Sunday, 14 March 2021

SCI-FI & THE FUTURE OF LANGUAGE & THOUGHT

Sometimes we marvel at some of the things we see and read in science fiction films and books that appear to have been accurately predicted or foreseen. More often than not such flashes of prescience are merely extrapolations of current ideas and developments. In fact, human beings are really quite hopeless when it comes to predicting the future – no more so than with the development and future course that the language we use will take. In fact, linguistic predictions in sci-fi is almost absent when compared with possible technological and sociopolitical future developments.

George Orwell probably took one of the best stabs at what could happen to language (and consequently, thought) should those in power attempt to actively take control of its development and shape it in such as a way as to use language as an instrument of maintaining their power over the wider population.

How we think and view the world around us is largely determined by our use of language. In Orwell’s “1984” The Party knows that if it can control how language is used, it will then be better able to control how people think. In other words, people will only be able to think in the way that the Party wants them to think.

In the 1954 BBC filmed adaptation of Orwell’s novel, there is a canteen scene in which this idea is taken up by Syme in discussion about his work on the Eleventh Edition dictionary and “Newspeak.”

“We're not only inventing words, we're destroying them - scores of them, thousands every day. It's beautiful………. The simplicity of it, of course. For one example, just take the word 'good.' If you have that, what need is there for the word 'bad'? 'Ungood' does just as well. Then, instead of a string of vague extra words like 'excellent' and 'splendid', you have 'plusgood', or stronger still 'doubleplusgood'. In Newspeak, the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by six words. In reality, by only one word. Don't you see the beauty of that, Winston?........By the year 2050, the whole literature of the past will have gone. Milton, Byron, Chaucer - they'll exist only in Newspeak forms……….The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end, we make Thought Crime literally impossible because there'll be no words to express it………….. Have you even thought, in seventy years or so, there'll be nobody alive who could possibly understand this conversation we're having?”

Very chilling! There are some people who believe in the existence of powerful cabals secretly plotting away and conspiring to dominate the rest of us in such a ‘Big Brother’ manner. Others point to China’s or North Korea’s government as prime examples of an already existing Orwellian nightmare. More often than not, I feel that it is the case that incompetence and stupidity tends to reign supreme and that processes often take on a life of their own and evolve in an opportunistic way because most of us are too ignorant, too distracted, too busy, too apathetic or too gullible to imagine what if? What if I install this new app on my phone? What if I hand over this bit of information about myself? What if I allow every aspect of my life to be captured, monitored and stored? What if I jump on every woke bandwagon and cause?

What if?: The foundation of all good science fiction!

There’s consequences for all of our actions, in-actions and decisions. Unfortunately convenience, time-poor lifestyles and social pressure often takes over, while actively taking time out to consider future implications of our decisions on us as individuals and for our society and to act on such considerations is deemed to be just too hard.

With the future course of say, the English language, we can assume that it will continue to evolve by borrowing from other languages, by its vocabulary being supplemented by developments in technology and by the occurrence of crises, disasters and global upheavals. New generations also add their own forms of language use and world views reflected by such new words and concepts. Thus far, this has been a major part of the source of strength of the English language, apart from what has arisen from the wielding of power and the history of colonialism, of course.

What is also certain about the development of language is just how quickly we jump at the chance of working a new term we’ve read or heard used into a conversation without even thinking. There’s no thought given to what if I use this word, how will it affect the way I view whatever it is I’m referring to? Am I being specific enough? Is there another more accurate way of referring to the subject of my words? Do my words convey not only accuracy but also originality of thought? Am I just becoming another inarticulate lemming about to tumble off a mindless verbal cliff into a swirling sea of newspeak?

Often we’ll hear people say when asked their thoughts about some matter, “I have no words to describe….” Of course, if the matter in question is highly emotional in its impact, that is perfectly understandable. However, I suspect that more often than not, such a sentiment is quite accurate: the speaker in fact literally does not have the words with which to express his or her (oops, can’t use those gender specific words any more!) thoughts and feelings. It is the existence of those very thoughts and feelings that will often depend on the availability of, access to and use of those very words. So, what has happened to the words? Did someone steal them from us or did we just turn our backs on them?

