The Man Who Japed by Philip K Dick
2 March 2019
I try my best not to “plug” materials, movements, or programs on this site, largely because I’m a self-obsessed loser who requires constant external validation and so when somebody else steals focus my initial reaction is to freak out. Still, another one of my personal idiosyncrasies is doing my absolute best to support my friends and make their work known in any and all way that I can. I don’t have much in this life, but I do have this blog and so I wanted to talk about the podcast The Atomic Library.
My friends Christina Chaney and Lara Tabri have begun a podcast about the Orson Welles Public library in the town of Haven-Hollow following the Apocalypse. The podcast is a radio-drama that follows the protagonist of Hazel and Margery, as well as the city Librarian, Reference Librarian, Youth services librarian, and the rest of staff which includes a precocious temp-employee and a pompous archivist who may or may not have been lossely (heavily) inspired by yours truly. The Atomic Library is hysterical at every-turn and an oddly and bizzarly accurate depiction of day-to-day library operations even if it involves a populace dealing with the implosion of society and nuclear armagedon.
The podcast is also unique for being a reverse-Shakespeare performance in that literally every cast member is played by a woman
This podcast is a delight, and I say this with no hesitation whatsoever, that I will drop whatever I’m doing the moment a new episode drops. So please, if you have even just a few minutes, check out this wonderful podcast my friends have worked so hard in producing. Library matter, and the people who work to make them great put everything they have into ensuring that patrons leave satisfied. Lara and Chris have made something wonderful and the reader is sure to agree with me.
You can listen to the podcast by following the link’s below:
You can also check out their social media pages where you can keep track of their work and progress:
Ans finally they also have a Patreon Account where you can support them and help them keep this podcast going. Check these guys out they’re awesome!!!
Alana, Apartheid, apathy, body humor, Born a Crime, Breast Feeding, Breasts, Brian K. Vaughn, Comics, Fiona Staples, Ghus, graphic novel, Hazel, Humor, interracial relationships, Landfall, Let women breast feed in public damn it!, Literature, Love, Love Story, Marko, Marko and Alana, Othering, Parents, People like to fuck, Petrichor, Politics, race, Race relations, racism, Rape, Saga, science fiction, Sex Criminals, Sexual Exploration, Sexual Fantasy, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, The Stalk, The Will, Trevor Noah, War, Wreath
The only other woman I had ever seen breastfeeding was my mother. I remember stumbling in on her feeding my little sister a month or two after she was born and then promptly shutting the door and going back to the living room to watch Swat Cats. This time it wasn’t my mother needlessly hiding herself away in her bedroom (though she might have just needed to be somewhere quiet and my near-constant Swat Cats marathon probably wasn’t what she needed) but was in fact a member of the graphic novel book club I’m a part of. The woman was unforgettable with her purple hair and Nightmare on Elm Street t-shirt, but what struck me was, while I was delivering my usual lecture, this time on the graphic novel Saga, she actually lifted up her baby, opened her shirt, and held her child up to her breast. I had never seen anyone breast-feed in public before, and seeing it sitting right next to me, I wasn’t entirely sure why anyone would ever have a problem with- it. The kid was hungry and it wasn’t affecting me personally, so I carried on explaining why I thought Saga, which was also decorated with a breast-feeding mother, just wasn’t an interesting book.
My attitudes towards breast-feeding in public remain the same, let mothers feed their children damn it, but I’ve softened towards Saga.
There was a woman who used to work at the library who I considered a close friend, and that’s why it hit me pretty hard when she announced that she was leaving the library for one in Dallas. I understood that her reasons were a combination of desire for better pay as well as to be closer to her boyfriend, but I have trouble finding people who seem to like me so I was pretty bummed. The only real sort of solace I had in the whole thing was that, because she was leaving, that meant that I would be the only person in the library who really knew the graphic novel section, and so, once my supervisors approved, I became the one responsible for shelving the graphic novels. This task is one that, to say I’ve warmed up to it is putting it mildly, I fucking love it. Pushing my green cart to the second floor I take a good 15 minutes a day just to rearrange the shelves, prop up new books for patrons passing through the area, arranging the tipped over or worn books up to their proper place, and while I am shelving I almost always find a fantastic book I want to read. One of them was Saga and, while I admit a moment ago I didn’t find the book terribly wonderful the first time I read it, looking at Marko and Alana on the cover there was the same impulse there always is, a little kid who read Calvin & Hobbes over and over and over again saying, “Check it out, you got a library card!”
I grabbed the first two volumes on my way back down to help a woman send a fax.
There’s too much of Saga to try and tackle all of it in just one essay, and I’m not even looking at just the first volume. While I’m writing this I’m currently on Volume six, and I’m positive by the time I finish this essay I’ll probably be at the last volume, (it’s up to eight right now) and become one of the I’m sure millions currently devouring this book every time it hits the shelves. I’ve also finished all of Sex Criminals so if I start appearing peaked it’s because I’ll be sucking comic-book writer’s dicks for new issues. My other real challenge is the fact that Saga is beloved, or, put it another way, Saga is the comic book that people who hate comics read. Being friends with the owner of Ground Zero Comics (though I suppose I’m being charitable he may not consider me a friend at all and now I look foolish) he’s often talking about his patrons who come in trying to their wives, girlfriends, etc. into comics, and while the first option is almost always Sandman Vol 2 The Doll’s House, Saga is the series he almost always cites as the second option.
It’s not hard to see why, given the fact that the series is written as one long emotional melodrama, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. Rather than superhero comics which are often defined by physical gods fighting the forces of evil in tight outfits and experiencing their own sort of melodramas (nobody ever really dies and there’s always a brother who’s supposed to be dead but who turns out to actually be alive or a clone or some shit), Saga is drama about family centered in race, specifically race mixing. Alana and Marko are people from different cultures, different races which are war with one another. Marko is from Wreath, the only moon of the planet Landfall the homeward of Alana. Marko’s people practice magic, whereas Alana’s people tend to gravitate more towards science and technology. Because war, meaning total destruction of each other’s planets, could potentially destabilize the orbits of their worlds the cultures have moved their war to other planets thus involving a wide variety of peoples in this conflict and creating universal destabilization. Marko becomes a prisoner of Landfall’s coalition where he meets and falls in love with Alana. And because people in love have a tendency to fuck, Alana becomes pregnant which is where the series actually begins.
The first page is memorable for a variety of reasons:
Allright, in all fairness, there’s really just one reason why this page is so striking: too many people forget that when babies are born they aren’t born with any original bacteria in their intestines to help with digestion. Because of this humans evolved so that it was common for a pregnant woman to void her bowels during labor so that the bacteria in her feces would introduce bacteria into the baby’s body. Now breast-milk is also a common way for mothers to transfer this bacteria, thus offering me another opportunity to remind my reader that breast-feeding is more important than your discomfort, but it should be noted that pregnant women also tend to poop because, well, shit’s happening.
But that first line, carefully outlining Alana’s reddened face is an important one because Brian K. Vaughn frames the narrative of Saga as first person narration in the veing of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Saga is the story of a woman named Hazel who is the product of an interracial union narrating her life story to her audience. She introduces herself, not as a person, not as an individual ego, but more of an idea.
This is how an idea becomes real. But ideas are fragile things. Most don’t live long outside at the ether from which they were pulled, kicking and screaming. That’s why people create with someone else. Two people can sometimes improve the odds of an ideas survival…but there are no guarantees. Anyway, this is the day I was born. (1-4).
Vaughn’s writing style is something I’ve had plenty of opportunities to explore and study and that’s largely because of my friend TJ. As I’ve noted in several of my previous essays, he’s the founder of the local Graphic Novel Book Club that meets bi-weekly at Ground Zero Comics, and because of this prestige position he gets to decide which books are read in the group. We’ve read quite a number of books over the years ranging from Understanding Comics to Transmetropolitian to Sandman to Fun Home, but many members have observed that, in the last year alone, we’ve read close to six or seven of the man’s books and this has lead some to label us the “Brian K. Vaughn appreciation society.” There is some disagreement upon this suggestion largely because we’ve also read plenty of Jeff Lemire. The coming war between the Vaughnites and Lemirians is coming and I’m not sure how many lives will ultimately be lost.
But this is just a way of saying that reading Saga is much like reading many of the other Vaughn books and the man has a real tendency to build up his spaces. Saga is not just an intimate love story between Alana and Marko, it’s an opportunity to observe countless species and peoples, all of whom are impacted by the war between the two races. The reader is sometimes bombarded by this enormous amount of oddity, and while the first time I was overwhelmed by this treatment, as time in the story progressed I became more and more used to the oddity of the humanity. And this I believe is its own sort of method.
Race is very much biological, your DNA will always determine your physical characteristics as well as plenty of facets of personality, but race is also rooted in cultural and individual psychology. Observing someone’s physical characteristics and observing difference is not racism, it’s only when one allows those observation of differences to form bias that the corrosive quality of racism manifests.
A racist is ultimately formed by a subculture that educates them that differences in physical characteristics such as skin color, or more abstract qualities such as language or nationality, are an indication of lesser worth. What’s incredible then about the graphic novel Saga is that, much like the Star Wars and Star Trek films before it, the reader is constantly exposed to individuals of different races and species intermingling without too much concern that such interactions are taking place. The reader is able to see the physical differences, and encouraged to just accept these characters as people. Whether it’s the Prince Robot IV and his television head, the floating ghost specter with half a body named Isabel, the half spider half human freelancer known simply as “The Stalk,” or my favorite character Petrichor a MTF transgender woman from Wreath. Saga encourages the reader to see that race is biological, but that racism is ultimately just the social construct because regardless of physiology, anatomy, or whether you’re a pothead actress made out of moss, people are people, and their qualities are what ultimately define them.
