Category Archives: Literature

Masterpiece of the week, times two: a brief review

Mary Karrs, Liars’ Club – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

What is it that marks the greatness of these two writers? — Karr, telling with raw courage her childhood in a soul-taxing East Texas; Mitchell, writing lives within lives and books within books, in this ultra-novel novel that inspired the inspiring movie.

They are all in. There is no playing nice with cardboard language, it is all guts and demarcation of verbal innovation at every turn. Yet, a compulsive consistency in voice in character, whether narration or dialogue, interior/exterior, Texan or postapocalyptic, learned or simply articulate in the marrow of individuality.

Political-correct is out of its depth here.  We go to the heart of the matter, at any level of truth or stage-play, set-up or exposition.  There is no stray static, no leaking gas. The engine is purring silently, weaving us to our destination.

Or rather, in the case of Cloud Atlas, it’s a thundering, intricate, Russian-doll / Chinese-box, six-cylinder Persian carpet. A literary masterpiece, in the best sense: breathtaking mastery of language in variety of genres, voices, eras, all convincing within each of of the six interlocking story lines.

And what better message for our times, than the final pages of Cloud Atlas (507–9):

My recent adventures have made me quite the philosopher, especially at night, when I hear naught but the stream grinding boulders into pebbles through an unhurried eternity. My thoughts flow thus. Scholars discern motions in history & formulate these motions into rules that govern the rises & falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary, however. To wit: history admits no rules, only outcomes.

What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts.

What precipitates acts? Belief.

Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history’s Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the “natural” (oh, weaselly word!) order of things?

Why? Because of this—one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.

Is this the doom written within our nature?

If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.

A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living. Upon my return to San Francisco, I shall pledge myself to the Abolitionist cause, because I owe my life to a self-freed slave & because I must begin somewhere.

I hear my father-in-law’s response: “Oho, fine. Whiggish sentiments, Adam. But don’t tell me about justice! Ride to Tennessee on an ass & convince the rednecks that they are merely white-washed negroes & their negroes are black-washed Whites! Sail to the Old World, tell ’em their imperial slaves’ rights are as inalienable as the Queen of Belgium’s! Oh, you’ll grow hoarse, poor & gray in caucuses! You’ll be spat on, shot at, lynched, pacified with medals, spurned by backwoodsmen! Crucified! Naïve, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!”

Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?

 

sanskrit

Arrival: Toward Nonlinear Time and Consciousness

In the film Arrival nonlinear time is understood through the structure of a language, specifically that which humans come to learn from the advanced beings who have paid a visit to our primitive time-bound planet. Theirs is ideogrammatic in form and concept, with fractal squiggles of ink delivering constellations of meaning. Inspired, I come out of the theatre wondering how English, for example, might be reprogrammed to convey the same sense of nonlinear time. Arrival uses the language of film: with cuts mid-scene, flashbacks and flashforwards, interposed with chronology. In life this understanding can be approached by synchronicity: in which forces converge to prove the apprehension of interconnectivity.

For example, as I sat through the largely actionless first half of the film, I was preoccupied with my own thoughts and feelings about relationship, a seeming distraction… until later, the film turns on a developing relationship between the two communications experts, the scientist and the linguist. A particular synchronicity appeared in the reference to the “non-zero-sum game,” one night after I had written in a blog post of the competing debates over climate change in just such terms. Was I prescient when writing those words the night before? Or I am merely aspiring to attach meaning to this random coincidence of which any person could find a similar recognition in any of the hundreds of dialogue snippets in the film? This is another ability of language: to use a particular instance to represent a universal condition.

sanskrit

 

If language can be a tool of cosmic understanding, as was attempted in the Vedas, can it also be used today as a weapon of peace, by which to blast open or subvert our conditioned minds to grasp the interconnection of all beings, the harmony of desires and common ground of multiple truths? Can this universe, this earth, this medium and this transmission of writer to reader stand for all possible universes, planets, media and conversations, embodying that feature essential to any successful communication, the transfer of understanding? Such learning might be the ultimate survival tool, which in fact, as Jared Diamond argues in The Third Chimpanzee, drove our very brain development in a period when the resulting cooperation proved essential to the species.