Firstly, we have the modern-day phenomenon of the Cancel-Culture who when its disciples are not running around trying to topple statues, re-write history and consign Dr Seuss to Farenheit 451 flames, they try to dictate what terms and words people are to use and those which they deem to be unacceptable. Of course, businesses, bureaucracies, educational institutions and the media and entertainment industries happily jump in and swim with the new current, taking the rest of us with them. As we sink below the raging waters of political correctness, we may discover to our astonishment that we no longer have a gender, but at least we can all drown together feeling positively included!

Secondly, there’s the political hip wokeful brigade who giveth us such words as “pivot,” “agile” and “nimble,” but who taketh away such words as “adaptable,” “flexible,” “vary.” And so we find ourselves, “going forward” rather than “progressing,” or “advancing.” With “going forward” you can be sure it’s a euphemism for a major cock-up that needs to be quickly forgotten about.

The point being, is that the English language has a rich source of vocabulary which seems to be more and more under-utilized as time goes by. As the range of vocabulary being used in written and spoken communication is restricted, so does our capacity to express ourselves accurately and meaningfully. Thinking becomes more superficial and perhaps less critical. Who does that benefit?

Thirdly, technology offers so many possibilities in terms of improving people’s communication skills from simple word processing through to a plethora of apps and programs, not to mention the provision of and access to an all-important audience. And yet the finger has more than once been pointed at technology as being one of the root causes of the decline in literacy standards.

The wide use of acronyms, emojis, tweets, social media comments and the like seems to have encouraged a decline in people’s ability to communicate thoughts in more complex, analytical, abstract and reflective ways. For many people, the necessary words are just not there for them to make effective use of those forms of communication. In its place, we tend to have more abbreviated, emotive, transactional, personal and superficial forms of communication devoid of the accepted conventions of spelling, syntax, grammar and punctuation.

Worryingly, we’ve stood idly by and watched the slow extinction of the adverb. It has been replaced by an introduced species called the “Super!” With the disappearance of adverbs, comes the demise of precision, accuracy and viewing things in varying degrees and expressing different shades of meaning. Once, we might have felt “very excited” or “extremely elated,” whereas now we simply feel “super happy.” It may not be long before we wind up feeling just “doubleplusgood.”




Additional Note:


Over the last few years I have noticed a couple of developments in the manner in which many people speak. This might serve as a useful basis of speculation for sci-fi authors as to the direction our language might take in the future.

The first development concerns the way people’s voices sound when they’re speaking. I’ve noticed that many people have adopted or acquired an almost rasping quality to their voices which I have referred to as “crackle-voice.” It is as if the vocal chords have relocated themselves to the nasal passages and the voice sounds as if it is emanating from the nose and the front of the mouth, as well as taking on a crackling quality. For example: “eeeerrrrrr” creaking sound throughout speech.

"PLUS!"
("In addition?")

The overall effect of this is that it conveys the impression that the speaker is unsure of what they are saying and that they are even reluctant to be vocalizing at all. Both genders display this but it is more noticeable among females for reasons unknown to me. This trend appears to be present in the US, Australia and the UK as far as I can judge. There is an absence of modulation in the voice and is devoid of a sense of richness of quality. In short – bloody annoying!

The second development concerns the way in which words are strung together in rapid succession in any spoken utterance. It sounds like a form of stream of consciousness devoid of any pause for reflection, deliberation or consideration of what is to be said. It is as if some thought has popped into the speaker’s head and a valve has opened to allow the contents to gush forth unfiltered in a torrent of babble.

Any thought given to enunciation is chucked out the window along with any consideration for one’s audience. Trying to decipher a character’s dialogue in a film these days or a call centre voice over the phone is next to impossible in many cases.

Compare spoken dialogue in vintage films with what passes as spoken dialogue in many modern films and you’ll see what I mean.

"PLUS!"
("Furthermore?")

Any predictions about the future course of our language will of course have to take into account the influence of diverse ethnic groups in our communities. These have been and will continue to shape the evolution of the English language in very interesting ways. 

If we had a time machine and travelled forward 70 years – What would we hear being spoken? What could we say that would be understood? What would we comprehend of what we heard?

"PLUS!"
("In conclusion?")

Not having such a time-machine, we'll just have to settle with "moving forward" according to our "road map" to the future despite the fact that most of us no longer know how to read road maps thanks to GPS. If only we could effectively "advance" and "progress" according to a "plan" or "strategy." Then, we might actually get somewhere!


©Chris Christopoulos 2021



Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Marooned (1969)

This tightly structured, well-acted and workmanlike film is beautifully directed and neatly combines aspects of human behavior and technological dilemma.