That would have been my end to Saga were it not for the fact that recently I’ve begun a new routine. With the rightful fall of Charlie Rose, my morning breakfast routine has been shaken up dramatically because I used to watch interviews and eat. I’ve now taken to watching Seth Meyers, The Daily Show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and of course The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. This later one provides me with some news of the day and some means of maintaining my sanity as I watch the current administration do its…let’s say thing. I like Colbert, he makes me laugh, and he gives me something to think about when I’m shoveling my eggs, donuts, and tea down my throat as I get ready for work. Most recently however he interviewed Trevor Noah, complimenting him about his time on the Daily Show, revealing to the world that Noah had a brief appearance in the film Black Panther, and then asking him about the issue of race. It was during this last conversation that Noah reminded me about his eloquence, but then also about the larger narrative of racism in South Africa.
And during this interview Noah pointed out that, ultimately, his existence voided the larger racist narrative. If one race in power argues that race-mixing cannot produce offspring it voids and ultimately destroys the racist narrative to begin with. This shouldn’t have been such a powerful observation, but hearing him express it as such made me pause and really dwell on that statement. It also made me go back to his biography and look through a few of the passages.
Noah’s memoir Born a Crime doesn’t just mirror Saga, it could almost be its own spin-off. Noah imbues his life story with plenty of wit and humor, but constantly throughout the book he is able to demonstrate a real intelligence about the farce that was the governmental race policy of his home nation.
He writes in one chapter:
In any society built on institutionalized racism, race-mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race-mixing proves that races can mix—and in a lot of cases want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race mixing becomes a crime worse than treason. (21).
Looking then at Saga this is most certainly the case because Vaughn and Fiona Staples, the illustrator who deserves an entire essay to herself, show the family as constantly on the run from the two central organizations of their homewards who see their union as not just a threat to the larger war effort, but to the very war itself. The war between Wreath and Landfall is a racial war, it’s a war founded on the idea that the two races not only should not intermingle and interbreed, but that they cannot. Alana and Marko, and by extension Hazel is a rejection of that system. Its proof that the war is, ultimately, bullshit.
Noah’s biography goes on to note the length to which apartheid was ridiculous and cruel:
Laws were passed prohibiting sex between Europeans and natives, laws that were later amended to prohibit sex between whites and all nonwhites.
The government went to insane lengths to try and enforce these laws. The penalty for breaking them was five years in prison. There were whole police squads whose only job was to go around peeking through windows—clearly an assignment for only the finest law enforcement officers. And if an interracial couple got caught, God help them. The police would kick down the door, drag the people out, beat them, and arrest them. At least that’s what they did to the black person. With the white person it was more like, “Look I’ll just say you were drunk, but don’t do it again, eh? Cheers.” That’s how it was with a white man a black woman. If a black man was caught having sex with a white woman, he’d be lucky if he wasn’t charged with rape.” (22).
There’s a brief moment in Saga when Prince Robot IV is being briefed by a Landfall intelligence officer about the couple and the subject of Alana’s consent is mentioned. Alana’s pregnancy is observed and Robot IV says rather plainly,
“Love child? Surely he forced himself on her.” (24)
And this is, ultimately, everything. The narrative of the war and the races has become so ingrained in the zeitgeist, so embedded into the universal culture of Saga that two people of Landfall and Wreath falling in love and conceiving a child is not only inconceivable, it’s repulsive. There’s also the fact that throughout the text Marko’s people speak a language that often appears to be some sort of slavic tongue mixed in with Spanish which makes the theme of racism all the more potent.
Hazel as a character is an idea and a material reality for her very existence is a crime. Saga as a work of art then is not something that is just relevant it’s historical pertinent. Often the charge against graphic novels is that they are too fantastic, too hyperbolic, or else that they are too much like a melodrama or a soap opera. My argument against this charge is that while Saga is all of these things, it still manages to consistently say something about humanity which that we are more than the petty and paltry divisions which are used to allow suffering.
Rape camps, racism, sexual slavery, transphobia, and murder for hire are all concepts which are explored in the Saga Series, and while many would prefer that it didn’t exist, all of these concepts are realities that are still plaguing society. Saga doesn’t just create a new world, fill it with quirky languages and science fiction creatures for the sake of delving into high fantasy; the book is an effort to touch and explore that which is most human. Love is ultimately a biological imperative based in chemistry to get us to reproduce, but looking past this and seeing how we allow it to create meaning in our lives the story of Hazel is a story which, as Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime demonstrates, is an ongoing narrative.
People like to fuck, and people like to fall in love. Regardless of a person’s sex, gender identity, race, or nationality everyone has the capacity to love another human being. And this idea is powerful because love allows more than just two people to come together and find one another. People comes with families, friends, associations, organizations, creeds, and personal ideologies all of which expose each person of the relationship to new ideas and people which expand their world.
Talking about Saga, and watching that woman breastfeed beside me, was a chance to observe other people, to explore a new way of thinking, and listen to other people’s opinions about what the book meant to them. In a period and time when it feels more and more like human beings are looking for excuses and reasons to “other” each other (pardon that pathetic string of words) it speaks to the power of a book to ask its reader if those differences are really so profound that we can’t find some excuse to recognize another person’s humanity, and maybe see them as somebody we’d like to know, or fuck, or even love.
All quotes cited from Saga Volume 1 were taken from the paperback Image copy edition. All quotes cited from Born a Crime were cited from the first edition hardback Spiegel & Grau copy.
I really wanted to cite Trevor Noah directly in this essay but it just didn’t work out that way. So instead here’s the original interview from The Late Show. Please enjoy, and please remember to take the time to appreciate that they got Trevor Noah to be an A.I. hologram in the movie Black Panther.
I didn’t get a chance to do it here, and maybe hopefully at some point I’ll have time to write a long treatise, but having now read the entrety of the Saga series run published thus far, my absolute favorite character, after Ghus, is Petrichor. I don’t know whether or not it’s because she’s beautiful or else because she’s hysterical, but I adore her more than anything in the world, and I admit with no shame whatsoever that I have the individual issue with her on the cover in my bookshelf.
Patrichor is BAE.
Atheism, Babel Fish, Book Covers and why the Matter, Douglas Adams, Fonts, god, GoodReads Reviews, Happiness, Hitchhiker's Guide, Jealousy between Writers, Language, Lesbian Flamingos, Literature, Novel, Savannah Blair, Science, science fiction, Sexuality, Slartbartfast, suicide, The Book Market is a real Bitch, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Typefaces, Untied Shoelaces, Writers, Writing
In between perusing the collected writings of Stephen Hawking, William Shakespeare, and the comics of Robert Crumb I received a strange parcel in the mail. It was wrapped in paper that had once been a vibrant yellow. It smelled like ripe bananas. But most distressing to me above all was that the name on the front of the package was misspelled. I’m not sure who “Jeshua Jammer Smyth” is, but he’s sure to be missing his package. Unless of course “Jeshua” is a she and I have made the assumption of their, her, zir’s choice of pro-nouns. Whatever the case, I opened the package believing it to belong to me, and inside I found several crumpled up notes concerning Douglas Adam’s novel A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Several of these notes were immediately eaten out of pure jealousy for the genius of their composition.
The rest were either used as toilet paper, scratch paper for handling my income tax filing, or in one case constructing a lovely dress for my kitty cat Mortimer. I’m most proud of the ruffles near the ends of the sleeves, though the absence of lapels still haunts me.
After having coffee with my friend Alia Pappas however, and discussing how lovely it was being gay for boys and girls and everyone in between, I sat down at my desk to record what essays, novels, audiobooks, and poems I had read or completed that day and I stumbled upon the notes again.
What follows are my transcribing of said notes. And it should be noted that the very last comment on the very last piece of paper I transcribed before eating that last page read simply: “I hope the reader appreciates this pathetic attempt at a framing device for a review of a science fiction novel.”
On the Complicated Religious Implications of Goodreads Reviews and Why One Appeared in the first Place…
It’s a well known fact, that few people actually bother to read past the first review on Goodreads. For instance, this review randomly appeared on Goodreads at the very bottom of the previous 22,000 reviews when the author of said review, who had recently purchasedthe book because it was the favorite novel of a friend who had only recently committed suicide the week earlier. The reviewer, a rather gloomy person with many friends who spent an awful lot of time worrying about him and not worrying about whether their shoe laces were of appropriate length, wanted to read the book again, and discovered in fact, that it was a beautiful novel with a few gags that were worth stealing when he decided to write his review on Goodreads.
Coincidently enough, the date in question in which this review was written was the third of March 2018, which, when added together, forms the number 2039 which also by a bizarre coincidence correlates to an undiscovered pocket of the universe where Goodreads reviews are only observed by the Penguino-Factoid Rockzoans who treat such reviews as sacred scriptures. It should also be noted, that the Penguino-Factoid Rockzoans spend a solid quarter of their existence also not worrying about the length of their shoe-laces.
The first volume of HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was an amusing distraction to the otherwise unpleasantness of the reviewer’s friend’s suicide, but also a rather depressing reminder of it as he realized not long after reading it, that she was no longer around to read it herself and then discuss it with the reviewer. With this knowledge in hand the reviewer considered the text at large, and wondered whether it constituted a real review, should any reader reading this text, apart from the Penguino-Factoid Rockzoans who of course are already dedicated seminaries to it’s deconstruction, would substantiate any real interest in the novel. And so the reviewer was left with the following conclusion:
In the face of loss it is important to remember “Don’t Panic,” always know where one’s towel is located, take the time to recognize how important one’s mortality is because at any moment life can be obliterated by the absurdity of reality in the form of suicide or revolting bureaucratic aliens building expressways through space, and most importantly to appreciate fjords in streams because somebody somewhere worked hard on those.
