New Vision of a Visionless World

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“Over the last seventy-five years it has been science fiction, more than any other genre, that has appropraited [the Hegelian] vision and continued to develop it. In 1926 Hugo Gernsback published the world’s first magazine dedicated to science fiction, and even in the introduction to that first issue, science fiction was already designated as “a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” Here, the ideas of “science”, “vision” and “future” (suggested by “prophecy”) are already clearly indicated. From these three ideas emerged the golden age of the forties, followed successively by other grand “prophetic visions” such as Robert Heinlein’s Future Histories series and Issac Asimov’s Galatic Empire series (1950-52).

“Ironically, it was precisely at this time that grand narratives like these were becoming obsolete in the real world. The thirties marked the dawn of science fiction and at the same time saw the Nazi’s narrative give birth to Auschwitz and witnessed the Marxist-Lenninist narrative turn into Stalinism. By this time, science fiction’s American consumers were probably aware that it was the uncontrollable spread of these “sciences” and “prophetic visions” that was causing the world to fall apart. Of course, people cannot live without some sort of dream or vision…

“This essence of the genre hasn’t changed much. On its surface, of course, science fiction has gone through a huge transformation since the forties. […]. If someone were to ask what characteristic lies at the core of science fiction, I believe that many fans would still say it is the “grand narrative” or “grand vision.” For science fiction to be science fiction, some kind of vision must be proposed, even if it is a vision of science’s failure or of a dark, foreboding future.In the eighties, cyberpunk filled this role. It was not that the worlds of cyberpunk lacked vision, these authors captured readers’ attention precisely because of their elegant new vision of a visionless world.

“At the core of the science fiction genre lies the paradoxical doctrine that it must continue to depict visions, even when grand visions are impossible. In other words, it is in science fiction that the ideal of the nineteenth century philosophy – the desire for the whole of twentieth century philosophy had to reject – still lives and breathes.”

SF as Hamlet: Science Fiction and Philosophy, Azumi Hiroki [trans. Miri Nakamura], in Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime. Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Romay Jr & Takayuki Tatsumi [eds]. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007. pp 77-78.

Drowned World

“Set in 2145, The Drowned World is a haunting vision of post-apocalyptic London. Following the melting of the polar ice-caps through fluctuations in solar radiation, major geophysical upheavals have upset the Earth’s ecological balance, and nature is on the rampage. London has been transformed into a primeval swamp in which mutant botanical forms ‘sometimes over three hundred feet high’ engulf the physical landscape and overwhelm the reader’s vision. Enormous gymnosperms, ‘intruders from the Triassic past’ compete with ‘giant tree forms of the Carboniferous period’ whilst giant lizards, dragonflies and insects compete to assert themselves as the dominant species. Anthropocentric narratives are being radically rewritten in this submerged landscape. The few human inhabitants who remain in the sinking cities are ‘either psychopaths or suffering from malnutrition and radiation sickness’ and human fertility is in radical decline. London, meanwhile, is reimagined as ‘a garbage- filled swamp’ of rotting organic forms and decaying matter. The city’s buildings are drowning in infested waters, office blocks are smothered under silt, and rusting shells of cars and other fragments of urban wreckage clutter the landscape. The result is an ambiguous and fascinating surrealist landscape in which fragments of the ancient and the modern, and aspects of life and death are radically juxtaposed.”

Baxter, Jeannette. “The Drowned World “. The Literary Encyclopedia. 1 October 2004.
Literary Encyclopedia

Zardoz Commands You

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“In the year AD 2293, a post-apocalypse Earth is inhabited mostly by the “Brutals”, who are ruled by the “Exterminators”, “the Chosen” warrior class. The Exterminators worship the god Zardoz, a huge, flying, hollow stone head. Zardoz teaches:

The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth . . . and kill!

“The Zardoz god head supplies the Exterminators with weapons, while the Exterminators supply it with grain. Meanwhile, Zed [as in the last letter of the English alphabet] (played by Connery), an Exterminator, enters Zardoz, hidden in a load of grain, and shoots (and apparently kills) its pilot, Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy) (identified as an Eternal in the story’s prologue), and travels to the Vortex. The Vortices are hidden communities of civilization where the immortal “Eternals” lead a luxurious but aimless existence.

“Arriving in the Vortex, Zed meets two women Eternals — Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and May (Sara Kestelman) — with psychic powers; mentally overcoming him, they make him prisoner of their community. Consuella wants Zed destroyed immediately; others, led by May and a subversive Eternal named Friend (John Alderton), insist on keeping him for study…”

Zardoz synopsis Wikipedia
Zardoz title image Mr Bali Hai’s Psychotronic Titles

Topology

A hybrid use tower located between Melbourne’s docklands and the city, questions contemporary digital form making through the creation of an evolutionary methodology for design.

