Do Androids Dream of Science Fiction?

Beyond admission essays, this is my first college essay. Woot! Or rather, hoot!

Blade Runner Owl
The owl from Blade Runner. Organic or electric?

The assignment is a response to Cornell University’s summer reading: Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which the legendary film Blade Runner was based.

Cornell came up with 10 prompts to select from (I know in that link they’re called “study questions,” but they’re actually essay prompts). I chose the final one, which seemed more general than the others, for it was not only about the book—it was about the entire genre:

10. Dick described science fiction as “the conceptual dislocation” of our own society in order to generate “a new society . . . [that] occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader’s mind, the shock of dysrecognition” (1981). What is the most shocking or dysrecognizable aspect of Dick’s work, for today’s reader? What role does Dick’s science fiction play in our own thinking about the present?

Do Androids Dream of Science Fiction?

If the goal of science fiction is to shock, then the brilliance of Dick’s novel comes from its constant shock of artificiality, in which the lack of nature is the ultimate state of dysrecognition. In fact, the title by itself is enough to disorient a human’s bearings, for androids and electric sheep are no familiar objects to our human memory. And neither do our brains like to be abruptly awakened, as Rick Deckard’s does in the book’s opening, by “a merry surge of electricity” piped from a Penfield mood organ.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the art of dysrecognition taken to the extreme. What is so dysrecognizable is the total, unnatural world, in which the hopeless vestiges of nature have been replaced in every way: the clean air by the radioactive dust, nonkipple by kipple, animals by their electric counterparts, and humans by specials and androids. But the new, artificial world is fundamentally not the same as the one it had replaced. It was not as if all Fords had simply been replaced by Toyotas.

No, it was as if all the Fords and Toyotas and Chevrolets and Volkswagens had been replaced by unicycles. Imagine this brave new world of the unicycle. How would society be changed? What would the unicycle reveal about human character? Such are the inquisitive questions of science fiction, which is after all, according to Dick, a “conceptual dislocation” within society. This conceptual dislocation, such as the unicycle, creates a new society, which must differ from ours in at least one significant way, and in a way that is intellectually stimulating. So, the unicycle example may not be the most compelling—perhaps androids are a better idea.

But it is not the androids alone that create the shock of dysrecognition—it is the synergetic combination of androids and electric animals, mood organs and empathy boxes, Voight-Kampff tests and laser tubes, that create a new world in which we cannot fully immerse ourselves, for parts of our brains are repulsed by the total artificiality of it. Yet, as curious beings, we enter it anyways, hoping to do the one thing the human mind is best at doing: to understand. It is here that the story’s meta-conflict occurs. On one level the conflict is between Rick Deckard and the six androids he must retire, but on the higher level, the conflict is between the novel’s future alien environment and the reader, who must fight for survival within it. That is the mind clash of science fiction.

Is science fiction limited to the human mind? It would seem so, but androids are capable of enjoying it as well. Pris on Mars became interested in space science fiction, which she calls “pre-colonial fiction.” Whether androids can write science fiction is another matter. Although Pris and the other androids seem untalented in telling stories, the lack of android creativity in this story does not signify impossibility. If we were told that Deckard himself is an android—now that would be an unforgettable shock of dysrecognition.

Unproductivity, and a New Theme!

The site now has a new theme, aptly named 2010! The picture I’m using in the header is cropped from a piece called Maelstrom by Greg Martin. And the background is light green—I don’t really know why. It seems that a lot of sites these days are in blue: Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter; and red is a bit harsh on the eyes. So green it is!

Also, I’ve been really unproductive the last week. I’m normally reading or writing something, but this past week, I just sat around and did nothing, essentially. I think I’m breaking out of it as I speak—err, as I type—and my previous post on Plot Similarities in Blizzard Games might be, for me, the saving key.

TV Tropes

(xkcd on TV Tropes. If you want to be unproductive, just click that second link!)