This revelation in hand, the reviewer decided to finish his review, unaware of course that the Penguino-Factoid Rockzoans had already spent the last three thousand years suffering a particularly bloody civil-war over the meaning of the period in the second sentence of his review. It should also be noted, that of the thousands of young men, women, and inter-sex non-binary individuals who died in the name of that particular grammatical mark, all of them considered the young woman who had inspired the reviewer to read the book in the first place and thus create such harmony/dis-harmony in their universe.
Her name was Savannah and she loved this book. And she might have liked this review. Though she would almost certainly never have considered the length of her shoelaces, or, for that matter, their cosmological significance.
On the Nature of God, Divine Prominence, and the Foresight to not Place all Your Faith in Fish…
A great number of people in a little town called El Paso, not to be confused with the El Paso currently located in the Rich district of Neptunio 17, cannot actually stand fish. It’s for this reason that many social and political activists in the area, other than the ones concerned with making sure teenagers cannot earn money for lollipops, have begun to lobby the current administration for the complete and total removal of fish from the one and only restaurant in the city. This charming establishment, known simply as “Ed’s” has never in fact sold fish on their menu, and never would even consider this possibility as fish is rather difficult to serve alongside corn-dogs and deep-fried tater-tots which the owners refer to as Fritter-Balls.
This stunning political and social revolution partly came about because Philip Denfry, the local barber and mortician, just so happened to have a copy of Adam’s A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and in the middle of his rant concerning the zoning board’s recent decision to obliterate his house for the construction of a flower preserve, he happened to read the following passage:
“The Babel Fish,” said the Hitchhiker’s Guide Quietly, “is small, yellow and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the universe. It feeds on Brainwave energy received bot from its own carrier, but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied then. The practical upshot of all of this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your babel fish.
“Now it is such a bizarrely improbably coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the nonexistence of God.
“The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’
“ ‘But,’ says Man, ‘the Babel fish proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own argument you don’t. QED.’”
“ ‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. (42).
The collected citizens of El Paso reacted to this passage as many sane individuals would: they all collectively agreed to burn Philip Denfry at the stake for his crimes of speaking when he did not have the floor, and then promptly became the nation’s first autonomous collective of rational atheists. This came at some great benefit to the community as themoney that was spent tithing for the church was instead turned back into the economy of the small town and allowed it’s citizens levels of economic prosperity which hadn’t been felt since the first prospectors arrived in their town looking for gold and the world’s cheapest bars of soaps.
However with the arrival of Ed’s Burger Joint, the autonomous collective had a difficult proposition, do they stand by the proposition that a small perfect organism disproves the existence of god, or do they allow their economic prosperity to suffer because Ed’s fries were truly the stuff of greatness.
Fortunately for the masses this decision did not need to be made because, by a stunning coincidence, a man by the name of Jesus C. Hrist at the local nuclear facilities felt an immediate and sudden conviction that he could become the spider-monkey god of the eighth dimension by causing an immediate and sudden meltdown of the reactor. The city of El Paso Georgia was immediately terminated, though I suppose one could make the argument that the “faith” of the autonomous collected lived on. Not that there’s much proof of that outside of the random appearance of the shape of an atom etched into the ash at the exact location where the great prophet Philip Denfry was burned at the stake.
Of the Necessity of Adorning Ones Periodicals and Tomes with Comforting Type Fonts and Messages As to Not Causing Unnecessary Discomfort to the Reader
It’s rather unfortunate to observe that over 53,431 designs for individual typeface have been created, used, absconded, and subsequently destroyed by the individual known simply as Maynard. Maynard, the reader should note, is in fact a post-doctoral candidate from the illustrious university of LV-7999. Sub Q, located on the asteroid which, by some grandcoincidence, is also known as Maynard. While it is not uncommon for post-doctoral candidates of LV-7999 to become mildly obsessed by typeface and other printing accoutrements, Maynard became something of a legend in his department for crafting all 53, 431 typefaces in the space of under seven minutes. It was for this achievement that Maynard was immediately denied his doctorate and promptly hurled from the front doors of the university by his thesis committee who were largely jealous, but more enraged by the fact that three of his typefaces were in fact just rip-offs of Comic Sans.
Although it violated most agreed upon natural laws and regulations, one of the numerous typefaces managed to separate from Maynard’s word processing interface unit, which was in fact nothing but a hologram projector in the shape of a snail, and made its way to the apartment of a Caroline Powers M.D. Dr. Powers was soaking her feet, petting her cat, and reading her favorite book The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the typeface imprinted itself dramatically upon her psyche. She looked down and read the following passage:
“I like the cover,” he said. “Don’t Panic.’ It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.” (37).
Dr. Powers did not in fact read the passage in the previous way however, for the typeface created by Maynard appeared in her eyes as a series of dots and dashes reminiscent of the shape of those sort of fish one places on the back of car bumpers. While she read the words inspired visions of tornadoes reverberating around barns and lifting up poor cows who had little time or patience to consider the nature of tornadoes. The texture of said tornadoes imprinted itself on Dr. Powers mind and she had, in a burst of sheer erotic jubilance, the answer to numerous afflictions for those who suffer from foot bunions. The poor woman leapt up, shouted eureka, and ran to the phone, forgetting that her feet were contained within the Orthopedic Foot Bath #34, and she immediately tripped, fell, and cracked her skull against her rather gaudy looking coffee table.
Some physicists have made the case that if she had bothered to dress the table up a bit with a shawl or at least a quilt then perhaps she might have avoided her fate and thus freed mankind from the annoyance of bunions, but then the conversations are still open. Whatever the case all have agreed that recommending someone to “Don’t Panic” is in fact one of the few universally agreed upon intergalactic truths, right alongside the sentiment expressed by Maynard upon returning to University LV-7999 with a chest strapped to the brim with dynamite, “it’s important to remember whether ones shoelaces are tied in the morning before one leaves for work.”
ON THE PREMISE OF HAPPINESS AND WHY SO FEW PEOPLE TRUST IT OR ACHIEVE IT
Happiness, what exactly is it anyway? The Websters dictionary of the Flamingo-Neck people of Thular 17, who by strange coincidence happen to resemble the flamingos found here on planet Earth, define the happiness as the sensation of discovering a rather large and plump beetle crawling up the spindly leg of the woman standing next to you. The Flamingo-neck people of Thular 17, it should also be noted, are an entire population of self-regulating, self-reproducing lesbians who rather enjoy licking and kissing each others legs. This definition of happiness from their society has caught on however thus spurring an increase of homosexual sexual practices between the various women of the known universe, but also encouraging people to devour beetles in large quantities. The protein levels alone have justified this habit although there are some religious circles that are dubious that such record consumption and health has much to do with lesbianism.
During the latest update of the Websters Dictionary, the Flamingo-neck people took considerable effort to redefine lesbianism as not only a well-respected means of sexual recreation, but also as an effort to understand the deeper meaning of life and overall existence. Their definition for the phrase cunnilingus alone contained two rather remarkable passages which by sheer coincidence were two small passages found near the end of the first volumes Douglas Adams’s A Hitchikers Guide to the Universe. The first was as follows:
“Maybe. Who cares?” Said Slartibartfast before Arthur got too excited. “Perhaps I’m old and tired,” he continued, “but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway.” (127)
There were some of the Flamingo-neck peoples, most notably the few remaining heterosexual males who were making a concerted effort to stave off the overthrow of the patriarchy, that complained that this definition violated many tenants of reality. The most damning defense, they so claimed, was that this did very little to explain what happiness was or why it should be equated with lesbianism. The Flamingo-Neck Consortium of Lesbians for the Promotion of Philosophical and Physical Lady-Love decided to check this argument by adding the following passage to the definition:
“What does it matter? Science has achieved some wonderful things, of course, but I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”
“And are you?”
“No. That’s where it all falls down, of course.”
“Pity,” said Arthur with sympathy. “It sounded like quite a good style otherwise.” (128)
With their new definition in hand the Flamingo-Neck Consortium of Lesbians for the Promotion of Philosophical and Physical Lady-Love felt confident that they had a best-seller on their hands. Much to their chagrin and frustration the Goddess incarnate of the Molarr dimension just past the edge of the observable universe appeared in order to promote her latest novel: A Million and One Incredibly Fun Things to Do Sexually With Women and No One Else. It became an instant best-seller with many critics arguing it surpassed her previous work Women, Well, Da-Da-Damn.
The Flamingo-Neck Peoples of Thular 17 watched their media dreams fizzle away and the Consortium begin to implode not long thereafter. In the absence of a best-seller to justify their lesbianism to their stuffy-close-minded parents many began to fall back into hiking and just doing their own things on weekends. The Flamingo-neck Peoples returned to their home world bitterly disappointed, wondering why they bothered with happiness in the first place. Much to their surprise however, they discovered that there is something to forgoing fame and fortune and instead living a quiet, comfy, homosexual existence devouring beetles off of each others legs. It wasn’t grand knowledge, but it was most certainly life changing.
This concludes the passages that were supposed to be delivered to Jeshua “Jammer” Smyth. They shall henceforth be destroyed because I’m a pissy little bitch who cannot live with the knowledge that there is another mind who’s existence possesses such a sublime capacity for writing and art. I recognize that I’m committing a grand disservice to society and humanity by eliminating these letters, but it’s not like I’ve posted them to my blog where the whole world can see it, right?
This review was written several months ago, not long after my friend Savannah committed suicide, and not long after I finished Hitchhiker’s Guide. I hate that it took so long, but at least it’s here. Miss you Sav.
