Tag Archives: science

Science Fictional News from Around the Web

19 May

It was the best of times, it was the weirdest of times…  Ebooks have taken over the market, the CDC released preparedness tips for surviving a Zombie Apocalypse, and art museums are for the masses, online: this is your science fictional news from around the Web.

Original CDC blog post

1. Re: Your Brains

For those of you not packing your bags for the Rapture this Saturday, you might want to check out the CDC ‘s latest blog post on preparing for the Zombiepocalypse.  Because along with demons and emissaries of Satan, the undead will probably be stalking us sinners left behind too.

Yes, the Center for Disease Control actually wants us to prepare for avoiding and destroying reanimated brain-eating monsters.  It’s a brilliant advertising campaign, actually:

The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder “How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?”

Well, we’re here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for realemergencies too!

In other words, keep watching The Walking Dead and remember the tips you learn if/when something more banal happens in your community.  The very idea of it had me laughing out loud, and a lot of other people too, considering the CDC blog crashed for nearly a day when twitterers kept linking to the site.  Love it.  Who says all government agencies are stuffy?

2. All Will Be Assimilated

Four years ago, Amazon released its celebrated Kindle and started selling ebooks online.  For a while, skeptics, Luddites, and the like assured themselves and each other that ebooks and e-readers were a novelty, and would never have an appreciable impact on the book industry.

Well smell goodbye to your musty old paper books, friends, because it’s the future, and you just got pwned.

CNN Tech news reports that Amazon ebooks are now outselling both paperback and hardcover books combined.  In four years?  That was faster than even Amazon’s expectations, but I don’t think Jeff Bezos is complaining.  I remember that letter that came with my Kindle two years ago, thanking me for being an “early adopter.”  Finally, that $250 purchase has been justified in the eyes of some of my technophobic acquaintances, and it’s time to rub it in their faces.

CNN Tech news article

Amazon introduced the Kindle e-reader in November 2007. By July 2010, Kindle book sales had surpassed hardcover book sales, and six months later, Kindle books overtook paperback books to become the most popular format on Amazon.com, the online retailer said.

Of course, these stats only represent sales of books on Amazon.com, the only place consumers can buy e-books for the Kindle. When sales of books from other websites and brick-and-mortar stores are factored in, e-books still represent a small minority of all titles purchased, although some analysts predict they could reach 20% within a year or two.

Of course, print books are hardly dead; hardcover sales increased by 6%, and paperbacks by 1.2%.  Book sales are up, e-reader sales are up, and the American public is reading more than every (who’da thunk it).  So everyone wins… but especially Kindle users.

3. Pixel Perfect

Virtually projecting yourself somewhere else may be a post-Singularity technology, but leave it to Google to get pretty darn close.  The Google Art Project is to museums what GoogleBooks is to libraries–not a replacement (yet), but a supplement.  Log onto your Google account to:

“Explore museums from around the world, discover and view hundreds of artworks at incredible zoom levels, and even create and share your own collection of masterpieces.”

Images are high quality beyond imagination (read: 7 billion pixels).  Check out creator Amit Sood’s recent TED talk on the project.

The 12th Planet: I (don’t) want to believe

17 May

I realize that I read more science fiction and fantasy than is probably healthy for an individual, but even so, I think I have yet a modicum of intelligence and reason left in my head–which is why I gaped in shock and horror to find a copy of Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet in the back seat of my father’s car when we went to breakfast this morning.

For those of you who don’t know, The 12th Planet (1977) is the first installation of Sitchin’s “Earth Chronicles,” a seven-part series in which he attempts to prove that we are not alone in the universe:

Basically, all those Old Testament stories people have passed off as myths are really, literally true.  Fear our celestial overlords!  The Nefilim built the pyramids, and they can tear them down too.  (Note that Sitchin has collected indisputable proof.)

Oy vey.

The book has received some attention recently, probably because the final volume of the Earth Chronicles, The End of Days, was released just a few years ago–and what better to do in our last year of existence (or last week, if you expect to be taken up in the Rapture this Saturday) than read the “nonfiction” ravings of a crackpot writer?