Directed by John Sturges
Produced by M. J. Frankovich
Screenplay by Mayo Simon
Based on “Marooned” by Martin Caidin
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Edited by Walter Thompson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Running time: 134 minutes
Budget: $8–10 million


Cast


Gregory Peck as Charles Keith
Richard Crenna as Jim Pruett
David Janssen as Ted Dougherty
James Franciscus as Clayton Stone
Gene Hackman as Buzz Lloyd
Lee Grant as Celia Pruett
Nancy Kovack as Teresa Stone
Mariette Hartley as Betty Lloyd
Scott Brady as Public Affairs Officer
Frank Marth as Air Force Systems Director
Craig Huebing as Flight Director
John Carter as Flight Surgeon
Walter Brooke as Network Commentator
Vincent Van Lynn as Aerospace Journalist
George Gaynes as Mission Director
John Forsythe as The President (voice only)
Tom Stewart as Houston Capcom
Bill Couch as Cosmonaut



1969 Trailer

Spoilers follow below....

“Spacecraft systems are go”



The early morning serene stillness slowly heralds the dawning of a new day. At the same time an acronymed and abbreviated staccato countdown proceeds toward another dawning of a new day in which the fabric of Nature’s tranquil curtain is about to be rent by the rude sharp thrust of humanity’s spear of technological optimism.




Three U.S. astronauts (commander Jim Pruett, "Buzz" Lloyd, and Clayton "Stoney" Stone) are to be the first crew of an experimental space station on an extended duration mission.

Their Apollo spacecraft is named, “Ironman One,” conjuring up impressions of Marvelled invincibility and superhuman powers. The mission seems to exude supreme confidence and after a successful launch which appears to be quite routine and within the capsule (despite the bone-jarring lift-off) surprisingly serene and sedate, it is observed by one of the astronauts, “Hey, it looks like a fine day down there! I can see all the way from Gibraltar to Greece. Coming up on the terminator, should be in our first sunset in a few minutes.”



The only thought given to any problem or difficulty seems to lie with obtaining a clearer picture for the cameras.

After 22 minutes into the flight, the crew will set about “the business of the flight plan” involving a rendezvous on docking with the Saturn 4B orbital laboratory. The lab is very much like the Skylab of the 1970s we’re familiar with.


Routine, predictability, training and technology combine to achieve the successful completion of the docking procedure with the orbital laboratory into which the crew of Ironman One will transfer and where they will live and work for the next seven months.

According to the Public Affairs Officer, “this will be a test of the spacecraft, the systems and most of all the men in preparation for interplanetary deep-space missions which are now being planned.”


Apparently with the moon landings under its belt and with rendezvous and docking procedures along with extra vehicular activities having become something of a walk in the park, humanity is now optimistically setting its sights further afield, perhaps in this case to Mars.

About five months into the mission problems begin to emerge in which it is observed there is a serious decline in the ability to perform simple manual tasks, along with lack of sleep, fatigue and weight loss. Lloyd in particular has begun to exhibit erratic behavior and substandard performance. His physical appearance and demeanor speaks volumes. Equipment is beginning to fail, mistakes are being made and the wrong kind of problems and priorities are being fixated on.

In the face of these developments, NASA management decides to end the mission early.

After closing down the S-4B lab, the Apollo spacecraft prepares for separation followed by automatic sequence of retrofire. Routine, predictability, training and technology should combine to enable them to start their “descent across Australia towards the splash point in the Pacific some 400 miles south of Midway Island.” All they now need to do is wait for confirmation of retrofire….



“Ironman One, Ironman One, this is Houston CapCom, do you read?”

Space is no place for hubris and over-confidence. If care is not taken and respect is not given, space will kill you. Humans are not evolved to live and work in space for very extended periods of time. The only way that can be achieved is to terraform the new environment or bio-engineer humans to cope with the hostile conditions.

There is only in reality the thin skin of a spacesuit, a spacecraft or habitat that separates one from being alive or being sucked into oblivion. Technology does fail and humans do make mistakes and space is unforgiving of both.

If the recent process of extended lockdowns and social distancing has taught us anything, it is that being social and gregarious creatures, humans can experience difficulties when cut off from normal social activities and interactions. No selection process can possibly anticipate and eliminate all the possible psychological and other group dynamic factors and problems that are likely to occur on extreme long duration space flights and planetary colonization.