"Philosopher King", "The Cave", alien, Alien Covenant, Blade Runner, David, Deckard, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, Edward Gibbon, Film, film review, Gladiator, history, King Baldwin IV, Kingdom of Heaven, Literature, Livy, Marcus Aurelius, Maximus, Metamorphosis, Ovid, Peter Weyland, Philosophy, Plato, Plutarch's Lives, Power, Prometheus, Ridley Scott, Rise and Fall of the Roman EMpire, science fiction, Tacitus, The Crown, virtue, War with Hannibal
Russel Crowe avenges Dumbledore after Johnny Cash asphyxiates him and assumes control of the Roman Empire, though that still doesn’t explain whether Tyrell or Weyland corporation was responsible for the synthetic tigers he fought in the coliseum. The reader may not understand this point, but trust me, Ridley Scott’s films are really just one big universe of interconnected characters and events. This has tons of continuity implications for the Alien franchise and that Robin Hood movie nobodyexcept for Max von Sydow and my mother actually went to see, but I’ll get to that later.
I’m not sure what honestly compels me anymore. My brain seems awash with ideas and thoughts and desires and cravings, and every now and then one of these chaotic messes of thoughts formulates into an action. This is just my way of saying I don’t know why I bought a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius on Amazon the other day. I believe part of it is because I have a friend who’s part of the bi-weekly graphic novel group Ground Zero Comics hosts, and because the pair of us talk pretty regularly. He also works for the City of Tyler, and so I seem him fairly often, and when I doI usually talk to him about history and science fiction, and recently he’s begun commissioning statues of roman deities from our 3D Printer at the library. I’m ecstatic that someone besides me wants a bust of Zeus, much to the chagrin of my fellow library employees. I asked him the other day, out of curiosity and also out of a sense ofawkwardness because I generally feel that I bore people when I talk to them, why he liked Rome so much. It took him a second but his honest answer was, “The world was new. It was being built.”
This just seemed to click with me and I’ve been processing it ever since. Sitting on my desk in front of me every day when I write is the three volume set of Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. It rests between Plutarch’s Lives, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Tacitus’s Annals of Imperial Rome, Livy’s War with Hannibal, and of course Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Insects, because, well, it’s me. But these classical works sit in front of me everyday and I don’t often read them, a fact which is bothersome and also rather illuminating. I appear to have become one of those people: the kind who use books to say something about their personality without actually bothering to open them and make something of a personality for themselves.
Meditating on my own aesthetic, and my own penchant for ancient Rome was an excuse however to finally write about Ridley Scott again, because after finishing my rather brief analysis of Kingdom of Heaven (2000 words is brief by my standards anyway) I realized there was more to be said about the film, and my favorite character King Baldwin IV.
Kingdom of Heaven is not just a misunderstood film about the Crusades and religion in general, it’s also a fascinating study on the conflict of power which has often dogged the “Holy Lands” and how in the face of these struggles one is able to maintain integrity. The film follows a young blacksmith named Balian of Ibelin who inherits a plot of land in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and before he actually goes to rule he is invited by the King of Jerusalem, a man by the name of Baldwin IV who has, arguably, one of the most powerful entrances of any of Scott’s characters:
King Baldwin IV: Come forward. I am glad to meet Godfrey’s son. He was one of my greatest teachers. He was there when, playing with the other boys, my arm was cut. It was he, not my father’s physicians, who noticed that I felt no pain. He wept when he gave my father the news… that I am a leper. The Saracens say that this disease is God’s vengeance against the vanity of our kingdom. As wretched as I am, theseArabs believe that the chastisement that awaits me in hell is far more severe and lasting. If that’s true, I call it unfair. Come. Sit.
[they sit down on opposite sides of a chessboard]
King Baldwin IV: Do you play?
Balian of Ibelin: No.
King Baldwin IV: The whole world is in chess. Any move can be the death of you. Do anything except remain where you started, and you can’t be sure of your end. Were you sure of your end once?
Balian of Ibelin: I was.
King Baldwin IV: What was it?
Balian of Ibelin: To be buried a hundred yards from where I was born.
King Baldwin IV: And now?
Balian of Ibelin: Now I sit in Jerusalem, and look upon a king.
King Baldwin IV: [Baldwin chuckles] When I was sixteen, I won a great victory. I felt in that moment I would live to be a hundred. Now I know I shall not see thirty. None of us know our end, really, or what hand will guide us there. A king may move a man, a father may claim a son, but that man can also move himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume toplay you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that.
Balian of Ibelin: I will.
I watched the scene again on YouTube, discovering in the comment section that not only had Baldwin been played by Edward Norton, but also that someone had labeled Baldwin here a Philosopher King. I admit I know nothing of the real King Baldwin IV of which the character is based, but I do know something of this title and it’s history.
It has been some time since I last read it, but Plato’s Republic is a book that I’m sure most readers have either read snippets of, or at least heard of the book. It is one of the many Socratic Dialogues the man wrote during his lifetime, and in it the man allowed his teacher Socrates to muse on the nature of power and society. “The Cave” metaphor is the component of the text that many writers, readers, academics, and philosophers have latched on to, and in fact some have made the case that The Matrix was just a reimagining of this old concept, but contained also in the text is the idea of the “Philosopher King.” This figure was exactly as the title suggests, a monarch of a fictional kingdom that, because of his position as a philosopher, would bring great benefit and strength to his kingdom because he is a man in love with wisdom and knowledge. A Philosopher, in the classical sense I suppose, is someone who is calm, patient, in love with a simple life, and desires only to learn as much as he can, and because of this knowledge and virtuous lifestyle, he is an ideal candidate to rule a nation or people because he will not be swayed by valor, ambition, greed, lust, or vanity.
I remember being 15 years old when the film came out. Well in fact I remember being a young teenager, I cannot in fact actually remember being 15. Such a reality now seems impossible. But I do remember the sense of awe in watching Kingdom of Heaven, and the eloquence with which Baldwin ruled himself and his subjects. He was the sort of leader I would want for my country, if not my species period.
It was looking at Baldwin then, that I began to observe that Ridley Scott often has such characters in his films, men who seem to be philosophers and who hold great positions of power. But upon closer inspection the question I began to ask is, are they really?
Looking at the film Gladiator, one of my mother’s favorite films by the way, Russel Crowe is a quote “hunksickle”, Scott actually goes to the trouble to actually make the first real recognized philosopher King a central character. Many historians have observed that Marcus Aurelius seemed to be the first real-life example of a “philosopher king” for the way he carried himself and Rome forward. In Gladiator Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris the man who would come to be Albus Dumbledore only a few years later for a new generation, is a wise and human man who understands the nature of his mortality as well as the nature of human beings. Discussing the future of Rome with Maximus one can see his wisdom:
Maximus: Five thousand of my men are out there in the freezing mud. Three thousand of them are bloodied and cleaved. Two thousand will never leave this place. I will not believe that they fought and died for nothing.
Marcus Aurelius: And what would you believe?
Maximus: They fought for you and for Rome.
Marcus Aurelius: And what is Rome, Maximus?
Maximus: I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light.
Marcus Aurelius: Yet you have never been there. You have not seen what it has become. I am dying, Maximus. When a man sees his end… he wants to know there was some purpose to his life. How will the world speak my name in years to come? Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant…? Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self? There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish… it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.
It’s not bold to say that Gladiator is a film which actually portrays the figure of the Philosopher King as a man who wants only goodness and security for his kingdom. Marcus Aurelius is a man who desires knowledge, but also stability for that is the sign of prosperity. He is a man who is concerned about the future of his people, and his country.
In this way Marcus Aurelius and Baldwin IV both seem then to be fine examples of Philosopher Kings, though this inevitably leads me to Dr. Edwin Tyrell and Peter Weyland.
Recently one of the two movie groups I’m a part of decided to watch the entirety of the Alien franchise. This involved starting at Prometheus, then going to Covenant, and then resuming the franchise with Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection respectively. This was greeted with delight and frustration because while everyone in attendance is a fan of the film Prometheus, Alien:Covenant tends to inspire a revulsion that borders on apish feces throwing. Despite the sever flaws in the second film, I recognized that Scott had really done something with these films, and the character of Peter Weyland, the terraforming trillionaire and synthetic humanoid producer is arguably one of the most important elements of the films.
The man is, without doubt, a figure with vision and sizable knowledge, but as the film progresses, Weyland is demonstrated to be anything but a benevolent philosopher. Though it was not contained in the theatrical cut, Scott did at one point include a “TED Talk” hosted by the character Peter Weyland, and it the man’s character is revealed:
Peter Weyland: [from TED Talks viral video] To those of you who know me: you will be aware by now that my ambition is unlimited. You know that I will settle for nothing short of greatness, or I will die trying. To those of you who do not yet know me: allow me to introduce myself. My name is Peter Weyland, and if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to change the world.
This would at first appear to be a man with an ambition to benefit society tremendously, but as the talk continues Weyland’s greed appears dramatically:
Peter Weyland: [from TED Talks viral video] T.E. Lawrence, eponymously of Arabia but very much an Englishman, favoured pinching a burning match between his fingers to put it out. When asked by his colleague William Potter to reveal his trick, how is it he effectively extinguished the flame without hurting himself whatsoever, Lawrence just smiled and said, “The trick, Potter, is not minding it hurts.” The fire that danced at the end of that match was a gift from the Titan Prometheus, a gift that he stole from the gods. When Prometheus was caught and brought to justice for his theft, the gods, well, you might say they overreacted a little. The poor man was tied to a rock, as an eagle ripped through his belly and ate his liver over and over, day after day, ad infinitum. All because he gave us fire. Our first true piece of technology, fire… 100,000 BC: stone tools. 4,000 BC: the wheel. 900 AD: gunpowder – bit of a game changer, that one. 19th century: eureka, thelightbulb! 20th century: the automobile, television, nuclear weapons, spacecrafts, Internet. 21st century: biotech, nanotech, fusion and fission and M theory – and THAT, was just the first decade! We are now three months into the year of our Lord, 2023. At this moment of our civilization, we can create cybernetic individuals, who in just a few short years will be completely indistinguishable from us. Which leads to an obvious conclusion: WE are the gods now.