I’m sorry, that’s unfair.  Zecharia Sitchin is a reasearcher, of sorts.  He is proficient in multiple ancient languages, Sumerian cuneiform purportedly among them.  He claims that his assertions in The 12th Planet are based on textual analysis of the original texts–the Hebrew OT, the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, those mysterious cuneiform tablets, etc., et al.  Of course, the more *respectable* scientists and academics reject Sitchin’s hypotheses as the work of faulty interpretation of ancient texts and flawed astronomical information.  Personally, I think he simply suffers from an overactive X-Files Mentality.  In other words, he wants to believe.

I don’t.

That back cover blurb alone should be enough to make a reader with the barest amount of sense laugh out loud.  Until she realizes that the book is being sold as nonfiction, and that there are those (including the author) who believe every word.  Then the reading experience just gets sad–and more than a little creepy.

There are a number of problems with The 12th Planet:

1. Not only does Sitchin employ (more than) questionable methodology in fashioning his claims, believing those claims requires us the readers to shunt aside all sorts of scientific explanations of phenomena for which there is actual evidence.  Oh, like human evolution.  Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

“The unanswered question is: Why–why did civilization come about at all?  For, as most scholars now admit in frustration, by all data Man should still be without civilization.  There is no obvious reason that we should be any more civilized than the primitive tribes of the Amazon jungles…

But, we are told, these tribesmen still live as if in the Stone Age because they have been isolated.  But isolated from what?  If they have been living on the same Earth as we, why have they not acquired the same knowledge of sciences and technologies on their own as we supposedly have?”

How about we read this instead, okay?

Astonishing!  I don’t think anyone has ever tried to answer that question before.  Except Jared Diamond.  Ever heard of Guns, Germs, and Steel?  Yeah, it’s that one that won the Pulitzer some years back.  Sorry, Zeke.

I won’t even get into that second part, in which Sitchin seems to imply that scientific knowledge is just chillin’ in the aether somewhere, waiting for some “primitive bushman” to pick it out of the air.  That’s for another paragraph.  What’s truly astonishing is where Sitchin goes from here.

One of the plethora of Discovery Channel conspiracy theory programs will attempt to raise questions about the origins of civilization–did space aliens give us knowledge and sink Atlantis in their rage, or something?  Sitchin says yes, the evolution of human civilization is actually extraterrestrial in origin.  And, he adds, modern man did not really evolve from the primordial ooze.  Male and female the aliens created them, because it would take too long to make apes talk.

That seems to me a total non sequitur, but it’s not like I can read cuneiform.  I bet those evolutionary biologists can’t either–so there!

2.  The second major problem I have with the whole “ancient astronauts” thing goes beyond Sitchin’s book.  My question is: Why is it so hard to believe that humans, with their own minds and their own contemporary technology, could have built the pyramids?  Because it’s always about the pyramids.  “They’re so geometrically perfect,” a Sitchinite might exclaim, “and how could they move those big rocks?”  There are a number of construction method hypotheses, all of them more plausible than the one that requires alien overlords cracking the whip.

Perhaps more disturbingly is the underlying racial prejudices inherent in this argument.  I had a professor of archaeology my freshman year who worked on ancient Mesoamerican cultures.  He seemed to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it came to the Mayans.  Why does everyone think the Mayans are so mysterious? he asked, multiple times during the semester.  He was a scientist, and had all sorts of perfectly reasonable (and more than that–empirical) explanations for the mysteries of the Maya.  And yet, the dilettantes of pseudoscience and pseudohistory seemed unable to resist groping for the mystical.

Because, of course, indigenous peoples of non-European origin must be primitive bushmen, right?

If it isn’t apparent by now that I’m intensely annoyed by The 12th Planet, let me be clear:

Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles Series ranks among the very worst of pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical “nonfiction.”  It may be some people read books like his for entertainment, or because they have a case of the X-Files, but I for one think something like The 12th Planet cannot go without even this meager rebuttal.  Zecharia Sitchin’s books feed into the worst popular conceptions of ancient civilization, and commit an unforgivable crime: they rape history, underestimating and belittling the fully human people who lived before us.

That’s not okay.  And I sincerely hope my father was reading it as a joke.

Knights in White Lab Coats (preview Miscorrection: Panacea)

30 Apr

For some reasons, scientists scare people.  It’s a cultural trope: mad scientists, evil geniuses, supervillains in high-tech bunkers underground.  And then we have people like Dr. Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading in England who calls himself a cyborg and says things about “cyborg ethics” like:

Thank you, IrishTimes.com, for making this eminent professor look like he's trawling for children in chat rooms. Thanks a bunch.