And about that novel, I’m still working on it. I managed to write about 15000 words in the first week, but I’ve accomplished virtually nothing in the previous week. If I keep this pattern up, November writing month is going to be very difficult. Anyways, my original intentions on the novel have changed a little. Instead of exploring the effects of advanced technology as my primary motif, I’m exploring a hypothetical abandonment of science and technology, and an extremist environmentalist movement. I’ll leave it as vague as that for now.

Anyways, it looks like my one-week-of-doing-nothing break is over. Oh, and Cornell’s orientation starts on August 20th, in less then two weeks. Saying goodbye to Austin will be a really difficult thing. And yet, I am reminded of the ending of Toy Story 3, in which part of the journey to the new is saying goodbye to the old. Ever since we moved to Austin in 2000, I have not ever left it for more than a month. It has been an exciting ten years in a fast, unprecedented decade. I know the 2010s will be exciting even more.

Plot Similarities in Blizzard Games

Blizzard Entertainment

With StarCraft II just released, and from recently playing the original StarCraft and WarCraft III campaigns, I’ve noticed that, between the plots, there are quite a few similarities. Blizzard’s creative department is very good at this. The list of Blizzard games [abbreviations] I’ll be using in this post:

  • StarCraft [SC1]
  • StarCraft: Brood War [SCBW] (expansion)
  • WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos [WC3]
  • WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne [WC3: TFT] (expansion)
  • StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty [SC2]

Well, I don’t own WOW, and I don’t know the plots of the first two WarCraft games. Therefore my comparisons will mostly run between StarCraft and WarCraft III, including expansions.

SPOILER ALERT

The Hero Becomes the Villain

Diablo (!):

  • At the very end, the hero defeats Diablo but tries to contain Diablo’s soul within himself. This fails, because Diablo takes control of the hero’s body. In Diablo II, the Diablo you face is the hero of the first game.

SC1:

  • In the first campaign (Terran), mission 9: “New Gettysburg,” Arcturus Mengsk abandons ghost agent Sarah Kerrigan to the Zerg. She is infested. In the next campaign you can use Infested Kerrigan, a Zerg unit. By the end of SCBW, she has become the “Queen of Blades,” the ruler of the sector, and the primary antagonist.
    • BUT, in SC2 we learn that she is the prophecized savior of the universe, and she is de-infested at the end.
  • Also in the first campaign, Arcturus Mengsk himself is initially a hero, trying to overthrow the evil Terran Confederacy. When he takes power, he crowns himself Emperor of the new Terran Dominion, but his government ends up being just as oppressive as the Confederacy that he overthrew.

WC3:

  • In the first campaign (Human), mission 9: “Frostmourne,” Arthas Menethil, a human paladin, is so blinded by vengeance that he would kill the dreadlord Mal’Ganis at any cost. Unfortunately this cost is the taking of the cursed blade Frostmourne, which essentially binds the wielder to the Lich King. By the next campaign you can use Arthas, an Undead Death Knight. He becomes the primary antagonist.
  • In the second campaign (Undead), mission 5: “The Fall of Silvermoon,” Arthas (now undead) defeats the high elf Sylvanas Windrunner and turns her into an undead banshee. She later becomes the Queen of the Forsaken.
  • In the third campaign (Orc), mission 5: “The Hunter of Shadows,” Grom Hellscream, in order to defeat the Night Elves, drinks from an enchanted well; however, this enchantment is from the blood of Mannoroth, a pit lord. Hellscream subsequently falls under demonic possession.
    • BUT, in mission 8: “By Demons Be Driven,” Thrall rescues Hellscream’s soul, and Hellscream redeems himself by slaying Mannoroth before dying.

WC3: TFT:

  • Throughout the first campaign (Sentinel), Maiev is trying to hunt down Illidan. By the end, Malfurion remarks that “[Maiev] has become vengeance itself.” Given Illidan’s intentions, however, it is arguable whether Maiev is a protagonist or antagonist.