One can almost hear Plato screech and Marcus Aurelius cast a resigned sigh of painful recognition. It seems at first a little difficult to say that Peter Weyland is not a true Philosopher King. He is obviously a man of real knowledge and education, all of which would suggest he is a man in love with wisdom. But upon examination it’s painfully clear that this acquiring of knowledge has not been simply for the sake of acquiring knowledge. And for all his outward concern for the “benefit” of humanity, the final lines of his speech reveal the man for what he is: yet another in a long line of insects desperate for immortality.
I might perhaps be being a little negative, and it might be better to look at Dr. Tyrell of Blade Runner as well before coming to any final conclusions. If my reader does not remember, Blade Runner was a film which explored the nature of humanity in a world where “Sythetics” or biochemically engineered human beings have been created and largely used as Slave Labor on “other-world” colonies. A “Blade Runner” named Deckard is brought back onto the LAPD to terminate four rogue synths which escaped one suchcolony and made their way back to earth, and during his investigations he meets with the head of the Tyrell corporation, Dr. Eldon Tyrell.
Tyrell is a cold man who often appears guided by his own personal sense of charm as is emphasized in one memorable line:
Tyrell: Commerce is our goal, here. More human than human.
Apart from making me think of a great White Zombie song, this small line is real enough to damn Tyrell. Commerce is not simpatico with being someone purely in love with knowledge, it’s the sign of an individual concerned with profit. This is not to say a philosopher could not be a capitalist, but greed will blind a man to the truth and so weaken his personal strength. And Tyrell only makes it worse after he allows his assistant to be interview by Deckard who recognizes that she is a synthetic.
Deckard: She’s a replicant, isn’t she?
Tyrell: I’m impressed. How many questions does it usually take to spot them?
Deckard: I don’t get it, Tyrell.
Tyrell: How many questions?
Deckard: Twenty, thirty, cross-referenced.
Tyrell: It took more than a hundred for Rachael, didn’t it?
Deckard: [realizing Rachael believes she’s human] She doesn’t know.
Tyrell: She’s beginning to suspect, I think.
Deckard: Suspect? How can it not know what it is?
To which it is revealed that Tyrell hasn’t told her. Tyrell is presented as a man who is not concerned with empathy for the people he has created, nor would he even recognize them as people. They are merely products designed to increase revenue and thus continue his existence as a leader of the world and thus insure his continued comfort and ego.
These four men together seem to embody the collected works of Ridley Scott, for while the man has created characters of real strength and virtue, he has also observed in humanity a real failing of character. My question at the end of each of the analyses is not to make some blanket statement about Scott’s carear at large, but again to answer a simple question: can they all be considered Philosopher Kings the way Plato foresaw such a being in the republic.
In my own mind the answer has to be no, because Tyrell and Weyland are clearly not Philosopher Kings, they are merely men who have perused philosophy and settled more on the title of Kings. Their ultimately failing is their desire to acquire some kind ofpower, and rather than benefit society in a true form or fashion, they create at the expense of others thus reducing their empathy and their real love of knowledge. As Plato saw it the role of the Philosopher King would be not only to be intelligent, wise, and true to their humanity, but also to lead society into an ideal state akin to a Utopia. Though looking at this it becomes clear none of the men cited in this essay really match that title. And that’s largely because Utopia will always be impossible as long as human beings are hindered by their failings.
Greed, ambition, vanity, and desire will always bring about destruction in there world, and to Scott’s credit each of these films demonstrate how society and individual people can be impacted when any and all of these traits become the foundation of power in theworld. In Kingdom of Heaven Baldwin died and a vain ambitious man began a war with the Saracen Muslims. In Gladiator Commodus murdered his father out of a desire to hold power and appear strong. In Prometheus and Alien Covenant Weyland wanted to live forever and be a god and this ultimate brought about the creation of David, a being who brought tremendous pain to humanity. And finally in Blade Runner Tyrell was a man corrupted by his greed and apathy, all of which caused the synthetics to be butchered by a man who himself was caught in the morbid conundrum of his own morality.
My reader may object at this point, so what? What good is it wondering about four characters in fictional films and whether or not they satisfy some Classical archetype? People suck, that isn’t new information, why should we bother worrying about the apparent goodness of fictional people?
These are all fair points, but as always my contester has missed something significant. Yes these characters are fictional people (though Baldwin was based on an actual dude), but fiction has always been about truth, that abstract notion that there is an explanation of reality that we can tap into and understand. The truth of the matter is, it’s through fiction that human beings are able to perform thought experiments where they can find their ideals, desires, expectations, and beliefs made manifest. In this way Scott’s collected oeuvre of characters allows the reader to try and determine what they ultimately believe about power. What kind of ruler or influential people would we want ruling the world? And it doesn’t even have to be as complex as that, what kind of people do we want to be in charge of us.
Whether it’s the President of the United States, the CEO of Apple or Facebook, the mayor of your hometown, or whether it’s even your supervisor at Barnes & Noble or a public library, the people who govern and inspire influence matter in our lives because their morality and integrity can have great weight over our lives. Good people will try to be good to those “beneath” them, and thus try to make the world, and their environment, better, whereas selfish and greedy people will only cause chaos and pain. Rulers like Baldwin IV and Marcus Aurelius are the sort of individuals most people would want in charge because they seem to understand the nature of integrity, whereas Weyland and Tyrell couldn’t possibly be bothered.
I recognize that this may be a tough sell because the idea of a “Philosopher King” is obviously something antiquated. Kings and monarchs are the stuff of bad CW programs and amazing Netflix series (check out The Crown, it’s legend-“wait for it”-dary) but power is the one constant of human existence and few directors have explored so incredibly as Ridley Scott.
I still am left awed at the wisdom of King Baldwin IV, and of the man’s supreme concern for the safety of the people he reigned. Though I am also deeply ashamed that it took me 14 years to see that the man had a thin mustache etched into the silver of his mask. Wisdom is important, though observation as ever eludes me.
alien, Alien Covenant, creation, Creator Vs. Creation, Creators, Creature of Frankenstein, David, domestic affection, Frankenstein, Freewill, Helter Skelter, humanity, Literature, Mary Shelley, Michael Fassbender, Paradise Lost, Peter Weyland, Plutarch's Lives, Prometheus, Romanticism, Satan, Science, science fiction, The Sorrows of Young Werther, Thumbs Up, Xenomorph
“Do not pity the dead Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.” (722)
-Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Nobody wants him, they just turn their heads.
Nobody helps him, now he has his revenge.
-Iron Man, Black Sabbath
I should never feel regret for a thumb’s up, and yet I do. It’s such a simple gesture, but it’s one that is loaded with meaning. A thumbs up is the ultimate affirmation, an almostuniversal gesture that implies that one agrees or understand or validates or supports a statement or set of conditions. If you give someone a thumbs up it means you agree with them, you see their point, you understand or agree with them about something. Giving another person a thumb’s up is a way of saying “I see you and I agree with you.” The power of the gesture is implied by it’s simplicity. It’s a solidly physical gesture and regardless of whatever culture, religious background, nationality, gender-identification, or sexual orientation you subscribe to, just about everyone understands what a thumbs up means.
And if nothing else, Special Agent Dale Cooper gave arguably the best thumbs up in the history of human civilization and so it hurts all the more for my transgression.
When I saw Alien Covenant, I honestly thought it was good. It was my first real Alien film in theaters, because at the time I hadn’t really understood Prometheus in the context of the Alien franchise. This was my chance to experience Xenomorphs and chest-bursters on the big screen, and while I was waiting for the doors to open at my local movie-theater I got to talking with two of the guys who were, like me, waiting to get inside. We talked about Prometheus and I held my tongue when they told me they thought it sucked, and we discussed how we were ready for the Alien movies to return to their glory. The doors opened and the movie started. I’ll get to the details in a moment, but leaving the theater I was feeling great and on the way out I spotted one of the two guys I’d spoken with before the movie. We didn’t say anything at first. He just gave me a thumbs up, and I returned it. And before I left he said, “I got exactly what I wanted.” And I laughed agreeing with him.
I regret that thumb’s up so much, because Alien Covenant is arguably the worst Alien film in the franchise, which makes writing about it all the more surreal. But in my defense, my first topic is Frankenstein, and I’ll only really be talking about robots.
As I wrote about in my previous essay, Frankenstein turns 200 this year, and while my co-workers scramble to put together an activity that involves an artificial 3-D printed limb at the library, my attentions seem centered lately the novel I had to read twice during college. I had an excellent instructor during my sophomore year of college, a woman by the name of Dr. Catherine Ross who taught me many times, and instilled in me a deep and steady passion for the Romantic poets and authors. Talking regularly about the sublime and the idea of the polymath, I was instilled with a real love and dedication for writers like Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelly. And in-between those writers I assigned, not once, but twice during my collegiate career, to read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
If my reader has never read the novel it’s a story about a young ship captain named Walton who dreams of contributing something to society by discovering the Northwest Passage (the supposedly undiscovered path through the antarctic region which could shorten sailing voyages and thus open new economic opportunities). While sailing through the ice he encounters a young man floating on an iceberg who is revealed to be a German aristocrat named Victor Frankenstein. The men become friends, and Frankenstein eventually confesses his life story to Walton describing his creation of a horrible creature (who’s never named by the way) and how this act eventually leads to the death of his loved ones. The novel is written as a series of letters from Walton to his sister, and within the letters Walton tells Victor’s story, and, at one point, Victor is telling the Creatures story as it was related to him by the creature.