“There’s no point thinking that we’ll [transhumanists will] do a deal with the humans and be nice to them. This is a leap in intellectual performance so why should augmented humans listen to what humans have to say? Potentially this will split society.”

Not only does he look really creepy in this picture (left), but he kind of is a legit cyborg.  For the record, I’m totally on your side, Dr. Warwick– transhumanists ftw!  So… please don’t hurt me.

The hilarious Flight of the Conchords have a song that pretty much sums up the popular conception of what might happen when science goes too far.  See “The Humans Are Dead.

But this is getting off-topic.

“Panacea,” story #4 of the Miscorrection series, is not about robotic beings ruling the world, or shutting our motherboardf*cking systems down.  There isn’t even Mad Science in the conventional sense (oh, except for that crazy doctor shut up in prison for, you know, dangerous research and other assorted bad stuff).  What’s so refreshing about Panacea is that the scientists are good!  The title itself, after all, refers to a cure-all, not world destruction.

What a relief.  I was getting tired of cliches.

Doc Atrasti is a man on a mission.  Determined to turn the aforementioned crazy scientist’s research to good use, he enlists a favorite character from past installments (Daniel!) on a guys’ hiking trip–and by “guys’ hiking trip,” I mean a top-secret mission in the alien mountains of the planet Cormos.  At last, all those bio majors have decent role models to look up to.

I can’t give away the ending, but I can tell you that Miscorrection: Panacea will be out soon (May 2nd), with the opportunity to read it for free on the first day of the release.  See the author B.C. Young’s blog The Time Capsule for more details: http://the-time-capsule.com/2011/04/19/miscorrection-panacea-release-date-is/

This has been the 200th post of the Scattering, and no series deserves that honor (er… let’s just say it’s an honor) better.  Which is why I am officially awarding B.C. Young with the Scattering’s Linus and Cromwell Award for Science Fictional Excellence.  This prize is this terrible picture of my two most favorite misunderstood individuals in fiction and history.

Congratulations!  I hope this win does not negatively impact your sales, but I make no promises.

We’re All Cyborgs Now

28 Apr

I have no idea if we’re news or not, but Tuscaloosa (my sweet home University of Alabama) was hit by a devestating tornado yesterday evening.

University operations have been suspended indefinitely, and final exams next week have been cancelled.  It’s like a scene from a disaster movie (and the city looks like it).  Someone–either an illiterate fundamentalist (I’m sure we have our share of those) or an ironic hipster (and those)–chalked “Revelator” and “Is this God’s punish?” on the plaza this morning.  While the campus (all but a chink of Bryant Denny Stadium) is intact, off-campus student housing was hit hard, displaced students are camping in the Rec Center, and My Dear Charlie’s out volunteering to clean up the city.  Meanwhile, I’m camping at one of my awesome prof’s house with a bunch of classmates, hitching on his power and wireless.

But this is a science fiction blog, so the point is this: when the electricity and Internet went out on campus at 5:30-ish yesterday afternoon, we college students loss half of our brains.

I realize it’s not the Singularity yet, but we kind of are living in a world of augmented reality.  You know, the definition of “Cyborg” is actually looser than one might expect:

It ain’t fiction no more now, kids.

Anyone who uses the Internet on a regular basis–for communication, socialization, entertainment, work or study–has extended their biological capacities using technology.  My memory is on my hard drive and in the cloud; all the research I’ve done, a whole lot of the things I’ve said to friends, the plans I’ve made are embedded in the cyber-infrastructure of the webmind.  It’s both terrifying and friggin awesome.

I’m fortunate to be uninjured and unscathed, along with my friends and family, but what little loss we’re suffering on campus (power, Internet) makes me think about how much of ourselves we’ve put into our technology.  You know me better than to think I’m going to go on some “back to nature!” rant, and I’m totally not even hinting at that.  All I’m saying is that it just struck me yesterday: we’re all cyborgs now.