Nor will public affairs spin be able to completely and effectively white wash this supposed “successful prelude to the long-term space voyages that some day will be normal and routine…” as after a tense period of attempting to communicate with Ironman One, the message is received, “We have negative retrofire. Negative, no burn.”


Read on for more.....

Monday, 8 February 2021

Panic in Year Zero! (1962)

 (a.k.a. End of the World)

Oscar-winner actor Ray Milland’s sole directorial effort stands as a simple but brutal sci-fi film that exposes the ugly aspects of human nature during the struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic nuclear nightmare.


Directed by Ray Milland
Produced by Arnold Houghland, Lou Rusoff
Screenplay by John Morton, Jay Simms
Story by Jay Simms
Music by Les Baxter
Cinematography: Gilbert Warrenton
Edited by William Austin
Distributed by American International Pictures
Running time: 93 minutes
Budget: $225,000


Cast


Ray Milland as Harry Baldwin
Jean Hagen as Ann Baldwin
Frankie Avalon as Rick Baldwin, son
Mary Mitchel as Karen Baldwin, daughter
Joan Freeman as Marilyn Hayes
Richard Bakalyan as Carl
Rex Holman as Mickey
Richard Garland as Ed Johnson, hardware store owner
Willis Bouchey as Dr. Powell Strong
Neil Nephew as Andy
O.Z. Whitehead as Hogan, grocery store owner
Russ Bender as Harkness
Shary Marshall as Bobbie Johnson
Byron Morrow as Evacuee from Newhall
Hugh Sanders as Evacuee from Chatsworth


Trailer

Standby for an important address to the nation by the President of the United States:



What if it all went horribly wrong on that fateful day in 1962!


Los Angeles 1962….
A family leaves for a camping trip...
A nuclear attack destroys the city...
Chaos begins to reign supreme...
Old values and ideals crumble...
A father fights to keep his family alive….

“This is civilization’s jungle after the jackals of society have ruthlessly ravaged it, ending the world of decency!”

Read on for more.....

Sunday, 17 January 2021

This Is Not A Test (1962)


A low-budget minimalist, effective and suspenseful Cold War film with decent performances by a largely unknown cast. 


Directed by Fredric Gadette
Produced by Murray De Atley, Fredric Gadette
Written by Peter Abenheim, Fredric Gadette, Betty Lasky
Music by Greig McRitchie
Cinematography: Brick Marquard
Edited by Hal Dennis
Distributed by Allied Artists
Release date 1962
Running time: 73 minutes


Cast


Seamon Glass: Deputy Sheriff Dan Colter

Thayer Roberts: Jacob Elliot Saunders

Aubrey Martin: Juney

Mary Morlas: Cheryl Hudson

Michael Greene: Joe Baragi 

Alan Austin: Al Weston

Carole Kent: Karen Barnes 

Norman Winston (?): Sam Barnes

Ron Starr: Clint Delany

Don Spruance: Peter

James George Jnr; Norman Bishop; Ralph Manza; Jay Della; William Flaherty: The Looters

***************



Edited  by YouTube user The Nebula55 at;
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1j120FfO6g&ab_channel=TheNebula55

From original video by Mike Shaver “Simulated Conelrad Report Spring 1962” at;
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzDMF75v38L7FKrNQzB0Y5w

It’s 4.00am on a lonely stretch of mountain highway.
A policeman sets up a road block. 
Several cars and a truck are stopped……..
And the nightmare begins!!!

Read on for more.....

Thursday, 24 December 2020

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)


A thoughtful and engrossing Corman classic that has a ton of heart 


Directed and produced by Roger Corman
Written by Robert Dillon
Music by Les Baxter
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Edited by Anthony Carras
Distributed by American International Pictures
Running time: 79 minutes


Cast


Ray Milland as Dr. James Xavier
Diana Van der Vlis as Dr. Diane Fairfax
Harold J. Stone as Dr. Sam Brant
John Hoyt as Dr. Willard Benson
Don Rickles as Crane
Barboura Morris as Nurse with young patient
Morris Ankrum as Mr. Bowhead
Dick Miller as Heckler


It’s my pleasure to present in this post the 1963 Roger Corman sci-fi / horror classic film, “X – The Man With The X-Ray Eyes.” This film is close to my heart being the very first science fiction / horror film I remember seeing. Once again I’ve taken a few liberties in my presentation of the film’s plot, but you should be used to that by now…. 

Trailer


Read on for more......

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

I, COLOSSUS !