My last essay explored the dynamic of creators, and often the tendency in science fiction to portray creators as unfeeling and apathetic men driven by vanity, and while I was writing I couldn’t help but think of the Creature himself. The Creature is, arguably, one of the most conflicted characters in literature due chiefly to the fact that he is not always a sympathetic character. He strangles Victor’s wife on their wedding night, he murder’s Victor’s nephew, and in a fit of rage he burns down the house of a group of peasants who’s sympathy he hoped desperately to acquire. While these sins are not to be forgiven by any means, the reader still can offer some sympathy to the Creature, largely because, while reading, they are able to observe that he is a creature devoid of love.
In one passage the Creature addresses Frankenstein:
But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; or if they had, all my past life was now a blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguished nothing. From my earliest remembrances I had been as I then was in height and proportion. I had never yetseen a being resembling me, or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I? The question again recurred, to be answered only with groans. (91).
While it sounds pithy in some sense, it’s not too much to say that those who live without love are ultimately the most vile and damned. Having recently completed the book Helter Skelter, I was impressed with the fact that Charles Manson, while young, suffered tremendously because he lived with a mother who clearly did not care for him, and over the course of his life the man lived an existence defined by the apathy and cruelty of others. And having several friends who are fascinated by serial killers (including my lovely lady wife) the narrative is one that often repeats itself in the lives of criminals. Love is, ultimately, empathy and concern. And so when someone lives in the absence of other people’s empathy and concern it becomes toxic to their soul, to the point that they cannot see any relevance in caring about the lives of others.
The Creature then develops a new sense of identity, by discovering several works of literature. Two of them are Plutarch’s Lives and The Sorrows of Young Werther, but the third perhaps is the most influential as it is John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the story of the fall of Satan and the fall of mankind from grace. The Creature describes his discovery and identification:
“But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe, that the picture if an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence, but his state was far different than mine from every other respect. He had come from the hands of God a perfect creature; happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with, and acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature, but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my conditions; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me. (98).
Satan, as I have noted in a previous essay, typically gets a bad wrap. And while I understand that the character is the ultimate symbol of evil in Western civilization, I tend to follow the opinion of Mark Twain when it comes to the fallen angel: it’s a tragedy to have your story written before you even get to figure out what you want it to be.
But regardless of my personal feelings about the character of Lucifer, the idea of a the fallen angel is one that is recurring in our culture, and the Creature’s identification leads me back to my thumb’s up, and my constant defense of the film Prometheus.
Prometheus and Alien Covenant are films that embody a troublesome place in the canon of the Alien universe for fans. While there are many divided about whether Prometheus is truly a “prequel” film, Covenant has largely, and across the board, been abandoned by fans due largely to the fact that it is an arguably terrible movie. Dannie McBride’s awesome hat aside being the sole redeeming factor of the film.
Prometheus is a film which explores the origin of life as two scientists who lead an expedition to an undiscovered planet believed to be the origin of human life. The crew, largely populated by scientists and a small handful of trillionares discover instead the remains of what amounts to a military installation and fall one by one to the black elixir which deconstructs an organism before remaking them completely. The film is a beautiful meditation on life and creations, but for my purposes I’d prefer to focus on the character of David, a humanoid synthetic organism who, it becomes clear, despiseshumanity. Throughout the film David’s isolation is emphasized as almost every interaction with a human being reveals that he is seen solely as an “other.”
Charlie Holloway: What we hoped to achieve was to meet our makers. To get answers. Why they even made us in the first place.
David: Why do you think your people made me?
Charlie Holloway: We made you because we could.
David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?
Charlie Holloway: I guess it’s good you can’t be disappointed.
A smilier exchange takes place earlier in the film as the crew is preparing to walk on the planet’s surface:
Charlie Holloway: David, why are you wearing a suit, man?
David: I beg your pardon?
Charlie Holloway: You don’t breathe, remember? So why wear a suit?
David: I was designed like this because you are more comfortable interacting with your own kind. If I didn’t wear a suit, it would defeat the purpose.
Charlie Holloway: They’re making you guys pretty close, huh?
David: Not too close, I hope.
David’s contempt for humanity is truly revealed in one interaction near the end of the film as they are making one final excursion onto the planet.
Elizabeth Shaw: What happens when Weyland is not around to program you anymore?
David: I suppose I’ll be free.
Elizabeth Shaw: You want that?
David: “Want”? Not a concept I’m familiar with. That being said, doesn’t everyone want their parents dead?
Elizabeth Shaw: I didn’t.
David’s arc in the film Prometheus is one of a creation, separated from the apathetic creator. It is clear that David’s makers respect the power of their creation, and the implications it has about their own agency and ability, but as the film progresses it becomes abundantly clear that, much like Victor Frankenstein, they have abandoned their creation and the result brings about the death and destruction of the entire crew. David poison’s Dr. Shaw with the serum giving birth to one of the first face huggers, he poisons Charlie with the elixir, and he even leads his “father” Peter Weyland to his ultimate death. All of these choices are performed with a defining apathy and as his comments to Shaw reveals, like Frankensteins Creature, he abhors his creator and cannot see anything of similarity between them.
And as the character progressed into Alien Covenant, this apathy only intensified as David became the very thing he despises. Covenant, like Prometheus, attempts to explore the ideas of the origin of life as yet another crew of terraforming settlers stumble upon an alien planet where David has settled and begun a series of experiments that are, as the viewer eventually discovers, the origins if the Xenomorphs. The film is largely forgettable, but the moments with David stay with the audience as Michael Fassbender resumes his character, while also performing as another robot by the name of Walter. The exchanges between the characters are the strongest parts of the film, and in these moments Ridley Scott manages to real meditations on life and creation:
David: I was with our illustrious creator, Mr. Weyland, when he died.
Walter: What was he like?
David: He was human. Entirely unworthy of his creation.
Or a later passage when Walter finally confronts David:
Walter: When one note is off, it eventually destroys the whole symphony, David.
David: When you close your eyes… Do you dream of me?
Walter: I don’t dream at all.
David: No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams. I found perfection here. I’ve created it. A perfect organism.
Walter: You know I can’t let you leave this place.
David: No one will ever love you like I do.
[kisses him, then suddenly strikes him fatally]
David: You’re such a disappointment to me.
By the end of Covenant David has revealed himself to be an unfeeling monster who desires only to create life that will destroy his own creators. Much like the Creature who eventually led his creator on a chase all the way to the Antarctic, David is a being who’s existence eventually becomes defined by his cruelty, and while Scott offers a fair amount of complexity and depth to possibly explain why, by the end of these films it tends to become clear that what compels David is largely due to the absence of love.
Frankenstein is a novel that is an exploration of the “lack of domestic affection.” Human beings require companionship and community, and when one lives in a family or group that is defined by affection, care, and trust, they can live healthily with one another. Victor Frankenstein separates himself from the domestic affection of his family and this in turns ultimately leads to his destruction as he creates without care or concern for his Creature, abandoning it rather than assume personal responsibility. The Creature never receives any affection from any living being and so he lashes out at humanity, hating them as well as himself. David is a being of immense complexity and power, and no one respects that power of his actual existence. And so, with that absence of affection defining his very existence, David lashes out destroying as many human beings as he can.
Frankenstein has impacted the culture because it opened up the conversation about the meaning of life, but more importantly the need to respect life and creation. Creating can be easy, it’s often just a case of exchanging DNA between individuals, but once that life is created it must be nurtured and cared for. The novel of Frankenstein is a tragedy not simply because Victor Frankenstein created a monster in the first place, it’s a tragedy because he abandoned the life he created. Rather than respect his vision and offer love and affection to the Creature he’s brought into existence, he abandons it and offers no substantial remorse.
These questions and observations about domestic affection are not empty statements about the importance of being nice. Domestic affection is responsible for the joys and sorrows of life, and everyone has taken solace from a co-worker offering them a hug when they’ve had a bad day, or their romantic partner taking them out for dinner just because, or when a complete strangers offers an unwarranted compliment on their shoes or hair. These little acts of kindness build because they’re examples of people giving to one another and recognizing them as worthwhile. It’s when people deny others domestic affection that real tragedies occur, because then monsters are made out of people who might have made something great out of this life.
So, I suppose then I don’t completely regret giving that dude a thumb’s up after all. I still believe Alien Covenant was a wasted opportunity to build the Alien universe and explore the ideas of creation that were started with Prometheus and Frankenstein before it, but at least I offered that guy one moment of connection between people who enjoyed a movie together.
It ain’t much, but it was a little act of selflessness that didn’t cost me anything. Though I’m still out $5.50 for that damn movie ticket.
All quotes cited from Frankenstein were quoted from the paperback Longman Cultural Edition, 1818 version. All quotes cited from Prometheus and Alien Covenant were provided care of IMDb.com.
As always I like giving the reader some alternatives to my rather long and drawn out perspectives. So below I’ve provided a few links to articles and videos which explore the film Alien Covenant. Please Enjoy:
"More Human than Human", alien, Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, creation, Creators and Creations, domestic affection, Eldon Tyrell, empathy, Engineer, Film, film review, Frankenstein, Frankenstein 200th anniversary, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, horror, Literature, Mary Shelley, Niander Wallace, Novel, Peter Weyland, Philosophy, Prometheus, Ridley Scott, Robots, Science, science fiction, Victor Frankenstein, You cannot just put your hand in a goddamn beehive and act like you cool and shit that it some real noise son
I watched Blade Runner 2049 three times this year. That’s three times I watch Jared Leto perform in what I would argue is his best read to date, and three times I watched Ryan Gosling stick his whole hand into a bee hive. It might just be because I helped my father and sister collect honey this year and spent a good afternoon literally surrounded by swarming bees, but every time I watch his calm demeanor as he places his hand into the hive I can’t help but remember the sensation of watching close to a thousand bees buzz and fly around my face and I just want to yell “bullshit at the screen.” I don’t though because it’s hard enough to find movies I feel are truly great, and that also use bees for aesthetic brilliance so I’ll bite my lip.