In further resonance with this key history of language, Diamond comes full circle to the present crossroads of history, quoted in an article (“Stay Alert, America: The Worst Is Yet to Come”) by John Whitehead, which I just read and shared prior to writing this article.

We’ve been stuck in this political Groundhog’s Day for so long that minor deviations appear to be major developments while obscuring the fact that we’re stuck on repeat, unable to see the forest for the trees.

This is what is referred to as creeping normality, or a death by a thousand cuts.

It’s a concept invoked by Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond to describe how major changes, if implemented slowly in small stages over time, can be accepted as normal without the shock and resistance that might greet a sudden upheaval.

Diamond’s concerns are environmental in nature, but they are no less relevant to our understanding of how a once-free nation could willingly bind itself with the chains of dictatorship.

Writing about Easter Island’s now-vanished civilization and the societal decline and environmental degradation that contributed to it, Diamond explains, “In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism… Why didn’t they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?”

His answer: “I suspect that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper.”

Much like America’s own colonists, Easter Island’s early colonists discovered a new world—“a pristine paradise”—teeming with life. Almost 2000 years after its first settlers arrived, Easter Island was reduced to a barren graveyard by a populace so focused on their immediate needs that they failed to preserve paradise for future generations.

This last conclusion dovetails with another film, which I saw last night, Before the Flood, which shows where we are now and we’re we’re headed if we don’t change our ways of living and our way of thinking—toward the eco-dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.

Indeed, my only hope as a wielder of language is that the skillful use of this tool will make possible wider and deeper understanding of what is possible, beyond the limits of our conventional bounded reality, personal and collective; a felt appreciation of the sacred beauty of nature’s creation, and of the possibility and necessity of living in harmony with it, and our fellow creatures, in body and spirit.

 

The Last Curtain: How Miles Mathis Destroyed (and Gave Me Back) My Life

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

—Edward Bernays (“father of public relations,” nephew of Freud, subject of BBC documentary Century of the Self )

Having just finished binge-reading my way through some fifty articles by researcher Miles Mathis, I go into 2017 with zero confidence that any news from the corporate media is real. The timing is ironic, given the hissy fit that the same mainstream media, led by the New York Times, has indulged in, over so-called “fake news.”

Thinking most of my adult life outside the box of the corporate media, and open minded to alternative theories of major news events such as the Kennedy assassination and 9/11, I already knew the CIA had its hooks in major media (admitted in Congressional testimony in 1975). And thanks to the prior research of Dave McGowan, I had already been alerted to the Intelligence connections of most of the California rock music bands of the sixties, not to mention the abundant evidence of fakery of the Moon landings.

Enter researcher Miles Mathis, to take the whole field of “conspiracy” research to a new level, exposing even most alternative theories as misdirection, and outing seemingly every mainstream cultural icon as an agent, accomplice or dupe of the Intelligence services, at the behest of the ruling elite. Mathis’ most radical vision is that even most alternative “conspiracy” theories (including those of McGowan) play into the larger deception or are a form of controlled opposition, hiding the bigger picture of events from public scrutiny, and reinforcing the illusion that controversial personalities, assassinations, and terror events were real at all.

Mathis explains the pitfall of most such “alternative” or “conspiracy” analyses:

They take a subject, say the Manson murders. They show you many anomalies in the mainstream story, and then give you a new reading. So, they seem to be presenting an alternative history. But if they accept that the Manson murders were real, they have just solidified the mainstream story, while seeming to undercut it. In most of these stories, the mainstream doesn’t care if you see anomalies, or if you think there are conspiracies. They don’t care who you think might be involved. All they care about is that you believe it happened. The details are superfluous. They don’t matter. What matters is the bottom line: that you believe the event happened. All these alternative histories sell the events at least as strongly as the mainstream ever did.

What, you may ask then, is the point of such misdirection? Mathis says that it is to distract and confuse, mis-educate and entertain the masses so we don’t rise up and toss out the rapacious billionaires who run this Matrix of a world. And if that sounds like a Marxist solution, think again, as Mathis shows even Marx was planted to divert popular energy from authentic grassroots organizations of political change, especially the so-called republican movements then on the rise in 1840s Europe.

