for a Fett. But we have no such clear evidence for Boba: don’t count him out until you find the body and cross-check dental and DNA evidence.
It takes the sarlaac 1,000 years to digest its prey. That’s a lot of time for my man to work his magic. Plus, he’s got armor, which should add at least another couple of decades to the time limit.
3. Screw Driver
Broken rocket pack? No problem. Boba shoots missiles out of his wrist, a scope in his helmet, and a belt full of other gizmos. It’s a statistical certainty that he’s got a screwdriver somewhere on his person. It’s a simple formula: broken jet pack + screwdriver = fixed jet pack.
4. Sarlaac Snack
So what if the sarlaac is holding him in there, wrapping him up with tentacles? For starters, you saw the tentacles: they’re ropey and skinny, easily cut with a laser. Second, the sarlaac is accustomed to feeding on two or three sacrificial victims at a time. That day it got a whole smorgasbord of Jabba’s men. All its tentacles are going to be occupied holding onto the likes of Klatu and Verata (and, yes, Nictu as well). When the Fett starts to put up a fight, the sarlaac is simply going to be too preoccupied to give him much resistance.
So now you see that this debate can be decisively resolved through logic and mature discussion. Also, anyone who disagrees is a poopy-headed Gungan.
May the Force be with you!
For me, it’s a public bus.
There’s something about the motion, or the white-noise of the engine, or maybe it’s the passing scenery that moves quickly enough to be stimulating but is also familiar enough to ignore.
One of the biggest advantages of the bus is that if I ever need a character, all I have to do is look up. As I write this, I can see a man in an olive-drab outdoorsy coat who keeps checking his watch even though we’re not running late.
A few seats back from him, there is a woman wearing attractive business attire and a sour expression. Her stiletto heels are so long and sharp I think they could puncture a zombie’s skull.
Nearby, there is another woman who, by contrast, smiles pleasantly and seems much happier. One of her arms ends in a stump just below the elbow, and when she boarded she carried her purse strap looped over her shortened forearm.
I’ve seen grungy skater kids with pierced eyebrows, dignified office workers with polished shoes, and burly construction workers with dust-speckling vests. You can’t make up descriptions from whole cloth nearly as well as you can describe what you see on a bus.
You Can’t Make This Up
For the most part, the people on my line are very normal, and I’ve rarely seen any behavior more deviant than eating a PBJ right under the sign that says “no food.” During my years of riding, I’ve never felt threatened or grossed out, and statistically a bus is much safer than driving your own car.
But for a writer, the best moments are the abnormal ones.
Once I sat across from an extremely bulky gentleman with a shaved head, red eyebrows, and patches on his jacket that included swastikas and slogans like “Reich Out And Hit Someone.” He spent the whole ride asleep.
This, I thought, could be Brick’s little brother.
Another time there was a teenager evidently in the midst of a bad drug trip. He switched seats frantically, muttered to himself, and generally caused a commotion. We pulled over and waited until the transit security removed him by force.
As a commuter, this kind of thing means being a few minutes late to the stop. But for a writer, this is a rich vein of ideas and inspiration ready to be mined.
Lucky to Ride
I know not everyone lives in a place where they can take advantage of public transportation. Many areas don’t have service at all, and some that do are completely undesirable for other reasons (I hear riding the bus in Detroit is kind of like sitting in Mad Max’s passenger seat).
But if you have a bus stop near you, I suggest hopping on and seeing where it goes. If you’re a writer, it might bring you a story. If you’re not a writer, it might bring you an adventure just the same.
Someone recently said to me that Tesla was Steampunk. Maybe he looks that way because he began his work during the Victorian era and originally had all those gorgeous brass machines and wonderful dials and levers.
But here’s the thing: Tesla wasn’t a part of the steam era, his life’s work was to cause the end of it.
Maybe I’m being too persnickety. Steampunk isn’t based on a particular technology (heck, some Steampunk stories uses crystals or mental rays instead of steam). Still, somehow it seems insulting to label Tesla as steam-powered when he was the man who catapulted us out of the Victorian era and into the electrical age.
Sure, Ford’s mass-production principles changed the way goods were made and how they appeared, but we don’t call the previous era “Hand-crafted Punk” or “Wrought-Iron Punk.” And, sure, Steampunk is heavily related to the fashions, with dapper gentlemen in bowler hats and women in corsets and sweeping dresses, and goggles all around. But we don’t call it “Fashion-punk,” either. It’s that “steam” part that bugs me, because I think it would bug the heck out of Tesla, too.