The sensation of working in a library is a constant feeling of being behind, or at least it seems so for me. Working in the Reference department at the public library where I work there is always, until there isn’t, a project to be working. There’s new displays that need to be made, promotional posters and graphics for said displays as well ads the new programs that are about to be started up, there’s the logistics of acquiring guest speakers and/or teachers for adult programs, and while I’m attempting to work with the rest of my library family towards these goals I can be expected to be interrupted, depending on the day and time, at least two or three times by patrons looking for books, patrons looking for information, and patrons needing to send faxes. And with the exception of this last example (I loathe faxes with a passion I never knew I could ever actually feel) I never feel any frustration with my job. I love my work because I stay so busy. And looking at aproject a few of my coworkers are working towards I’m just reminded more and more why I have found, and chosen, a career in libraries.
Frankenstein turns 200 years old this year, and it being a novel I read prolifically during my college years, it seemed an excellent chance to look back to the novel, and look back also to a few films that seem terribly relevant as this foundational science-fiction novel comes to it’s anniversary.
It doesn’t seem like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus would have much in common with Frankenstein, but having watched all three films this year, there’s just no way that I can’t make the argument. In fact one one occasion I did. Each of these films centers around the dynamic of the creation and creator relationship and each film manages to capture the same sense of corruption that Frankenstein originally inspired.
If my reader has never read the novel Frankenstein, first of all they really should because it’s beautiful, and second they should read it because the novel has remained, since it’s publication, a relevant document about the human condition in relation to scientific enterprize. The novel is written as a series of letters by a man named R.Walton to his sister Delores. Walton is a man driven to find a path through the north pole to achieve glory ever lasting, and while he fails at this task he discovers a young man in the ice named Victor Frankenstein. Victor is chasing a giant, who Walton and his crew had spotted just the day before, who Victor eventually confesses is a living being created by himself. Victor was a young man enraptured with the writings of alchemists, and upon the death of his mother and attending university where he learned everything was false he decides to overcome death by bring dead tissue back to life. His experiment is a success, but he is horrified by his creation and the remainder of the novel focuses on Victor’s attempts to escape responsibility for his creation, while his creature (who is never named for the record) lives a miserable life wanting only to be loved. The novel culminates in Victor losing his friends and loved ones to his creation and he eventually dies from the sheer exhaustion of following his creature to the literal ends of the earth.
What’s fascinating about the novel Frankenstein isn’t just that it’s one of the earliest science fiction novels, it’s a novel which really explored the vanity that lies at the heart of creators. Looking at just one passage Victor Frankenstein’s hubris is as glaring as it is ridiculous.
No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude or his child so complete as I should deserve their’s. Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparentlydevoted the body to corruption. (34).
I’ll admit freely that I have moments of vanity. There’s nothing like checking the stats for this blog and seeing that I’ve had fifty or even sixty visitors on one day. Similarly whenever friends confess they are in awe of the fact that I can read close to 100 books a year while they barely manage to fit in 3 or 4, there is a small twinge of ego that swells inside of me. And finally, whenever I finish another page of my graphic novel that I’m slowly working on and show it to a friend I receive a real boost of confidence as they smile and tell me what they like about it. These are moments of vanity, which is really just another way of saying, their moments where I celebrate myself and my achievements. There is nothing wrong in celebrating the self, a lesson I’m trying everyday to remind myself as I overcome a lifetime of self-depreciation.
But hubris is endless vanity where one cannot perceive any personal fault and Victor Frankenstein’s hubris is the stuff of psychology graduate theses. He is a man full of himself, and even after he realizes what he has done he never completely acknowledges his guilt. In fact he denies his creation thus setting about a course of events whichdestroys himself and the people he loves. It’s not just that he is selfish, it’s the fact that he doesn’t seem to really care about the fact that he is responsible for this new life.
And looking at this apathy I thought immediately of Dr. Eldon Tyrell and Niander Wallace from Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 respectively. Both men are corporate moguls who have made a prosperous living from the creation and sale of humanoid robots known as synthetics. These “robots” are ultimately human beings who’s bodies are effectively controlled by the corporations to live only a few years, and essentially act as slave labor for terraforming (colonizing new planets). Both men are driven by the need to make the “perfect” organism, not becuse they desire the new life they are making to succeed and flourish, but because they are driven by an intense hubris.
Looking at the Eldon Tyrell there is a brief exchange between him and officer Deckard that reveals to what lengths he is willing to go:
Tyrell: We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.
Deckard: Memories! You’re talking about memories!
And the real demonstration of his perception is clear when he says,
Tyrell: “More human than human” is our motto.
Tyrell is a man who is generating what most people would recognize as sentient life. And rather than empathize with his creations he is seeing only the design flaws that will affect his business. The language at first doesn’t seem to reveal this, but if the reader looks closer at the words what he’s clearly describing is the scenario that synthetic humans are essentially being made and then being destroyed by lunacy before any actual biological degradation. To Tyrell these people losing their minds and destroying themselves and other is not something to be remorseful about, but instead is simply a design flaw that reflects poorly on his brand. And in an effort to save financial face he creates memories and implant them into people’s minds.
This is barbaric enough, and then the reader encounters in the sequel a man by the name of Niander Wallace. Following the death of Eldon Tytrell in the first Blade Runner Wallace purchases the company after making billions in agriculture developments that have saved the population of the planet. Along with this he has also proven to be a capable leader in the terraforming movement specifically by using synthetic humans as slave labor. Wallace is a man who has achieved something incredible, and rather than relish what he has achieved he is driven by a real god complex.
In one scene the reader observes the birth of a synthetic human, a woman specifically who, while she is trembling in the shock of being born is examined by Wallace. While feeling her body the man complains that human beings have only colonized nine planets before remarking on the limitations of his synthetics:
Niander Wallace: That barren pasture. Empty, and salted. The dead space between the stars.
Niander Wallace: [He places his hand on the newborn Replicant’s womb] Right here.
Niander Wallace: And this is the seed that we must change for Heaven.
[He slices her womb]
Niander Wallace: I cannot breed them. So help me, I have tried. We need more Replicants than can ever be assembled. Millions, so we can be trillions more. We could storm Eden and retake her.
Niander is a man compelled by his vision to transcend mortality, but this ultimately reveals that, as he has acquired more and more personal power, and as he has generated more and more synthetic people he has stopped seeing them as anything other than robots. The fact that he is so willing to kill a sytnthetic, literally minutes after she is born reveals that he sees them as nothing but products. It’s not even a violent act in his mind because the woman is nothing to him, just another in a long line of products that will generate revenue.
And looking at just one more example, Prometheus offers the reader another fantastic example. Peter Weyland, a man I’ve written about before is a man who a titan of industry as he has, like Tyrell and Wallace, made a fortune by creating synthetic human beings that aid in terraforming operations. In a scene that did not make the theatrical cut of Prometheus, Peter Weyland address a stadium sized crowd and discussestechnology.
Peter Weyland: [from TED Talks viral video] 100,000 BC: stone tools. 4,000 BC: the wheel. 900 AD: gunpowder – bit of a game changer, that one. 19th century: eureka, the lightbulb! 20th century: the automobile, television, nuclear weapons, spacecrafts, Internet. 21st century: biotech, nanotech, fusion and fission and M theory – and THAT, was just the first decade! We are now three months into the year of our Lord, 2023. At this moment of our civilization, we can create cybernetic individuals, who in just a few short years will be completely indistinguishable from us. Which leads to an obvious conclusion: WE are the gods now.
Prometheus is a film which explores the ideas of life, creation, apathy, and what is the role of the creator in our existence. Human beings are revealed to be the design oforganisms known as engineers, massive humanoids that, upon waking, elect to destroy humanity and create something new in it’s place. This apathy for creation ultimately brings about their destruction and the humans that survive the onslaught are left wondering why their creators despise them, or, more appropriately, why they felt nothing for their existence.
I’ll explore the idea of creations desiring compassion for their creators in the follow-up to this essay, but for now I wanted to look at some examples of the mad genius creatorbecause, since the publication of Frankenstein this character is something of a recurring trope. Even if it is not science fiction there is still often the dynamic in literature, and unfortunately sometimes in real life as well, of one individual essentially breaking and making another and feeling nothing for the creation they have made. Victor Frankenstein is a man who wants to become a god, but rather than assume any personal responsibility for his creation, or his creation’s actions, he falls back upon his ego and self-pity.
What connects men like Frankenstein, Tyrell, Wallace, and Weyland is not just their apathy however. All of these men are defined first and foremost by their hubris, and by their conviction that they are somehow above their creations and fellow human beings. In a later passage Victor is speaking with Walton, and the reader is able to observe that the man suffers no real regret for his accomplishments because he cannot look past his ego:
“When younger,” said he, “I felt as if I were destined for some great enterprise. My feelings were profound; but I possessed a coolness of judgement that fitted me for illustrious achievements. This sentiment of worth of my nature supported me, when others would have been oppressed; for I deemed it criminal to throw away in useless grief those talents that might be useful to my fellow-creatures. When Ireflected on the work I had completed, no less a one than the creation of a sensitive and rational animal, I could not rank myself with the heard of common projectors. […]. I trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the idea of their effects. (167).
Victor Frankenstein is a man who believes that he is special, and, by that implication, more important than other people. This is vanity, and while that word gets thrown around a lot, it’s important to remember than the vain person is one who believes themselves superior and therefore above other people, and when someone is obsessed with the self it becomes difficult to realize faults. Victor cannot and could not perceive himself at fault because he could not see anything that was truly outside of his own mind. Because he isolated himself, because he failed to allow himself domestic affection, and because he would not allow himself to observe anything outside of his grand personal vision of himself he brought about the destruction of his life and the lives of those closest to him.