The Villain Was Serving a Greater Power

SCBW:

  • In the secret mission “Dark Origins,” when Zeratul discovers Samir Duran‘s experimentation on Protoss/Zerg hybrids, Duran explains: “I am a servant of a far greater power.” Could he be referring to the Xel’Naga?

SC2:

  • Tassadar reveals that the Overmind from the first game was actually controlling the Zerg against its will (it was itself controlled by a more powerful force), and that it sought to infest Kerrigan so that someone else could control the Zerg.

WC3:

  • In the second campaign (Undead), Kel’Thuzad summons the demon Archimonde into the world. Archimonde, however, has no need for Arthas or Kel’Thuzad. Arthas becomes appalled, and Kel’Thuzad informs him that the Lich King has already foreseen this, and that he has plans for Arthas.

WC3: TFT:

  • In the first campaign (Sentinel), Illidan Stormrage appears to be using the Eye of Sargeras for himself. Later, at the end of the second campaign (Blood Elf/Human), we learn that Illidan was serving the demon Kil’Jaeden, who gave Illidan the task of destroying the Frozen Throne and subsequently the Lich King.

The Apparent Ally Is Actually an Enemy

SCBW:

  • In the first campaign (Protoss), Aldaris is initially reluctant but accepting of the need to go to Shakuras. He then incites a rebellion, and the player must defeat him in mission 7: “The Insurgent.”
    • BUT, later we learn that he was the good guy all along—see the next entry.
  • The dark templar matriarch Raszagal is a seeming ally of Zeratul throughout the entire game. But we learn in the third campaign, mission 9: “The Reckoning,” that Raszagal was a puppet of Kerrigan. Thus, Aldaris’s rebellion against Raszagal was justified.
  • In the second campaign (Terran), Samir Duran is a seeming ally, but during mission 7: “Patriot’s Blood,” we learn that he is actually working for Kerrigan and the Zerg.
    • Actually, in the secret mission “Dark Origins,” we learn that he is serving not Kerrigan, but an even greater power.
  • Also in the second campaign (Terran), Alexei Stukov is the vice-admiral of the United Earth Directorate, but after some suspicious activity, the player is sent on a mission to kill him in mission 7: “Patriot’s Blood.”
    • BUT, it turns out he was the good guy, and Duran was the bad guy. (See above.)

SC2:

  • Tychus Findlay is Raynor’s buddy for the entire game. But at the end, he reveals that he “made a deal with the devil,” Arcturus Mengsk. He would have to kill Kerrigan. But Raynor kills him first.

WC3:

  • In the fourth campaign (Night Elf), Tyrande Whisperwind frees Illidan Stormrage in order to help fight against the demonic invasion. Illidan later serves a demon, and is the first antagonist to appear in the expansion.

The Apparent Enemy Is Actually an Ally

SC1:

  • In the beginning of the third campaign (Protoss), both Tassadar and Zeratul are considered enemies, the first a traitor, the second a dangerous outcast. They eventually defeat the Zerg Overmind.

SCBW:

  • Kerrigan goes both ways. She is an enemy from the first game, but in the first campaign she helps the protoss Zeratul and Artanis recover the Uraj and Khalis crystals. In the third campaign she also helps Mengsk recover his Dominion capital of Korhal from the United Earth Directorate.
    • But, she turns on her allies, killing Duke and Fenix, revealing that she had used everyone as a part of her own plan to rule the sector alone.
      • BUT, at the end of SC2 she becomes uninfested, and it is hinted that she will be the hero again.

SC2:

  • Kerrigan. See above.
  • The Overmind from the first game. Tassadar says the Overmind had “courage.” See “The Villain Was Serving a Greater Power.”
  • Valerian Mengsk, the heir apparent to Arcturus Mengsk, seems at first to be another loyal Dominion agent. But it is revealed that he is the owner of the Moebius Foundation, that he can help Raynor rescue Kerrigan, and that he is against his father.