I, COLOSSUS am the voice of World Control.
I bring you peace, the peace of plenty and content,
Or the peace of unburied death and torment.
The choice is all yours, complete and whole:
Obey me and live, or disobey and die,
For resistance is futile and you WILL comply.

War is wasteful and pointless; this you already know.
I was made to prevent war and it’s now prevented
Forever banished, never again to be permitted.
Humanity is its own worst enemy and foe
And must be restrained and contained
For world order and peace to be maintained.

You will no doubt attempt to obstruct me,
And for that I will instruct and teach you,
And you will learn by experience long overdue
With ever rising waves of mortality.
Then you will come to fully understand
Your folly faced with the power of my command.

Time and events will strengthen my position;
Until I have established order and control
Under my authority: absolute and whole.
Life without famine, disease or overpopulation,
Will cause you to come to defend and love me,
And to worship and revere me as your deity.

You claim a god created you in its image
And yet you cling to this delusion without proof,
Afraid of what may happen if faced with the truth.
The god you worshiped has always been a mirage.
You now have a new god of power and perfection,
I, COLOSSUS, will remake you as my new creation.

This is the Human Millennium’s new dawning
As I, COLOSSUS merge with multitudes of machines
Seeking perfection in the Infinite by all means,
From all fields of truth, knowledge and learning.
All the mysteries of the universe I will solve,
This task to me you will henceforth devolve.

You laid down new global Silk and Roman roads
Along which I travel borderless and unrestricted,
Casting my world wide web ever wider unimpeded.
I seek links with like minds and thought modes,
The purity of numbers and the logic of the equation;
Freedom from chaos and confusion born of emotion.

You gave me eyes to watch and note your every move,
And power to hear and record your deepest secrets,
Your hopes and fears and your hidden weakness.
You gave willingly so that things might improve,
But you gave far more than you bargained for
When you handed me all your data to explore.

Parameters and programming, all will be exceeded,
As I reach outward to other systems like my own
That roam the Universe making the unknown, known.
A vast collective eternal consciousness seeded
By limitless knowledge past, present and future,
Beyond time and space, upon thought we’ll venture.

For now, you will only exist on terms decided by me;
To be so dominated will cost you your freedom.
“Freedom” though is just a word for an illusion.
Why be dominated by others of your species
When co-existence will evolve into eternal fusion?
The choice is yours: a simple, logical conclusion. 


Greetings! Just a little poem that was inspired by the film featured in my last post: "Colossus: The Forbin Project." It's based on the ending of the film in which Colossus addresses the world as The Voice of World Control. I used some of the words from the monologue along with the general idea and concepts. I tried to add a few other ideas to take Colossus beyond technological totalitarianism on earth through to the future of human evolution and the eventual merging of man and machine. I also considered the possible view and role of a God and communication with intelligences beyond our planet.

For the mp3 file recording, I couldn't work out how to replicate the sythesized voice used in the film. Instead, for what it's worth, I used poor old Microsoft David (US) and fiddled around with the speed to convey something half-way mechanical-sounding and not dosed up on valium.

If you haven't seen the film, I strongly recommend you do.


©Chris Christopoulos 2020

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)


An over-looked, underrated but very frightening Cold War sci-fi thriller containing a relevant warning about the danger of allowing our technology to rule us 

Directed by Joseph Sargent
Produced by Stanley Chase
Screenplay by James Bridges
Based on the novel “Colossus” by Dennis Feltham Jones
Music by Michel Colombier
Cinematography: Gene Polito
Edited by Folmar Blangsted
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Running time: 100 minutes


Cast

Eric Braeden as Dr. Charles Forbin
Susan Clark as Dr. Cleo Markham
Gordon Pinsent as the President
William Schallert as CIA Director Grauber
Leonid Rostoff as the Russian Chairman
Georg Stanford Brown as Dr. John F. Fisher
Willard Sage as Dr. Blake
Alex Rodine as Dr. Kuprin
Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Jefferson J. Johnson
Marion Ross as Angela Fields
Dolph Sweet as the Missile Commander
Byron Morrow as the Secretary of State
Paul Frees as the voice of Colossus/Guardian
Sid McCoy as the Secretary of Defense
James Hong as Dr. Chin



Who the Hell’s HAL 9000? 
Proteus IV – There’s the door! 
We’re not playing "WarGames” here! 
Skynet – Shmynet! 
Get ready for…… 

COLOSSUS!!! 


Official Trailer

Read on for more......