I call for a new kind of punk. Let’s call it Sparkpunk. (I also thought of Teslapunk, but that seems like it would be Tesla in a Mohawk with an electric guitar. I’d pay to see that, too, but I think the term would still be too misleading.)
I’m sure you’ll tell me that I’m over-thinking this whole business about Sparkpunk, but it still seems to me that we need a new punk for a different era. Steampunk, after all, is usually set between 1850 and 1900 (or in an equivalent time in an alternative history). The Pulp era is usually considered to cover the time period between the wars. So what about those formative years between 1900 and WWI?
There’s a lot to cover in this era. The fashions were sleeker, the equipment was a little less ornate, the cities a little more crowded, but the world was forging ahead and science was just beginning to make good on its promises. Tesla was gearing up for his greatest accomplishments and greatest disappointments, governments were scheming against each other, and people everywhere were not just entering a new century, they were entering a new world. That’s Sparkpunk.
Okay, what do you think—am I just crazy, or do we actually need a new ___punk for Tesla and his contemporaries? And what other ___punk things should be named?
Allow me to commit science fiction blasphemy: I have a problem with some of Robert A. Heinlein’s stuff.
First, the gushing praise
While I was growing up, I adored Heinlein’s work. In fact, Have Space Suit, Will Travel
may have been the first real sci-fi novel I read. In the years that followed, I thrilled to the exploits of The Cat Who Walks through Walls
, I thumped my chest with Starship Troopers
, hopped through causality loopholes in Time Enough for Love
, and explored this alien society of ours with Stranger in a Strange Land
Saying that the science fiction genre owes a debt to Heinlein is tantamount to saying that the surface of the sun is mildly warm. His speculative fiction (he coined that phrase, btw) is unbeatable in its portrayals of space travel and technological advancement. In fact, he mapped out a “future history” of when things would happen—the first moon colony, the first interstellar flight, etc. and countless other writers set their own stories along this timeline.
Sadly, in real life we’re behind his schedule in many ways, but that’s a different rant.
I hadn’t read one of his books in years, but I was sadly disappointed when I re-read one of my junior-high favorites, Glory Road
, in which a Vietnam vet is recruited for a fairy-tail quest. Along the way he slays enemies that resemble ogres and fire-breathing dragons, but what I liked best was that this man views everything through a scientific lens: those dragons are really just descendants of dinosaur-like creatures that evolved the ability to belch up their flammable digestive gasses. And that “magic” toolbox that’s bigger on the inside isn’t really magic, it simply folds its interior through extra dimensions.
So far so brilliant. But for me this novel falls on its face with its portrayal of female characters. I know, I know, it was a different era with different gender-based expectations, but it still seemed unrealistic to the point of breaking my disbelief.
All of the women were gorgeous, nubile, eager to please, submissive, and free with their love. In fact, at one point the main character accidentally gives offense to a powerful nobleman by refusing to bed his host’s daughter and/or wife. When, under threat of death, he corrects this faux pas I was left thinking “how far out of the way do we need to go to provide an excuse for such a juvenile fantasy?”
The Baby and the Bathwater
It is true that Glory Road is not the best representation of Heinlein’s great works, but free love and cardboard female characters seem to be mainstays, particularly in his later books. Call me a prude, but I get a little tired of reading it.
Still, I definitely don’t want to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Heinlein’s novels are immensely good in every other way and are undeniably seminal. And I have to say that even though many of his female characters seem interchangeable, at least they are strong and intelligent, which was still in advance of many of the cultural attitudes of the time.
Back then, science fiction—and perhaps most of society—was seen as a boy’s-only club. Still, I’m glad to see how sci-fi is moving in new directions and featuring new kinds of characters. Maybe the shift started with Star Trek, which featured a variety of cultures (and genders) working in unison on an equal footing. Or maybe it was the Ender’s Game sequels, which questioned whether the “others” were truly different. Or maybe it was any number of other talented novelists and script writers who pressed boundaries and found new directions.
It’s good to see more diversity among sci-fi characters because it means more diversity among sci-fi fans. 25 years ago, if you had told me that Doctor Who would be popular among women I would have laughed, but now its majority viewership is female. It’s a different show now, but few would say that it hasn’t improved over the years.
We build the future on top of the past, and Heinlein gave us a heck of a solid foundation. For that, I am grateful. And now it’s up to us to keep building.