Give the Kids Science (fiction)! review: The Scientific Method, A Wandering Koala Tale

26 Mar

Don’t tell my hipster friends (they’re all engrossed in Proust, I’m sure), but I’ve been on a young adult fiction binge lately.  The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was brilliant–and entirely deserving of its recent popularity.  Catching Fire was a decent sequel, but I took a break with Cory Doctorow’s latest novel of teenage gamers and badass gold farmer unions in China, For the Win, before jumping back into the Hunger Games trilogy with the final book, Mockingjay (brilliant again, and so completely unexpectedly dark that even I, who am masquerading as a grown up, was a little shocked).  Beautiful writing, though–that last chapter gave me chills.

In any case, it is now once again time to get back to the indie authors I’ve been neglecting this month–starting with Jeff Thomason’s YA SF novel (how’s that for gratuitous acronyms?) The Scientific Method, A Wandering Koala Tale.

I think young adult novels are incredibly important–I’m a history student, but I try to proselytize science as well as science fiction to the young’uns whenever I can (somewhere in the multiverse, it’s comforting to think, there’s a version of me studying physics… or cryptozoology…).  Which is why I’m thrilled to feature Thomason’s book here on the blog, such as it is.

Jeff Thomason is a writer, graphic designer, and really excellent cartoonist.  The Scientific Method, a short book with lovely black-and-white illustrations, is premised on this quote, the book’s epigraph:

“No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power.” –Jacob Bronowski, British Mathematician and Scientist

Thomason’s book is an engaging read–starting with a brief prologue on the four terrible and powerful forces driving the universe: gravitation, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force.  Of course, when you add humans into the mix, you get the fifth fundamental force: politics.  Here’s the book description:

Wait–what? Scientists aren’t all knights in white lab coats?  Ye gads!  The horror!  Here’s the book description:

He’s done it! Brent Jakes has discovered the Unified Field Theory, the Holy Grail of Physics! It will provide unlimited energy, new medical breakthroughs, and other advances only dreamed of before. There’s just one on catch: it’ll cost one man his fame, another his career, and a third his company.

When politics and science mix, it’s not pretty. Only the intervention of a silent wanderer can stop them.

Thomason’s prose is clean and colorful, but not condescending (the absolute worst mistake a young adult author could ever make).  His dialogue, however, is stand-out.  In fact, I’m pretty sure this brief exchange must come from a real classroom somewhere:

The few students who had paused their games to listen gave him a blank stare.  One went back to playing.

“The Unified Field Theory is like the Holy Grail for science.  Physicists since Einstein have been searching for it without success.”

“Like Monty Python.”

“Not exactly.”

Or this one:

“Benjamin Franklin?  Is he your dad?”

“No, no, he lived hundreds of years ago.”

“So… is he your grandpa then?”

You get the point.  So let’s sum things up:

Recommendation: The Scientific Method may be a dry-sounding title for young adult fiction, but, as the kids are saying these days, the writing is at times LOL, imho.  That means laugh-out-loud, btdubs.  Take it from a selective connoisseur of 8th-grade reading level fiction: Thomason gets my highest recommendation.

Reading Time: 2,000+ “locations” on the Kindle means… 200 pages in paper form?  In any case, this is a weekend read for a college student avoiding academic journals, and 1-2 weeks for the younger set.

Availability: You can find The Scientific Method on Amazon or Smashwords, in ebook (oooh–sciencey!) or physical format.  Here’s the link to the Amazon page, because, as we all know, I’m fully in the megacorporation’s thrall: http://www.amazon.com/Scientific-Method-Wandering-Koala-ebook/dp/B002DGSMSQ (ebook is $3.96)

For the older crowd, I’ll take this time to recommend The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, by Jacob Bronowski (remember the epigraph?).  Maybe he has some scientific insight into the minds of particularly creative indie authors.  Or maybe he’s just that rare individual who was at once a mathematician, biologist, historian, and poet.  Can someone say “Renaissance Man,” please?

History of Science Fiction by a Really Meticulous Artist

10 Mar

This may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen–even if it wipes the table with my rag of a blog.  Ward Shelley must be brilliant, crazy well-read, and a bit of a digital humanist to make this:

Click here for the complete version. Also, someone let me know if this is for sale as a print.

Branching from the Gothic novel’s fine, but personally, I’m not sure that Gormenghast belongs so very close to “Sword and Sorcery” tales.  Anyway, see Flowing Data for more really intense data visualization projects.

