Sunday, November 29, 2015

Anna Sibilia
David Steiling 

When the Road Forks
Which Path Will We Choose?

It’s hard to believe that I am a part of a world that reforms so much of itself within each passing year. There are so many resources and innovations that we take for granted and act as if they have been there for all time, yet they’ve only been around for the better part of six years: be it handheld gaming systems, hosting sites like YouTube, Facebook, or the sudden climb of Apple products, there have been countless new media and devices introduced over my lifespan. When  my parents were my age, everything was still being tested and many of the facilities we have today were not as popular. It has been a journey for many of both a social and personal level, as access to new things or people have opened up, and gradually been built upon each other we have reached the point now where most everything can be automated. Now the world has a global tie to keep everything together, to share news both devastating and joyful, to aid in reaching new audiences and perspective, to tell stories and share experiences, it is easier now to be part of the larger whole of humanity. 

With all of this support, it is safe to assume that people will keep inventing and toying around with the recycling of old ideas; people will keep wanting to explore, create, to leave a monolith among the sands of time that declares that they were alive and important enough to be remembered. For some, it drives them to exhaust themselves and slave over their work whereas others are simply happy to have a family legacy to share with newer generations. This constant momentum, however, has presented a lot of new challenges for the youth of the nations, and this is where a major dichotomy is found.

Although some demands were harder to meet a few decades ago, life on a whole wasn’t as impossible as it is today for those who struggle. Problems weren’t as dire and it was easier to find help without having a system full of loopholes in your way, but now, since this system has gotten too big, it presents a barrier between those suffering and those who should be able to ameliorate their situation. That is a huge influence as to why many people keep inventing newer and more affordable creations, to help solve a problem that a broken system can not (or in a few cases, will not). It does spell hope for the future, for the who can make a difference will keep trying, and progress compels the norm to change.

That’s where I stand on this issue: I have hope for the future. There is something in me that refuses to see just the snide or cynical nature in people, there must be good trapped underneath. Although I have encountered a few who’ve done their best to prove this wrong, I refuse to give up this notion. Perhaps that’s too wishful, but I don’t care. The last few decades have done everything from lowering the rate of mothers dying in childbirth to finding cures for cancer and significantly aiding the fight against disease and world hunger. The important things about innovations is that it must have some sort of humanitarian message in order to spread, and those that do have succeeded a thousand times over; without this odd pathos, there wouldn’t be too much glory in the world, now would there? There’s an infinite amount of way that humanity could cease, from rapture to epidemic, to a supernova that destroys our entire solar system, and yet we are all here. I am, you are (presumably, if you’re still reading this), and that’s amazing. 

That’s something worth sharing with others, don’t you think?
Anna Sibilia
David Steiling 

Future Fantasies
What Lies Beyond?

Technology is an obsessive interface in today’s society, everyone is plugged in and constantly checking their presence on the internet or other connective networks. Be it social connections between real and digital friends, an organization of professionals on a website to broadcast their talents, or a series of numbers that represent valid identity and monetary value, information and connection is everything. Some people use to to compare egos and others use it out of necessity, but for most individuals involved, the life we live is filled with the flow of data. Eras past without too much technological influence are now seen as antiquarian and ancient, almost barbaric in their ways -though some were, to be fair, and the very notion of living a life without some sort of crutch is completely impossible for those being reared in such a technological age. 

This dependence on such things is what makes the satire that focuses on the addictive nature of everything electronic so biting and accurate. It is the driving commentary behind movies like TiMER, where people are so addicted to technology that they will let it dictate their life partners and romantic compatibility. The movie even spares a disclaimer that the TiMER isn’t based on fate, but on chemicals and genetic makeup, which seems contradictory to an emotion that seems routed in intuition, personhood, and integrity as well as the physical factors and needs of the individuals involved. It is asinine to assume that just because two people share compatible genes that they should end up together, so it begs the question of whether people are so invested in the idea of the TiMER that they will blindly adhere to it, or whether they don’t see how something like a digital countdown watch will dictate their romantic future. 

Another notion is that anything less than connected is unusable or outdated; when everything becomes outmoded quickly, there is much to be desired for something that cannot keep up with the current updates. This goes back centuries though, as even the cultures from different parts of the world used to look on their neighbors as ‘uncivilized’ for not following the same constraints and societal patterns as them. Religious organizations used to think that anyone outside of their faith was barbaric and sacrificing children in the name of false gods, much like how the peoples of the past are portrayed in ‘I think We’re all Bozos on this Bus’ portrayed them to be. 