I emerge from my binge reading of Mathis—artist, physics bad boy, cultural critic, and constant exposer of spooks—with every surety of my youth dispelled by his X-ray vision. Using extensive genealogy from mainstream sources, expert deconstruction of faked news photos, and persuasive logic bolstered by straight-up honesty of method and intent, with a charming way of presenting strong opinions as nothing other than personal speculation, Mathis has caused the house of cards to fall all around me.

All the historical hallmarks of my generation’s heyday, the sixties, lay toppled as shams. Yes, I already knew the Gulf of Tonkin incident was staged, that the mainstream verdict on the Kennedy murder was controlled, and that the Patti Hearst kidnapping was an Intelligence operation. But I still believed my path to truth lay in the writers and musicians who inspired my rise in consciousness above what I came to view as the materialistic mainstream culture and its warmongering government in the US. Now I find that the very icons of the so-called counterculture were themselves enmeshed in the mass deception.

Red Flags: Agents, Fakes, Staged Events and Controlled Opposition

We already know from official testimony that the CIA has controlled major media such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. From Mathis we see that also such supposedly independent outlets such as Salon, the Paris Review, and the Atlantic are similarly compromised.

Going back even before the official creation of the CIA in 1947, Intelligence fingerprints are found in all the major stories and figures of the history we were told in mass education and media. Here is a partial list of the scam personalities and events exposed by Mathis as tools of Intelligence agencies serving the agenda of global control by the elite: admitted agents, demonstrable fakes, staged events, controlled opposition, and dupes conscripted for damage control (in no particular order):

Alex Jones (Infowars), Mike Adams (Natural News), Kevin Barrett (Veterans Today), Geoengineering/Chemtrails, Leonardo DiCaprio, Theosophy and the Beat Generation, Peter Matthiessen, William Carlos Williams, Wendell Berry, Atomic/Hydrogen bomb blasts and tests, C. S. Lewis, George Fox, Fidel Castro and the Bay of Pigs, Karl Marx, Charles Manson / Sharon Tate murders, Ernest Hemingway, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, O. J. Simpson trial, Salem Witch Trials, Michael Crichton, T. S. Eliot, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, George Clooney, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Patti Hearst kidnapping, Lincoln assassination, Lennon assassination, Sandy Hook story, Maurice Strong, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Tom Wolfe, Abbie Hoffman, Steve Jobs, Jack London, Elon Musk and SpaceX, Mark Zuckerberg, Krishnamurti, Napoleon, Monica Lewinsky scandal, Daniel Ellsburg and the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Custer’s Last Stand, Stephen Hawking, Naomi Klein and Naomi Wolf, Hollywood, Adolf Hitler, Thomas Pynchon, Eugene Debs, Jane Fonda, Joseph Campbell, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Abstract Expressionism, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Walt Whitman, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul & Mary, Terence McKenna…

I confess to a certain generational bias here, for like Mathis (in his fifties), I am most disturbed by having the idols of my youth, and the truths I took to be self-evident facts of a delivered history in the making, turned into so much puppet theatre. Meanwhile, our personal angst of disillusionment aside, that manufactured history has marched on. The traditional battle lines between rich and poor, left and right, have been redrawn as neoliberals and neoconservatives have joined forces in launching the New World Order, leaving us peons outside the golden gates of the industrial/financial elite.

It is now the super-rich versus everyone else. Almost everyone who isn’t a billionaire is getting reamed right now, so your allies are everyone making less than $500,000 a year. That is a lot of allies… They don’t like working for corrupt paymasters, against their own neighbors and usually against their own better judgment…. The best thing that could happen is if America stood up and said no more… The hippies used to be at the forefront of that movement, and could be again. That is what it is to be a real progressive.

Modernism and Postmodernism

What Mathis does that is most relevant to the artist and writer is to puncture the balloon of modernism and postmodernism. And what exactly was modernism? Wikipedia’s definition is revealing, for it substantiates precisely that intended function as Mathis critiques it, casting realism, and by extension, content itself, into the dustbin of history:

Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences, were becoming ill-fitted to their tasks and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. The poet Ezra Pound‘s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past. In this spirit, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, atonal (or pantonal) and twelve-tone music, divisionist painting and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th century.