Update: This has been the 185th post of the Scattering.  There will be more, soon–it’s Spring Break!  And because I’m kind of ridiculous, I’ll be spending it reading SF.  Up next: The Doom Guardian, by Julie Ann Dawson.

Verdict? The Lancaster Rule, by T.K. Toppin

13 Feb

Well, it wasn’t about the War of the Roses after all, but that’s no loss for an avid reader hungering for a new novel to take on classic themes: time travel, new (and frightening) world orders, and the total psychological dislocation of falling asleep in the 21st century and waking up in the 24th.

Like a future Rip van Winkle, our heroine Josie Bettencourt wakes up bewitched and bewildered in a world she doesn’t recognize:

The world loathes Josie Bettencourt’s kind– pod-survivors from the past. When death is certain, an ex-military and friend to the pod-hunters, saves her life. Unfortunately, she is soon arrested and taken straight to the Citadel, the heart of the Lancaster regime where they have ruled tyrannically for over fifty years. Now, young John is in power, hoping to make a change, to erase the wars, famines and unimaginable terror. When Josie meets the frighteningly powerful John Lancaster, she has to ask, is he really the so-called tyrants’ spawn? She soon discovers who the true tyrants are by unraveling a deadly plot to take over the world.  And she realizes that her life in this new future are indelibly linked to the one she left behind.

T.K. Toppin’s lyrical writing style adds a certain elegance to a story that could easily have become as hard and cold as a tyrannical world government, and her characters evolve over the course of the novel, however sudden their awakening may have been at the start.

Recommendation: At $6.00 for the Kindle, The Lancaster Rule’s pricing is a little steep for an indie SF ebook (bestsellers on Amazon are $9.99).  But the writing is high-quality and the story has depth–definite pros tipping this review to a “worth it.”  Also, the cover art’s pretty intense.

Reading time: At a fairly-long 380 pages, I’d give it from 2 to 3 weeks.

The Lancaster Rule is available as an ebook for $6.00 on Amazon.

As I lay me down to sleep… (review The Lancaster Rule)

13 Feb

… I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my body to preserve in a stasis pod deep underground for a couple hundred years to slow cellular degeneration and essentially keep me immortal.  Amen.

I imagine that’s how Dr. Peter Bettencourt taught his daughter to pray, just before he made her a riff on Rip van Winkle.  Open your mouth for the choo-choo train, Josie!  It’s a dangerous chemical cocktail I cooked up in the lab to help you fall asleep for a long, long time.

All right, so maybe the good doctor had better reasons than that for sending his daughter rocketing three centuries into the future in a secret cryogenic chamber buried under her childhood home.  Government oppression’s a pretty good reason.  The Bettencourts were just another happy family (with a mad scientist dad, as is quite normal in science fiction) in 2033, when Dane Lancaster became President of a friggin scary union of Europe and the Americas.  Dane was “maniacal,” a “tyrant,” “corrupted.”  According to Dr. Bettencourt and his Retro Movement, at least–ex-hippies who decided to put themselves to sleep ’til better times.  Bettencourt was assassinated, or something, but he managed to secret his daughter away, and 300 years later Josie finds herself resurrected by a team of “pod hunters” in Anno Lancaster, the reign of John.

Readers paging to the first chapter will find some such snippet of political exposition (something that usually, I admit, sets my teeth on edge).  But if it’s a little shaky, that’s all right–it is considerably made up for by Toppin’s virtuoso descriptive writing.  Here’s a small sample (from the pod hunters’ first look at the ancient stasis specimen):

There she lay, like a sea creature that lives in the deepest caverns of the underworld: nails grown long through the ages, curling inward like obscene tentacles, soft and rubbery from centuries in liquid.  Her dark hair had also grown long and billowy, fanning about her body like a spectral sea fern shroud.  Her body was frail and slack, weightlessly floating in the thick amniotic fluid.  The only sign of life was the low hum the pod emitted, like a chest freezer in the corner of your kitchen, and once every hour the sucking sound of the respirator pumping oxygen in once, and then out.

It’s poetry.

Equally effective is the early scene in which Josie’s consciousness begins to surface from that almost deathlike depth of sleep.  The dreamlike, feverish quality of Josie’s thoughts (via Toppin’s keyboard) is creepy, creepy, so extraordinarily creepy.  She captures the tenuous connections your mind makes as you wake up, the heaviness in the limbs and disconcerting physical weakness, the half-memories and uncertainty of what’s real and what’s imagined, the terror.