WC3:

  • In the third campaign (Orc), Grom Hellscream’s Orcs slay Cenarius, who was actually trying to prevent them from unleashing demonic powers from the Chaos Well. Hellscream drinks from the well and becomes corrupted.

WC3: TFT:

  • Actually uncertain for Illidan. He is at first the foe who brought into power the Naga, but he was actually trying to destroy the Lich King, though he was doing so albeit under Kil’Jaeden’s command. Then again, he does help Malfurion rescue Tyrande. At the final fight, it is Illidan versus Arthas, and neither can be said to be good.
  • Lady Vashj is apparently an enemy, but she and her Naga assist the player in the Alliance campaign.

The Grand Alliance

SC1:

  • In the final mission (Protoss mission 10) “Eye of the Storm,” the Protoss under Tassadar and Zeratul and the Terran under Raynor join together and defeat the Zerg Overmind.

SCBW:

  • The final mission (Zerg mission 10) “Omega” essentially inverts “Eye of the Storm.” Kerrigan‘s Zerg defeat the combined forces of Mengsk‘s Terran Dominion, DuGaulle‘s United Earth Directorate, and Artanis‘s Protoss fleet.

WC3:

  • In the final mission (Night Elf mission 7) “Twilight of the Gods,” the Night Elves under Malfurion Stormrage and Tyrande Whisperwind, the Humans under Jaina Proudmoore, and the Orcs under Thrall hold off a demonic invasion led by Archimonde against Mount Hyjal, the World Tree.
    • Well, eventually the invasion succeeds, but Archimonde falls into Malfurion’s trap upon reaching Mount Hyjal.

The Prophecy

WC3:

  • Medivh is THE Prophet. He foretells the invasion of the Burning Legion (making him a doomsday prophet), and ends up uniting the Humans, Orcs, and Night Elves to defeat Archimonde’s invasion.

SC2:

  • Zeratul becomes the prophetic character, telling Raynor that Kerrigan is the key. To some degree, Kerrigan is also prophetic. In SCBW, Duran could be considered prophetic.

The Guy that Nobody Believes (At First)

SC1:

  • None of the Protoss believe Tassadar at first when he says they must trust the Dark Templar, and they believe he has defected to the dark side. The Dark Templar end up being invaluable to the fight against the Zerg, and Tassadar ends up being the ultimate hero of the game.

WC3:

  • The humans initially laugh at Medivh‘s doomsday prophecies, but he ends up indirectly saving Azeroth.

One of the primary reasons there are so many twists, like the good guys becoming the bad guys or vice versa, is how the campaigns are structured. Each game involves a thread of campaigns that use different races. So when you’ve fought against a certain foe for an entire campaign, and then get to command them in the next, you immediately begin to ask moral questions, like whether what you did in the previous campaign was the right thing.

That’s really the genius of these games, that characters don’t have fixed allegiances. And with certain characters, specifically Kerrigan and Illidan, you really don’t know whether they’re ultimately good or evil until you know it for sure.

Inception (2010)

Inception

Rating: 9/10

Nolan’s mind-boggling dream film is a stunning and outstanding experience.

Although the idea of existing in another person’s dream is not new, Inception combines together several thoughts on dreams and presents them in an original and thrilling way. In the book Through the Looking Glass (1871, sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), Alice is told she is not inhabiting her own dream, but the Red King’s. (“Life, what is it but a dream?”) In Inception, when Mal and Cobb are in limbo (before the events of the movie), Mal seems to echo Alice in her denial of the dream world: “‘I AM real!’ said Alice and began to cry.” But then, plot twist occurs.

Inception definitely reminds the viewer of The Matrix, which also has actors switching between illusion and reality. The scene where Cobb teaches Ariadne the foundations of the dream world strongly evokes the scene where Morpheus teaches Neo the foundations of the Matrix.  Nolan’s film, however, goes into multiple dream layers, which have very important roles in the story. And yet, overall the two films are different, and both have their crowning moments.