A notable characteristic of modernism is self-consciousness and irony concerning literary and social traditions, which often led to experiments with form, along with the use of techniques that drew attention to the processes and materials used in creating a painting, poem, building, etc. Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism.

Postmodernism simply extended the trend further in subjectivity and relativism (again, from Wikipedia): denying the “existence of objective reality and absolute truth, as well as notions of rationalityhuman nature, and progress…. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to epistemological and moral relativismpluralismself-referentiality, and irony.”

Thus these movements, which cover the entire spectrum of Western culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, were engineered and manipulated, coopted and directed, infiltrated and funded, for one purpose: the creative destruction of everything we have taken for granted as cultural and political citizen-consumers. These synthetic replacements have been planted in our brains as the most interesting and relevant forms and purposes of art, a campaign expressly designed to depoliticize us.

In this context the hidden agenda of the sixties documented by Mathis (and admitted by the CIA, in the form of their program MK-ULTRA, among others) makes sense: the promotion of a hedonistic culture of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. At the time, we who lived through that “revolutionary” era felt it as a genuine alternative to the previously promoted culture of the fifties, which celebrated the pursuit of happiness with makeup, a new car, and better living through chemistry, along with those same perennial addictions—sex appeal; booze, pills and cigarettes; the birth of rock ‘n roll.

To digress a moment into modern music, we had hard bop jazz pushing the edges of music as art (more than mass entertainment, which was the function of rock n roll, with its own lyrics, by the way, promoting sex, drugs and music)—to its limits where beyond lay John Cage, free jazz, and electronic abstraction. Of course the Beat writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg, whom I once loved, celebrated that very art and music in their writing and reflected it in their style: “spontaneous bop prosody.”

In the music culture since the early days of the century the jazz edge of music was allied with pot smoking. With CIA plants like Huxley and Leary pushing the psychedelics, that cultural wave was amped up and turned in the opposite direction of the concurrent wave of political protest. The progressive movement of the thirties had already got railroaded out of the picture by World War Two, but it became more threatening in the Civil Rights and Disarmament/Antiwar movements of the sixties and beyond. So, following Mathis’s logic, even those movements were coopted or turned or touted to fail, or deemed useful in demonizing those very advocates—militant Blacks, airy peaceniks, dirty hippies—thus creating false enemies within the society: the Left vs. the Right, liberals vs. conservatives, straight vs. stoned. Both the putative state—the visible, pre-elected government—and its decadent dissidents (or in popular terms, the “Silent Majority” and the “Radical Fringe”) were set to arguing on the playground, while the real business of Global Corporatocracy proceeded apace.

By advocating the primacy of form (“The Medium is the Message”), McLuhan and clan, like stage magicians, kept the audience’s eye on the trick. Content, especially political content about the all-too-real world, was to be left in the dust, forever. Even science, quantum theory and the relativity of everything to the all-powerful subjectivity of the individual observer, followed the same path, according to Mathis, so as to cast doubt on all claims of realism by anyone, especially political journalists.

In the lightning flash of a crack in the curtain of the magician’s chamber, we have Minister of Propaganda himself, Karl Rove, chiding a pesky reporter (Ron Susskind):

We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

What has happened in politics has happened in art, and by design, says Mathis. I admit this grudgingly because like everyone else I was brainwashed to hold in high esteem every icon of the mass education and entertainment industry, even those painted or pumped as rebels (my personal demigod Jimi Hendrix included, according to other researchers). Mathis gives a pass to Thoreau, and few other iconoclasts, but most of the rest of our cultural heroes prove, by instructive genealogy and demonstrably faked bios, darlings if not blood relatives of the Intelligence and Military wings of the Deep State (exhibit A being Jim Morrison of the Doors, son of the very same Admiral Morrison who presided over the faked Gulf of Tonkin incident which precipitated the full-scale launch of the Vietnam War).

