World Building II: Establishing Theme

The Cx Trilogy is the simple story of leaving this planet. As common as this idea might be in contemporary science fiction – including everything from Star Trek & Star Wars franchises to The Martian and Ad Astra – the central idea of abandonment, leaving everything that we know for a complete unknown, remains frightfully undeveloped. In other words, these films emphasize ingenuity and determination over the more likely issues of angst and despair once Earth Out of View Syndrome sets in.

The essential themes of nihilism and isolation are not only developed through character development and dialogue, but also in the speculative technology that identifies the desperate struggle to find identity when the origin of everything known is gone.

Second Skin (a synthetic anti-aging agent) and The Bearing (a ring-like portal to the internet) are prevalent throughout the first book, Anori, while The Hive (a fully immersive place of sensual pleasure) and boochies (doll-sized genetically mutated animals) are featured in Book Two, Aqaara, which documents the generational flight to the destination planet of Mina. All of these devices are intended to fulfill immediate individual desires and lead to division and isolation.

The use of speculative technology as a world-building tool, although present, is not as significant in the final book, Mina. The majority of the speculative devices have been in use throughout the trilogy, leaving the only thing new to build is the planet itself. (You can’t get more world-building than that.) The challenge with building another planet is our limited experience with distant worlds; we actually only have a few planets to use as models, this leading to a tendency toward arctic expanses, forbidding deserts and prehistoric beasts is hard to avoid. (See Interstellar, Dune & John Carter.)

I did use images of Pluto and Saturn for inspiration as well as the distant corners of Earth and settled on a highly volcanic planet with two suns. Water dominates the surface and so many of the life forms are water-borne, including the animal believed to be at the top of the food chain – a sort of hybrid leopard seal.

The ever-present sense of isolation is developed not only through the immense unexplored planet, but also through divisions in the mission itself. While a home-base, Ataa, is constructed on Mina, only a fraction of the people are invested in living there; groups venture off on long-term explorations while another large contingent elect to leave the planet altogether and continue their journey to another distant place. For them, the journey indeed is the destination.

Hollywood Sci-Fi’s Triteness of Time

Arrival has some moments, many deep loud sounds and a cool circular alphabet, but is burdened with yet another trite spin on our perception of time. The fact is that we human are constrained to a linear understanding of time due to gravity – not only the rotation of the earth but that of the moon and sun as well.

Our feet are firmly planted to this ground. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughter House Five: Transfalmadorians saw time like they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear. They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them. But among them was this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eye-hole through which he could look, and welded to that eye-hole were six feet of pipe.

Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, humans not limited by that six feet of pipe, have made us aware that time is relative, not a constant, but a variable. This idea of time being a dimension is gold for science fiction – including my own Anori Trilogy – because the author is only limited by perceptions, able to contract and pause, even reverse what we thought could only be one way. And yet the startling concept is regularly fumbled, beginning with H.G. Wells rudimentary application in The Time Machine.The incipient pattern has continued. Inception created a childish world where the rate of time slows by halves in the subconscious, while a vast array of movies – such as the Terminator franchise – send messengers from the future to wreak havoc on today. Interstellar offers the tritest concept of all: a physical space where moments may be checked out of a galactic library. Arrival doesn’t do much better than this. (Spoiler alert unless you’re reading this in the future.) The opening presents itself as a flashback, only to be revealed at the end as the future –  not a sleight of hand but a lie.

It, like Passengers, was doomed from the get-go, as Hollywood knows nothing about time, except that it’s money and that the first box office weekend better not be a black hole.

The most provocative film on time would have to be Primer; everything it lacks in budget ($7,000) is made up for in concept, the kind of thing even Einstein might enjoy.

Chris Nolan’s “Interstellar” Rip-Off

Interstellar is but a messy compilation of almost every science fiction film done before.

It opens as Shyamalan’s Signs – a paranormal tone established on a farm – and develops into Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind – the lead character following intuitive clues to a secret government installation.close_encountersOur cast goes off in search of other worlds – like all other star-bound yarns – and toils through predictable and half-developed space-age themes like isolation, claustrophobia and love in close quarters, with a couple of buddy-robots thrown in for laughs. Short circuitThe worst of the plagiarism is the sophomoric rip-off from 2001: A Space Odyssey. 936full-2001-a-space-odyssey-screenshotNolan makes repeated attempts at reaching a Kubrick-ian plateau by diving through worm holes, black holes and inner space, eventually arriving at a fifth dimension where time becomes a soft-focus library, from which the viewer can only beg to be released.

The only way this film could be made more tedious would be to view it on Dr. Miller’s Water Planet (pictured below) where an hour equals seven earth-bound years. Interstellar-Dr. Miller's PlanetThat’s right, 21 straight years of Matthew McConaughey tearing up because he can’t age fast enough.

Instead of Interstellar, I recommend a 1996 episode of The Outer LimitsWorlds Apart. Screenshot (522)As cheap as the special effects may be, the story is the same and it’s free on-line.