- Eyes: Just look into a cat’s sliver-shaped pupils and tell me that’s not a dragon looking back at you.
- Movement: Cats slide around corners and snake through small spaces. Their movements are nothing if not serpentine.
- Cold-Blooded: Sure, the textbooks say that cats are mammals, but that’s just a conspiracy. The way they seek out warm laps and sunny patches clearly shows reptilian heritage.
- Deadly breath: Dragons cough up fireballs. Cats cough up furballs. PoTAYto/PoTAHto.
- Shape-shifters: Fur instead of scales? That’s what they WANT you to see.
- Sleeping Habits: I’ve never left a stack of treasure on the floor, but judging from the amazingly improbable places cats choose for their naps, it seems likely that they would love nothing more than to curl up atop a bunch of diamonds and gold coins. In the absence of a horde of wealth, they make do with piles of clean laundry, shopping bags, or any other bed that seems even remotely more “special” than its surroundings.
Doesn’t it make sense? After all, the dragon species probably got tired of knights in shining armor always galloping around trying to slay them and take their treasure. That kind of thing really cuts into nap time, you know.
And what better position to spy on humanity than from our own laps?
Well, as long as they keep purring and chasing laser pointers instead of burning down villages, I’m happy to keep them around.
Are we living in 1984?
I mean the novel by George Orwell, not the historical year. If we were in the year, I would go buy a bunch of stock in Microsoft and then pick up all the G1 transformers, mint in box. That would be totally tubular.
I keep hearing that someone’s turning this book into a movie, but I’m doubtful that it will translate well to screen because there’s so much that goes on underneath the surface. It gives us a future in which advanced technology isn’t used to share information, but to control it, and in so doing controls even the thoughts of its citizens.
Big Brother packs a one-two punch of paranoia and propaganda, which makes this novel a warning that has come perilously close to being true numerous times since it was written.
East Germany was most notably Big Brother-esque during the cold war, when just about every citizen was given the part-time job of spying on every other citizen… and they were reported on if they didn’t report. The government even kept secret libraries of bottles containing stolen scent samples (old socks, for example) so that if you made a break for West Germany they could put the dogs onto your trail right away.
That’s freaky. Just plain freaky.
That level of crazy-pants propaganda has also cropped up over the years, most notably in North Korea, where the citizens are taught in school that their leader does not excrete urine or feces.
Seriously. I wish I were making that up.
Could it happen here?
Before you get all “home of the free” on me, consider what government video tapes it’s people most frequently. It isn’t China. No, it isn’t a warlord state in the Middle East or Africa, either.
It’s England. Yeah, that’s right, the British government has more security cameras on the streets of London per capita than any government in the world. These are our English-speaking allies, the country probably most similar to us in taste and language, and most closely allied to us since WWII. And New York citizens aren’t so far behind Londoners.
Maybe it isn’t a matter of national ideology about Freedom, maybe it’s simply a matter of technology and opportunity.
The Patriot Act is the Big Brother Bugbear for privacy advocates in the United States. It even has provisions that grant investigators the right to inspect your library records without you knowing about it—and if that doesn’t sound like Fahreinheit 451, then I quit.
The technology to create Big Brother has certainly now advanced to an undreamed-of level. If Google knows what your backyard looks like and Facebook knows your favorite restaurants, what might the government know?
Conspiracy theories abound about the CIA’s “Carnivore” computer that reads every single email sent in the world. Wilder theories also exist that they can spy on you through your webcams and eavesdrop on you through your phone—even if it isn’t on.
And in the cyber-warfare effort that produced viruses like Olympic Games, what’s lurking on our hard-drives that we DON’T know about?
Honestly, I don’t think anyone is spying on us, but it isn’t for a lack of desire. It’s because of the strenuous efforts of watchdog groups such as the ACLU, who help society find the right balance point between “catching the bad-guys” and “Big Brother.”
Right now, we seem to be doing all right at avoiding a 1984-style dystopia, although we might be at a point where certain corporations are better able to spy on us than our government.
But this doesn’t mean that we can just relax. We need to remember that it CAN happen here. Just because it hasn’t happened yet (maybe) doesn’t mean that we can become complacent. Orwell wrote that novel because that’s the future he didn’t want to happen. It isn’t a thing of the past, but it isn’t inevitable, either.
No matter what we’re told, slavery ISN’T freedom, war ISN’T peace, and most importantly, ignorance ISN’T strength.
Thank you to @ceebeemc for inspiring this conspiracy lit kick I’ve been on for the past month!