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“This hybrid use tower located between Melbourne’s docklands and the city, questions contemporary digital form making through the creation of an evolutionary methodology for design. The process operates directly on form, the first part generative and a second, morphological. The “starting topologies” are grown from a custom made program called skyScratcher, which necessarily fulfils the programmatic requirements of each building type. Whilst growing, these entities are programmed with desires – Commercial space is attracted to the city side of the building, and hotel and apartment spaces are attracted to optimal views. Their topological complexity is controlled by the speed at which the system grows as well as the strength of their individual cohesion. These “starting topologies” are then inserted into minimal surface energy optimisation software to negotiate their final positions and forms – an ecology of micro interactions produce the macro outcomes, which cannot be drawn or modelled in a conventional way. In this way of making, form is understood as having certain relationships and characteristics but is never explicitly described geometrically. This process offers a way of digitally crafting form through the characteristics, properties and energies of surface; as such surface becomes loaded with ‘intent’. This offers a significant departure from contemporary digital architectural form making, which typically avoids directly operating on form in favour of emergent pattern making. ”

Highly Evolved, 2004, Kokkugia

Romance and wonder

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“One of the main reasons for describing science fiction as a form of romance is that its subject-matter is romantic: in Shelley’s words, it is not concerned with ‘ordinary relations of existing events.’ Modern SF has done its best to convey the sheer excitement [and horror] of the vistas opened up by science and technology. Like its literary predecessor, the ‘marvellous voyage’, it has often set out to amaze and astound its readers. But if wonder is the authentic response to much science fiction, it is also a very wide spread mode of literary experience. There is, no doubt, something science-fictional in Miranda’s exclamation in The Tempest:

O, wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in’t!”

Science fiction as romance,  in Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching, by Patrick Parrinder. Published by Taylor & Francis, 1980, P52.

You play beautifully

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“The menace of the golem and the fascination with automata were fused in the prescient novel The Sandman [1816] by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Reflecting a romantic rebellion against the tyranny of rationalism and intergrating science with the magic of alechemy, The Sandman imagines a sinister automaton – amazing in its simulation but diabolically animated. A mentally unstable young student named Nathaniel, whose father has been killed in an explosion while dabbling in alchemy, exclaims fearfully: “Something terrible has entered my life!” He refers to Olympia, the beautiful daughter of his teacher Professor Spallanzani. His fear has been aroused by her overly precise manner. “She walks with a curiously measured gait; every movement seems as if controlled by clockwork.  Olympia plays the a piano and sings with the “unpleasent soulless regularity of a machine.” Eventually Nathaniel discovers, to his horror, that Olympia is a machine. Seductive and threatening, Olympia influenced a prefigured the aggressive female robots of the future, such as the witch robot Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the nuclear bomb-enhanced cyborg in Eve of Destruction [1991] , or the nanotechnological TX fembot in Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines [2003].

Technophobia!: Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology, by Daniel Dinello. Published by University of Texas Press, 2005. P. 40.

Revelation Space

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“The depiction of filmic space in recent years is marked by the possibilities of digital technology to create new worlds and new visions, and yet this creation is accomplished in a predetermined way. While sometimes taking a leap into space, we do so in a way that is both breathtaking and familiar. Consider the remarkable opening shot of Contact [1997], a film that is somewhere between 2001 and Star Wars in its combination of metaphysics and childhood fantasy.

“Digital technology can change the actual in ways impossible for earlier technologies: Whether building upon images of objects from our own reality or starting from scratch, computer graphics and animation have the capacity to bring us into space that resemble the interior spaces of the mind. This realization informs the opening shot of Contact: Begining with discordant and random radio noises, giving us a brief history lesson of recent years, the camera pulls away from an image of the Earth to recede into the space and silence of our solar system, the Milky Way, and other galaxies – only to conclude in the eye of a young girl, Ellie Arroway, who will grow up to be an astronomer and the film’s heroine.

“As Ron Mangid notes, the images of the journey through space are poetic recreations of the digitized images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Unlike other space journeys […] which visualise a forward movement and penetration into space, this one gives us the perspective of receding itno space, of viewing the universe as it rushes past us, ultimately to create the sense of the universe terminating in the girl’s mind. These 5,000 frames create a prolonged three-minute shot that appears to verify [the] thesis that in the midst of new technology and new spatial visions on the screen, filmic space is still under the control of the eyes and the mind of the viewer, a point underscored by the recognisable quattrocentro perspectives that structures the entire shot.”

Space and Beyond: The Frontier Theme in Science Fiction, by Gary Westfahl, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. P 74.