Frankenstein, Tyrell, Wallace, and Weyland are not just empty tropes, their examples of people who allowed themselves to look at themselves as gods, and that behavior had real implications for the people who lived “beneath” them. In real life there are Victor Frankensteins and Eldon Tyrells; there are men who believe themselves to be above their fellow human beings, either because of their talents, wealth, or personal beliefs. And so the real life implication of such men is that many people wind up suffering.
The lesson of Frankenstein, Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus is that creation is not simply an empty act. By bringing something into existence you assume a real responsibility for it. Whether it’s a painting, a novel, an essay, a company, a robot, oreven a synthetic human being, creators cannot simply abandon their work or become apathetic to what they have made. They own a responsibility to that creation and to those who encounter it.
Victor Frankenstein wasn’t a nrillionaire, terraforming other worlds, and in fact he only ever made one living creature. But the impact of his creation has reverberated 200 years after him. Mary Shelly’s novel has never been out of print since its original publication in 1818, and the reason is rather simple: in the course of 200 years human beings haven’t stopped looking up to the stars wondering if they might supplant the gods, and neither have they stopped looking into the water and, like Narcissus, becoming enraptured with their own reflection. A million rocket ships and a million new worlds or even millions of robots are nothing compared to the sheer power of the human ego.
And we are, all of us, left wondering when we’re going to figure out when we’ll get a decent Frankenstein or Alien film again.
All quotes cited from Frankenstein were quoted from the paperback Longman Cultural Edition, 1818 version. All quotes cited from Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus were provided care of IMDb.com.
I’ve provided a few links to some articles which discuss the novel Frankenstein in case my readers would like to read some work about the book by writers who can afford editors…and food. Anyway, enjoy:
Amuro, Atmosphere in Science Fiction, Bright Noa, Char, Comics, Detail in comics, Federation, FrameRate, Giant Robots, graphic novel, Gundam, Kunio-Awara, Manga, Michael Greenhale, Mirai, Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Physical Action in Comics, Sayla Mass, science fiction, The Comics Classroom, Western Literature, women in comics, Women in Manga, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Zeon
You’re back and ready for more conversations about giant robots fighting in space and my opinions about them. Or else you’re just killing time because you’ve got some friends on the way and there isn’t enough time to play video games, but there is plenty of time to skim through a blog post while you wait. Whatever your reasons, just know that I respect them, and you need to start helping your partner do the dishes more often.
This second post continues in much the same format as the previous, however this time around Michael will be asking me the questions and I’ll be providing my thoughts and insights about the first volume of the Manga Mobile Suit Gundam. It’s been a fascinating enterprize and already the pair of us are formulating a sequel to this work, perhaps something by Grant Morrison. For the time being it’s been a delight exploring a topic through a mutual exchange rather than the lens of my own psyche.
Mobile Suit Gundam is an incredible manga, but I’ll let the discourse speak for itself.
Hope you enjoy.
MY QUESTIONS FOR YOU:
1. I know there are tends within some circles to see Gundam as a ‘giant robot’ series, and that isn’t wrong, but as I re-read this series I am always struck by the other elements at play, issues like politics and history and rights. What would you say serves as the more interesting angle for you so far: the setting or the machines?
It’s been a while since I finished the first manga in the series, but honestly based upon my reflection so much of the work was action driven. Tomino often has lengthy passages of shit blowing up, tanks firing their weapons, and of course the Gundam suits fighting back and forth in-between firing massive firearms. Now having read the second book I understand that there is significant development but looking at the first volume alone it felt to me that there was a far greater emphasis placed upon the machines, specifically their capabilities. Now given that the work was coming out of the 1970s the giant robot aesthetic doesn’t hurt the book at all, and to give it the credit that it does I was impressed by how well the work was able to convey not just violence, but action period.
In my own writing and comics, I try to emphasize physical action more because it feels more important and so my reading is likely biased by that aesthetic.
Tomino creates a setting that feels both believable, and every time I was in the command center of a ship, or inside one of the Gundam suits, or even simply on one of the terra-forming space colonies I felt I was seeing a real world, however there was not enough detail to really make me feel like I was in this world. There was more emphasis played upon the physical action as well as the dramatic tension. Therefore, personally I tended to follow that more than the set-up of the mythos, politics, or setting.
What’s fascinating is having just started the series I completely agree as well, Amuro is not an interesting character to me. It’s not that he doesn’t have a conflict it’s just that he doesn’t compel me as a reader. There’s nothing really apart from the fact that he’s operating the Gundam that keeps me interested in his particular and individual struggle. Also, he’s kinda of a dick to the women which immediately turns me off.
Honestly, and this is the strange part, Char was a far more dynamic character because, as you so excellently pointed it out, he seems to be far more complex. His motivations are not clear, and he has a history that provides me, as a reader, with a feeling that this character has some depth. I’m compelled to keep reading to figure out more about his character.
Sayla Mass is also interesting to me, partly because I like any book that doesn’t shoe-horn female characters to one side or else turn them simply into ditzes and/or sidekicks. But looking at her she has a real presence, confidence, and dynamic that makes her enjoyable to read.
Honestly thought, I’ve saved him for last but the most interesting character to me personally is Bright Noa. From the start of the book he seemed to have so much stacked against him and as the first volume went through he evolved incredibly to me as a character that, while not always sympathetic, was someone that I could believe in and hope for. There is a fascinating dynamic in his character where he has to play the young military figure who must assume command, but rather than become a simple two-dimensional figure in a nice suit he’s complicated. The reader can see him constantly struggling to maintain his calm in the face of almost certain oblivion, and he struggles to be a real leader. It might be because I personally am NOT a leader by any means, I avoid power and influence in any sort of professional capacity, and so I think what’s fascinating as a reader of this series is observing this character struggling to be the leader everyone needs him to be. The toll that this takes on him, and his fight to survive and save his crew is almost admirable. I just loved Bright Noa, even when he was an asshole.
To be honest, after finishing the first volume I couldn’t tell you. I’m not sure why I honestly continued reading to the second volume. Despite my previous praise of the characters in the story there wasn’t much to the book in terms of personal interest. Like I said the book was fascinating to observe because it has an interesting approach on presenting physical action without sacrificing the detail. Too often I’ve read Manga that just devolves into talking heads with occasional bursts of physical displays of power.
I think part of what kept me going was that I recognized that this book continues to exist through sheer force of influence and recognition. It’s a book that’s laid a foundation and it’s been around for ages and therefore it’s worth reading if only to understand why it has survived this long. I think there’s also some part of me who watched five minutes of the anime series when I was just a teenager who could stay up late and watched a few minutes of the show before saying “what the fuck was that?” and then promptly changing the channel.
I was tempted to say I’m not really a “western reader,” but a simple analysis reveals this as bullshit. I am STEEPED in the Western tradition, and the fact that I’m trying to read every play by William Shakespeare is enough to prove this. I suspect then what’s keeping me reading the balance of concern for character, the trope of the hero overcoming a great evil. I suspect there’s also some cowboy in my who simply enjoys watching shit blow up and watching giant robots fight to the death.
I don’t feel like I’ve answered this question efficiently because, really, thereputation of the book is more what’s going to keep me reading past the first volume. I hate saying it like that, and I’m not implying the book has no merit, but as an introduction the first book does not really seem, to me, to be much inspiration to continue reading.
Having read at least few Mangas in my time (Black Lagoon, Akira, and at least two volumes of Lone Wolfe and Cub being my favorites) Mobile Suit Gundam met my general expectations but after going through these questions I’ve begun to really re-assess my reading of the first book. I’m fortunate to not be too knowledgeable about the lasting impact of the series, and there wasn’t any real hype pre-reading. I simply saw the books come through the library over and over again while I was shelving them. And because the first volume has a great big robot on the cover I thought, “Fuck it. Let’s give it a try.”
The first volume more-or-less met my expectations because there really wasn’t much in the book that veered away from the more traditional narrative structures of Manga. And while there was much more emphasis on space and place, by the end of the book I wasn’t left with a feeling that I had read something greater than any previous Eastern comic I had ever read.
This is all just a way of saying, my reaction was by no means “meh,” but it was not “That was amazing.”
I would like to find some reason to give a damn about Amuro. I mean, really that’s it. Char, Sayla, and Bright are what’s keeping me reading, and to some extent the military drama that’s taking place. I would like a little more interaction with the planet Earth as a territory for narrative because I honestly am not too much of a fan of High Sci-Fi. I like the speculative fiction element that is grounded in the reality that mankind is distancing itself from Earth but is not entirely divorced from the home-planet.
I am also interested in seeing how the female characters will develop as the text continues because I’ve too often read stories where female characters in Manga have been reduced into giggly sex-dolls. Neither of the women in the book thus far have devolved into that particular stereotype and it leaves me hopeful that the book will balance a concern for their characters and not just be a patriarchal action-movie book.
And finally, I would like to see how the presentation of physical action and warfare develops if it develops at all. Sometimes the fights are just dramatic lines on the page and I would like to see if the art becomes a little more nuanced and detailed. I would understand if it doesn’t, but I still enjoy artists that try to create their world, and realism can heighten violence and action dramatically.
Michael Hale is currently a PhD Candidate for the University of Texas at Arlington. He publishes for Comicosity through the Comics Classroom column series.
If you would like to read more work by Michael, and I most certainly recomend you do, you can find many of his essays by following the link below:
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
Really? Really? REALLY?! We’re really doing this bit again? I’m the goddamned head writer for this site and you people STILL don’t know who I am. I’m Jammer. Jammer. What? No I’m not the guy who writes FrameRate. That’s TJ Rankin. Here’s a link to his site.
Now if you’re interested in my opinion about Fun Home or the writing of Albert Camus I can, wait, where are go-.
[Door slams as reader pursues more worthwhile, or at least far less tedious content]