Next time I’ll look at something lighter.
In my last post, I looked at how Bradbury’s prediction of our immersive entertainment can take us—or at least some of us—down a road towards shallow thinking and a lack of understanding of the world around us.
Educational Impact Today
Forget about some distant future with flying cars, interactive rooms, and enforcement robots—I think I’m seeing the “Fahrenheit 451 effect” in my classroom right now, today.
I bet you can ask any English teacher in the country and they’ll say the same thing. In my ten years of teaching, I’ve noticed a decisive and steady drop in average reading level, reading interest, and general attention span.
Last month, for example, I had one young man ask me how to bring his grade up and the next day—the very next day—he wanted to surf the web instead of reading the class text because, as he told me, he “usually doesn’t find it necessary to read.”
Sadly, he’s not alone. These anti-reading sentiments are becoming increasingly wide-spread, even in advanced, college-prep classes. No wonder we have such a problem with student failing out of college.
Many students avoid reading the way they would avoid thumb-screws, and the accumulated years of ducking these assignments results in a greatly reduced ability to digest information of all sorts in all their classes.
Of course, these results aren’t universal: I also see another demographic who are addicted to reading and they gobble up books faster than the hungry, hungry hippos gobble up marbles. Most start reading the high-interest young adult novels and follow their interests up to increasingly complex works, and these skills transfer to all other areas of learning. And this advantage helps highlight the severe lack that their non-reading peers suffer.
Can we blame video games?
This is a complex problem and can’t be pinned solely on multimedia entertainment, but it’s hard to deny that it’s a factor. Probably even a leading factor.
Now that teens are growing up carrying entire music libraries and movie theaters right in their pockets,it’s no surprise that an increasing number of people are getting immersed so deeply that they’re in danger of drowning, just like Mrs. Montag did in Bradbury’s book.
Not only will this make a population that is more vulnerable to Wag the Dog type of spin, it will also hamper their efforts to achieve their life-goals.
Schools across the country are beginning to recognize and combat this trend by focusing on critical thinking rather than simple factual recall. Parents can help, too, by reading to their young children and discussing books with their older children. If it seems important to you, it will become important to them.
The solution Bradbury offers us is to form small, counter-culture groups that delve deeply into their books. They make up for the superficiality of regular society with a depth of thinking that goes so far down that the readers take their favorite books as part of their very identity.
Against the law?
One element I didn’t mention is that in the world of Fahrenheit 451, books aren’t just a nuisance, they are actually against the law.
Our society may not struggle with this issue much outside of school-board meetings, but it turns out that we don’t need laws to discourage reading and thinking, just attractive alternatives.
However, not every country is so lucky, and even in our own country the “Thought Police” are always searching for a way to seize power.
I’ll take that one up next time when I get into the granddaddy of all modern dystopian novels: 1984
The Thought Police don’t want you to subscribe to this blog via email (over on the left, right below the picture of my ugly mug). They don’t want you to know what I’ll say next!
To continue my little series on information-control conspiracies, the next logical step is Fahrenheit 451
Only a few months back, the world marked the passing of Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest sci-fi writers of all time. His stories had the power to appeal to sci-fi fans and non-fans alike, and Fahrenheit 451 is his most recognized novel.
There’s little wonder why it still spellbinds us so many decades after it was penned. A reader must reach back in time to connect with most classic books, but Fahrenheit 451 still feels like reaching forward… but not very far forward. This is truly a book that becomes more true every year.
An Entertaining Future
Fahrenheit 451 posits a future where entertainment is so readily available that people lose all interest in—and respect for—deep thinking of any kind, especially the reading of books.
Bradbury wrote this long, long before the invention of the mp3 player, but it’s easy to see this prediction coming true today. In the novel, Montag’s wife loses touch with reality because she is so immersed in the artificial, soap-opera world projected on the four walls of her entertainment room.
With all the ginormo-screen plasma TVs now plastering the walls of America’s living room, it’s not too much of a jump to imagine a screen towering all the way from floor to ceiling, and it’s only one more step to make it all four walls. Add in surround-sound and interactive video-game options, and we’re pretty much right where Bradbury said we would be.
If Bradbury’s prediction were limited to a technological innovation, it would have been a cute idea. But his vision went beyond that—he not only saw what we would have, but what we would do with it—or what it would do to us. He knew that all this would immersive entertainment would reduce our desire and even our ability to engage with the kind of deep thinking that produced our advancements in the first place.