One  minute  I  was  saying  goodbye  to  my father,  and  the  next,  awaking  to  a  madness  of incomprehension.

(Time travel: Side-effects may include social upheaval and serious internal turmoil.)

Josie’s particular brand of time travel isn’t really new in the genre–earlier I mentioned Washington Irving’s famous time traveler Rip (although, let’s admit, stasis pods are quite a bit more SF than leprechauns in the Catskills).  What makes The Lancaster Rule compelling is how T.K. Toppin deals with the psychological aspects of waking up in a world that isn’t your own.

We’re all products of our time–shaped by its peculiar culture, prejudices and obsessions.  This isn’t a question of Nature vs. Nurture–it’s a simple fact of historical contingency.  We can go to Western Civ 101 and gaze blankly at powerpoints about the 15th-century, uncomprehending.  Divine Right of Kings?  But that’s ridiculous!  Or the 19th century (what do you mean women are less intelligent than men because menstruations diverts so much blood from the brain?).  Even just decades ago, the culture and values of parents and grandparents.  It all seems absurd to us, and while some people of the time thought it was absurd too, it was perfectly logical to most.  We would be lost in the worlds of the past, but to those who lived in them, it all made perfect sense.

If you move in time, forward or back, it’s not just a spacial-temporal dislocation–it’s a cultural one too.  God Emperor of Dune (fourth in Frank Herbert’s famous series, but first in my heart, and the origin of this blog’s URL) started me thinking along these lines.  In GEoD [spoiler alert], Leto Atreides has become immortal, for various sundry reasons that involve sandworms and space (of course).  And to keep him company through the eons, he resurrects one after the other after the other a series of “gholas” (read clones) of his faithful friend of the old days, Duncan Idaho.  And Duncan has some problems with this:

Leto had a name for this transformation of the Duncans.  He called it “The Since Syndrome.”

The gholas often nurtured suspicions about the secret things which might have been developed over the centuries of oblivion since they last knew awareness.  What had people been doing all that time?  Why could they possibly want me, this relic from their past?  No ego could ever overcome such doubts forever–especially in a doubting man …

“It’s not real,” Idaho said.  “I don’t belong here … I mean here, now!  In this time!”

Idaho swallowed, and then: “You’ve committed a crime against us, Leto, against all of us–the gholas you resurrect without ever asking us if that’s what we want … There’s a time, Leto, a time when you’re alive.  A time when you’re supposed to be alive.  It can have a magic, that time, while you’re living it.  You know you’re never going to see a time like that again.”

Leto blinked, touched by the Duncan’s distress.  The words were evocative.

Idaho raised both hands, palms up, to chest-height, a beggar asking for something he knew he could not receive.

“Then… one day you wake up and you remember dying…and you remember the axolotl tank…and the Tleilaxu nastiness which awakened you…and it’s supposed to start all over again.  But it doesn’t.  It never does, Leto.  That’s a crime!”

“I have taken away the magic?”

“Yes!”

In other words, you can never go home again.

This is the kind of psychological distress Josie has to overcome in The Lancaster Rule–the incomprehensibility of total dislocation.  Plot twists and turns aside, this is the most compelling part of the novel for me, and a major aspect of Toppin’s excellent characterization.  T.K. Toppin confronts a classic SF conceit with insight, sensitivity, and a purely poetic writing style.

The Lancaster Rule is available as an ebook from Amazon for $6.0o.

Speaking of the Apocalypse

6 Nov

I’m a happy futurist, but sometimes I wonder…

Let There Be Light (The Colony, 2.2)

5 Aug

There are a couple routes to go when it comes to constructing the New World Order.  The yellow armband gang prowling the neighborhood around the Colony opted for the might makes right sort of society (the 30-against-7 fight at the end of the season premiere was absolutely insane).  But when it comes to self-government, the colonists have a better idea: meritocracy.

Read this and other tv reviews on The Best Shows You’re Not Watching

Artist/Inventor George met with some serious social pressure for napping last episode, but it’s a new day and everyone in the Colony has a project.

Top of the list is security.