The common notion from these messages is that as humanity continues to invent, we become a slave to our creations; we keep innovating and updating them, so it is only natural to do the same to ourselves. This can be problematic though for not everyone has access to such wonderful things, and others simply do not wish to be part of the spiderweb of data lest it trap them in its strings. Yet we are taught to want this and that, and keep investing in these new ideations; it helps both the economy, as well as helping spread a better product. Though the closeness to the truth is still very real: we are so entangled in this part of our world that sometimes we forget to take part in the moment or focus on another task. I will not preach too much about a higher morality here though, I too am addicted to this facet of life: I checked my tumblr about eight times while writing this over the span of twenty minutes.
Anna Sibilia
David Steiling 

Journeys Far Beyond
Where Are We Going?

Writing is an unfortunately under appreciated form of art. The amount of skill and technique that goes into eloquent works is a staggering contrast to what many may believe; authors are able to take raw elements of intelligent communication and use them to convey worlds unknown or those which hadn’t been fathomed before. It is a painstaking and deliberate course of planning, editing, suffering, self-defeat, and rapture at the end of a first draft, only to restart the process once the revised content is needed. In order to help the author focus their work, as well as help provide a narrower selection for potential audiences, genres were created as an organizational function; works with similar elements would be classified in the same categories, making everything simpler for an audience to navigate through as well as chose something that piques their respective interests. 

Yet this system also implemented a literary hazard: genre boxing, the act of summarizing innumerable works together into a lumped sum because of an archetype they might fall into. With all the diverse stories out there, it is unjust to state that one can only amount to the full extent of a single element, yet it is common practice today. For example, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, George Lucas’ Star Wars, and Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz can all be summarized as ‘fiction’ though one is clearly fantasy, another is science fiction, and the last is realistic fiction. Since these movies are not based upon true events or practices, they cannot be identified as non-fiction or even historic fictionalizations, and when spoken of in this manner, it can lead one uneducated on the different types of sub-genres to believe that only the most popular elements of a genre are present (I myself didn’t read a book series that featured vampires because I thought that too many elements similar to another would be present). 
This does, however, make it all the more refreshing when authors dream up stories that are harder to define than the norm, especially short stories. With these shorter tales, one must accept that they are, most likely, dropped into the middle of a scenario and cannot go back to the beginning of everything; there isn’t a creation story, the world simply is whether the audience understands it or not and they must read along regardless of how the scenario began. That’s what makes the tale of Distance to the Moon so different, everything is simple and understandable without being boring. It is a tale that is wondrous without being too fantastic, and the characters are the real emblems and themes, not that the setting is a world where the moon visited the Earth. It made the impossible seem trivial, having the actors be the focus though they were interacting with paradoxes and unattainable desires. It is hard to classify this work as anything, for it is so grounded in the longings and hearts of its cast that it would be unfair to say the story is primarily anything. Is it a romance? Well there is unrequited love in it, but it does not focus solely on that topic. Is is a fantasy? The moon descends from the skies to dance across the surface of the Earth, but other than that it is a normal world. Is it science fiction? There isn’t much in the way of interplanetary travel since the people never technically leave Earth  (well, save one) and journey to the stars.

This story is and isn’t, a paradox in it’s own right, and I’m glad that such a cute tale can be so. 
Anna Sibilia
David Steiling

Invisibility in Numbers
Influences Overwriting Each other

Many governments and societal structures depend on the concept of the ‘majority rule’, a term defined as “a political system in which the group that has the most members has the power to make decisions” (Merriam-Webster) and operates on the belief that the larger percentage of people will have the better intentions and will pick a more practical solution that benefits the whole. This is not always the case for it is the balance in the information’s ethos, pathos, and logos that will sway either side of a conflict one way or another. The advertisement and media are professionals at this, selling half of a story in order to sway the outcome for it will benefit them, and most of the time the masses are none the wiser for it is difficult to find the logos in anything if pathos is the only source being exploited or reported on. 

This mindset ultimately carries into fiction as well, for in order to be applicable and relatable to a large audience, a work must have a level of generic or basic ideas, right? In I Live with You, the protagonist is more like a generic shadow that casts itself onto another person that was barely more tangible. Even though the mina character didn’t have the physical commodities of the other, they were able to pull the strings and orchestrate the other person like a puppet, controlling everything from their wardrobe to their tastes in food and eventually their romantic interest. They give the other no choice but to submissively follow the new pattern put in place for them, like how many people must follow a majority rule though they disagree with the implemented law or practice. It is unfair for the ones who did not get what they wanted often cannot turn the situation around or are put at a purposeful disadvantage, that way if discourse was to arise from the conflict, it would not matter and nothing too great could be done to fix the issue at hand. 
Likewise this story shows how a woman’s life, once turned upside down, has no situational power to clean up the mess. The main character preaches about how they do everything for the benefit of the other, how they ‘don’t steal’, when almost every action they take in the story is  because they want to watch a mess unfold for entertainment; that’s all their new company is to them: a thing to be toyed with, not an actual person with rights. While the unnamed woman was introverted, she was safe in her pattern and liked her ways; she was simply content in her life and didn’t feel the need to explore too much, yet then the unwelcome influence weasels into her life and she cannot help but comply. She struggles to keep her bearings, keep her life together, and though she might have some fleeting moments of happiness, they are few and far between and heavily outweighed by the strife put on her by a nosy sadist. 