It is a kind of “Idiocracy Effect,” except purely intellectual rather than genetic.
If you’re not familiar with Idiocracy, you better watch this: v=icmRCixQrx8″>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icmRCixQrx8
The Price of the Future
I feel that Bradbury was on to something, but I don’t advocate ditching all our electronics. I love video games of all kinds, and you can turn off my ginormo-screen when you pry the remote out of my cold, dread fingers.
But we, as a society, need to be aware that all this comes with a hidden cost.
Neurologically speaking, all this information input can be just as addictive as alcohol to some individuals. Most of us can—and should—continue to enjoy in moderation, but we will all need to consider putting into place systems to help those who struggle more.
Eventually, society will develop the “common sense” that we lack now. Or else civilization will crumble. I suppose that’s a possibility, too.
What can be done? What should be done? I’ve got some ideas, but I’d love to hear from you first. Leave a comment if you have some insight on the Fahrenheit 451 world we live in today.
In my last post, I was just beginning to stoke the boilers on the choo-choo train of literary analysis. Next stop: Conspiracy City! (With a brief detour at Belabored Metaphor Station)
This award-winning movie is the not-so-simple tale of creating a fake war to distract the American people from a presidential sex scandal. The president’s spin-doctors publicize, spin, and outright fabricate all the usual signposts on the road to war, including phony war martyrs, catchy folk-songs, and “grass roots” puppet movements.
The movie is dryly funny, deeply cynical, and horrifyingly insightful. And it’s an exaggerated (I hope) depiction of what happens every day as political parties, corporations, and celebrities try to “engineer consent” in the populace by manipulating the mass media.
This concept is not new.
You might say it dates back to Machiavelli, who identified that a ruler is only as good as his image (be it fearful or loveable). Or it might go back to the decadent Roman emperors and their Cult of Personality, or all the way back to the Pharaohs who convinced their subjects that they were gods among men. You can’t beat that for PR.
Bernays proved the effectiveness of this advertising in the 1920s when he altered American attitudes towards cigarettes. Prior to this, it was shameful for a young lady to smoke, but Bernays fixed all that by arranging for a float in a big New York parade to carry attractive, stylish women, all clutching cigarettes beneath banners that read “Freedom” and “Power.”
I’m not sure how addiction translates to freedom and power, but the effect was dramatic: almost overnight, smoking for women was seen as a symbol of a brave new age.
BOOM. Just like that, the tobacco companies doubled their potential market. And we can thank Bernays for contributing something significant to the women’s suffrage movement: cancer.
But, hey, if all the cool kids are empowered by sucking emphysema-sticks, you don’t want to be left out, do you?
Psychology in Advertising
Bernays gave us the consent-engineering blueprints that launched a thousand advertising campaigns. Today, Madison Avenue even hires psychologists to craft slogans that stick in our heads and mascots that appeal to children, all using the same basic principals.
Most commercials are more about selling an image than selling a product. Don’t believe me? Next time you watch an hour of television, use a stopwatch to time the parts of the commercials that give actual product information. “All new” doesn’t count as information—I mean performance factors, costs, and comparisons to similar products.
A typical hour of television has almost 20 minutes of commercials, but I bet your stop-watch won’t go over three minutes of solid advertising information. The rest is hype.
Engineered Consent in Politics
As Wag the Dog indicates, politicians are at least as careful as corporations when it comes to constructing public perceptions, and they use all the same tactics.
Politicians rarely risk outright lies, but they’ve learned to spin the facts, ignore tricky issues, and bring up red herrings faster than if they had a fishing net.
In fact, the only thing keeping one side’s spin in check is… the other side. If one party stopped doing it, the other would crush them. It’s just how the game is played.
Our new challenge is that the media sources are fracturing, which allows people to gravitate to increasingly biased sources of information. Most people don’t bother seeking out opinions that clash with their own—in other words, they only listen to what they already agree with, and the party consent-engineers are all too happy to make sure that what they hear is spinning faster than a tilt-a-whirl. It’s why everyone thinks that the country is doomed if “the other guy” gets elected president.
Where is this going? What does the future hold if different segments of the population get completely different dog-wagging spin on everything they know about their world? What happens when all information has to be delivered in a sound bite? It seems like someone needs to write a book about that. Oh, wait, someone already did: It’s called Fahreinheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and it’ll be the topic of my next post.
What do you think? Where do you see engineered consent at work in the world today? Or is my wagging dog barking up the wrong tree? Leave me a comment to let me know what you think.