While getting food, water, shelter, and fire in the first three days is an accomplishment worthy of the survivors of Oceanic 815, Discovery Channel’s survivors had to face hostile Others a lot sooner than Jack, Kate, and Hurley.  In three days, the colonists got down to fisticuffs twice, the latter fight being more of a rout, with over a score of violent outsiders attacking the Colony and successfully looting all their precious medical supplies (they were under some adult magazines in Sawyer’s tent… wait a second…).

For anyone skeptical of just how real Discovery Channel’s reality series really is, that fight scene alone should erase any and all doubts.  While the choreography was a muddled mess and not quite up to the aesthetic standards we expect from Hollywood, the battle was brutal: the colonists’ biohazard suits got ripped to shreds off their backs, and schoolteacher Sian wasn’t afraid to pick up a long metal pipe and lay down a beating.  Those pre-show disclaimers warning about “graphic scenes” and “viewer discretion” are no joke.

Of course, the colonists did—as construction foreman Reno so bluntly commented—get “annihilated.”  But Jim was a little more optimistic.

At least, he says cheerfully, “I didn’t see not a sucker cut and run.”

As destructive as the attack proved to be, and as bad as the colonists got walloped by a roving gang of ruffians wearing caution tape on their arms (is that threatening or what?), episode two opens with nerves steeling “After the Fall.”  And in their determination to turn their Gulf Coast not-quite-a-vacation home into “Fort Knox” reveals some new leaders.

As predicted, Reno is everywhere—with his hammers, drills, and callused hands in the middle of every project, getting things done.  His motto from the premiere?  Lead by example.  But an even more assertive and self-assured leader may be emerging in Sally, the 28-year-old auto mechanic who’s taking the conditions of her post-Apocalypse life (sharing a toothbrush with six other people, for example) in stride.

“The more I look around,” she tells the camera, confidentially, “the more I feel that it’s all Indians and no chiefs.”

Sally takes up the mantle by taking charge of their dubious power situation.  Two drained batteries salvaged from a broken-down truck aren’t enough to keep the lights on—let alone the power tools Reno needs to secure the house in case of another attack, which everyone agrees must be imminent.  But Sally has a plan: finding an old red tractor on the Colony grounds, she hopes to get the alternator running and so charge the batteries.

All the colonists rally to the clarion call—even George, whose motivation and morale are perking up with Sally taking charge.  “George!” she exclaims at one point, as he helps her make preparations for a tricky welding job, “You’re the man.”  He looks down, embarrassed.

“I think we’re both the man,” he says.

In a meritocracy, it’s knowledge and skills that rise to the top.  And in “After the Fall,” it might be hard to choose exactly who’s the top man—everyone has a skill and is sticking to it.

Jim—discouraged that his bridge-building campaign yields like results in the intended purpose of making net-dragging from both sides of the canal fails—makes the Colony’s first kill on a hunting trip to the bayou.  Trying his hand at tracking, the devout Christian uncovers a nearly six-foot snake under a rotting log and, no hesitation, grabs it barehanded behind the head.  The other hand unsheathes the knife at his belt in barely more time and beheads it.

Dinner’s ready, folks!

Any meat, however rubbery, is a welcome treat for the colonists, who have been subsisting on canned food, dried beans, and rice.  The trip to the abandoned shopping center, after all, didn’t yield too much—save a truck filled with rancid pig carcasses swarming with writhing yellow maggots.

They’re definitely not ingestible, but the 70-year-old Deville figures he can find a way to feed the pigs to the Tractor Power Plan.  The Colony is desperately wanting fuel, without which neither the security projects nor the lights can go on.  But maybe there is wisdom in age: “Being a country boy, there’s a lot of things I remember—like making oil out of animal fat.”

Gosh, now I feel bad for making fun of him last week.

Harvesting lard from rotting pig corpses isn’t exactly a coveted task–with his characteristic dryness, Reno explains the situation:

“The whole process sucked.  Nobody enjoyed it.  Now we can have lights, we can work at night.  We don’t have to live in total darkness.”

It’s a poignant note to end the episode on—the electricity flickering on in the Colony for the first time—and a symbolic reminder that these survivors have to do more than just survive: rebuild.  But even after this victory, the colonists know not to get overconfident.

They’re not the only society in the new world order.