 This disregard for another autonomy and well being is a theme that exists today but has little recognition in mass media -for obvious reasons. By trying to make sure that the largest majority is happy, the same groups are constantly unrepresented and taken advantage of; it is a vicious cycles that, thankfully, is being broken in recent works along wth the aid of social media, but it is still reinforced by the major outlets. However as more stories and new faces begin to come to light, it is more clear that there are far more voices and imaginations that should have attention given to them. What is safe is not innovative, and what is innovative is often not imagined by those whom have lived in comfort. 
Anna Sibilia
David Steiling 

Improving the Imperfect

The plethora of sub-genres within science fiction are innumerable and can either transcend seamlessly into one another or be as stark a contrast as night and day. These little niches of the overarching whole provide areas of concentrated taste, but their purposeful focus can lead the audience to newer themes that may not have been relevant to the original whole. Cyberpunk executes this with a mindful irony; in the beginning of science fiction a common theme was man triumphing over machines. However this often gritty, stylish sub-genre blends the barriers between the organic and mechanical and gives rise to a bastardization of both -which can be crude or sublime depending on the mindset and desires of the author, though a healthy mix of both usually populates a story to show the evolution and ease of the techno-organic merge over periods of time. It is apparent that the nature of man doesn’t make the transition as easily though, for even when the advancements in technology are great, people are constantly seeking to abuse it for a greater evil. Dystopia is such a common construction within this frame that merely saying Cyberpunk will bring to mind the fluid, high technology and seamless synthesis of man and machine, with a dark and brutal underside to the highlighted chrome.  

Such is the conflict in William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic, a short story placed in a crime controlled society where people and information are the currency; certain individuals like Johnny are used as memory banks for illicit information -portable, living hard drives for data. Yet when the crime lord clients no longer have use for him,  Johnny finds himself in an entirely new situation: go underground, leave the advanced technology behind and never surface. 

This is a striking conflict for the protagonist as he cannot fully dissociate with the machinery, it is literally hardwired into him. Instead, he finds aid in the company of assassin Molly Millions, a cyborg built for executions who in turn introduces Johnny to the society of Lo Teks, a group of beast-like humans whom thrive without the high-grade technology and electricity that he was used to. 
This is an underlying theme in Cyberpunk literature: the less someone uses technology, the more brutish they are portrayed; it lies in keeping with how older generations will stick to the beliefs they were introduced to as they grew up and resist the changes that come with each passing era. ‘The old ways are old and ill-fitting for a reason, progress and society wants you to adapt and conform!’ eHowever this also presents the situation in which Johnny found himself in: once people are wired into the system, it is impossible for them to leave. Everything they do leaves traces and from those small trails, anyone can be found. In a society where information is power and everyone is linked to a single data stream, it can be assumed that those on top are those who can manipulate and regulate that stream with the most ease and influence -be it destructive or constructive. 

Cyberpunk often raises the message of how much technology we as humans will accept into our lives, be it in our own bodies, our society, to fulfill our more base needs or even just do menial tasks we do not want to deal with anymore. After a while the line between flesh, bone, blood, oil, and wires becomes too blurred to dictate what is what, and it is easier for anything to assume an identity. ‘What is human’ is a prevalent question that many authors leave open to speculation for their audience has to decide for themselves based upon the character’s actions and the repercussions of the world around them, much like how we function in the real world today. 
Anna Sibilia
David Steiling 

Diversity, Discrimination, and Demonization
Dictating Humanity

The human condition and philosophy is a convoluted mess on the best of days with so many ideas and perspectives clashing in an uproar and creating a somewhat childish clamor. It is hard to share a common ground in a mass since what one culture might uphold has normality might not align with another, and thus a discrepancy is born. The general consensus on such matters is not usually so terrible, however, this disconnect does make it harder for some people to connect with others; how can one expect to understand another if they have not felt or lived a moment akin to another being’s? It is this situational barrier that separates many people from one another, causing rifts based upon beliefs -religious, political, social, anything really, and from there it is easier to begin observing more disparities between individuals. It does not help that many societies also have a competitive mindset that helps cultivate this attitude of separating yourself from another; demonization is far easier than trying to connect with someone else. This tactic is also used in war propaganda: if your enemy is inhuman and you set out to kill them, then you’re a hero, but if they’re a person, what does that make you?

J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned Giant illustrates this point perfectly, communicating the nature of the situation and truth of the actions with far more accuracy than most would like to admit. When the giant is first discovered the townsfolk are first hesitant and trepidatious; here is a being that looks like something from the elder tales and legends of ancient mythos, and those present are not sure of how to interact or even comprehend the massive corpse. Yet after the first few brave souls start clambering on top of the fallen goliath, the masses soon follow suit. Curiosity is the motivator at this point, prompting the scientific community to investigate and glean as much as they can to better comprehend this strange creature. After the initial shock has worn off, the giant’s body is no longer treated with care, but just as another object to be exploited -even circus owners wondered if they could procure the specimen for their shows only to gawk at the size of the felled legend and realize that such a feat would be too great for them to accomplish in a cost-effective and practical manner. Once rejected by the showmen who’d wanted the giant for shock and awe, the body was gradually left to the public; people trampled all over it, had campfires on its flesh, and began carving and otherwise defiling it. Ultimately, the body was carved up and disposed of, save for a few bones or otherwise preservable novelties that were sold. 

This story portrays how when something new is suddenly thrust into the faces of the public, the people do not know what to make of it. The giant held no threat, it was just a corpse on a beach, and thus there was nothing to be too afraid of. After investigation had been done and the scholarly community had ran its own course, the body was gradually just another commodity used for bewilderment, and further fell into a state of disrepair as it naturally decayed and was removed piece by piece. One of the key moments in the tale is how the protagonist notes that once the first incisions were made and gotten rid of, the carving of profanities and swastikas soon began. The body was already dead, but it was not allowed to rest; it was inhuman in origin already, so who was to say that it wasn’t acceptable to disgrace it further? It was already being cut up anyways.

This work points a finger at how society will react in a manner towards new and foreign ideas: first with fear, then academically, but then an exploited or apathetic view takes over as the novelty wears off. it doesn’t take long for these ‘new’ ideas to be lost in current day-to-day life without too much relevance and more often than not the public does not fully understand just what they are glossing over.
Anna Sibilia
David Steiling

Science and Faith
Unraveling the Mystics

The sense of a greater destiny has always been a prevalent theme throughout the literary spectrum, but it is mostly exploited in fantasy and science fiction. Be it from a poor farm boy finding out he will rectify the balance of the universe or from a man journeying to another planet and becoming a part of its people, science fiction loves remodeling the biblical calling that audiences are drawn to. While some authors prefer to explain and debunk the spiritual calling based upon researched or scientific principles, others love to blend the two into a singularity; what defines God, and can you really quantify a spiritual calling or reduce it to deluded thinking or actions of one who rejects the hard reality of life and nature?

Yet there must be a balance between the fact and faith, as too much of either side begins to make a story sound either humorless or preachy; the prophecies used by many a story are often vague and compelling for it gives the authors freedom without being too specific or aligned with one side over the other. The shorts stories The Nine Billion Names of God and The Star explore a different twist on this matter, presenting an unusual connection between the scientific discoveries of man and the sublime nature of a higher existence: what happens when man finds God through science, but He is not what we were led to believe He was? The characters in these stories are skeptical, always questioning the greater presence until they are confronted by it with overwhelming proof. 

The stories implement the high-minded attitude of man only to render it feeble and riddled with doubt, thereby deconstructing the worldview of the characters involved -something more popular in fiction- and leaving their now insignificant conscious to the mercy of the higher powers. Using this format has led to many a new creation story throughout the fantasy genre, spawning how humans turn into heroes at the compelling of a deity in need of a champion, but here it is left to speculation. These gods do not ask anything of or even acknowledge the mortals who’ve witnessed their power; they simply are in the same space -or evidence of them exists in that space- which leads the confused humans to make their own judgement. Yet how do we dream God? Evidently we cannot, or at least, we should not, for the gods shown in the stories do not appear to take kindly to the likes of man’s musings. 

This is not the archetype of a deity interested in redemption or salvation so much as it a force that acts as it pleases and does not want interference. It is an enigma that wishes to remain hidden away, or at the very least, not a subject of science. If you were to find out the mysteries of a godly being, what would stop you from usurping their power? No wonder the destruction of life happened in both stories (though we are left to speculate on why the events of The Star unfolded as they did), for the creations were learning too much about their creators. In these examples, prophecies are not always interpreted to redeem the world of man, but destroy it; sometimes the learned knowledge was better left unknown.