When I digest such truths, it’s hard for me to believe anymore in my former indulgence with stream of consciousness writing or formless music. Now that I’m hooked back into content by Mathis and his ilk, I see the virtue of realism and formalism in art with new respect. The critique carries even into New Age spirituality, played so often to the classic Timothy Leary mantra, “Turn on, tune in, drop out”—negating engagement with the nasty real world of the ongoing despoliation of our fragile planet.

Trust Thyself

I come into 2017 seeing no verities left in the vacuum of popular culture, with its cooptation by the mega-corporations and intelligence insiders complete. Even the barricades of supposed resistance are manufactured and monitored for their effect, to give the illusion of dissent: manufactured dissent to complement the manufactured consent.

If a truly independent voice is to expressed, by a Thoreau or a Mathis or by you or me, it has no medium left but that of a local venue, or of an Internet and on a computer created and maintained and monitored by that very Military-Industrial complex. But no, wait, even that was misdirection from the deeper state, the Intelligence complex, the propaganda machine, the Oz wizards like Edward Bernays… surveying all from their towers, pulling hidden levers, carrying out the orders of the uber-rich to make sure the peasantry is well occupied with clashing their pitchforks together in those spare moments wrested from their eternal debt servitude.

“In the future,” Mathis prophesies, “every day will be a holiday. That is to say, every day will be used as an unsubtle psychological cue to some great lie. Every party you attend will have as its theme some specific item of your manufactured confusion. In this way, you will be taught to celebrate your own mis-education, and revel in it.”

In the face of such utter nihilism, we might retreat further, and in defense of our remaining sanity, brand Mathis himself as yet another misdirector, an ultimate agent of confusion, who is attempting to shoo us away from true assassinations and revolts and genuine actors of history whether good or evil. That is our prerogative, Mathis would agree; and to his credit, any conclusions he arrives at are offered not as truths for us to swallow, but rather as hypotheses in the spirit of scientific investigation, speculations resulting from evidence. The reader is the ultimate judge and jury of fact or fiction, logic or charade.

The antidote to our manufactured past and future history, I am consoled, is provided by the awareness of its many-layered illusions. The scary truth out there, I conclude from the evidence, is that we and our planet have been enslaved; but the empowering truth, I believe, is that the truth itself can set us free. Free to discard what is revealed as false; free to believe what rings true in our hearts; and free to act accordingly.


Further Reading:

Miles Mathis articles and updates

U.S. Government Has Long Used Propaganda Against the American People – official and mainstream documentation by Washington’s Blog

The Century of the Self – 4-part BBC documentary featuring PR guru Edward Bernays

Gnostic Media – extensive research on sixties era (incl. interview with elder Bernays)

Westworld, Now and Then

consciousnessWestworld, the popular 2016 TV series, is breathtaking in its multilayered presentation of reality and fiction. As the robots who serve as theme park “hosts” gradually gain glimpses of their own condition, they become self-aware. Identifying with these cyber-humans, each with their own engineered backstory and narrative loops, we realize that like them, we are locked within patterns of programmed behavior, interrupted by glimpses of the possibility of freedom.  

now-trip-blueAfter watching two episodes before sleep one night, I awoke the next morning like one of the hosts—“as from a dream”—wondering at my own knowledge of it now, and the capacity to create my own new narrative on the fly.

Commentary at the meta level of story creation interlaces the dialogue of the show, with frequent references to the narrative framing of the theme park’s creators (chiefly Anthony Hopkins, in a role surpassing Hannibal Lecter). As viewers we are encouraged by this ironic device to question our given reality, to see our place in our own repetitive plots and to imagine a wider world beyond our immediate lens.

As with Groundhog Day (or my paranormal adventure novella, Rendezvous at Jumbo Pass), the device of the time loop, or repeated scenes and action sequences, is critical to the growth of the characters’ dawning understanding of their condition, and to our identification with that gradual process of dawning self-awareness.

Westworld (1973)

poster-westworldThe TV series is modeled on the original premise of Westworld, a 1973 screenplay by Michael Crichton. Owing to a shoestring budget, the film’s scene construction is generic in the extreme. Chrichton himself, in notes from the making of Westworld, resigns himself to an array of token machinery merely suggesting scientific advance.

In this memo to his production design team, Michael Crichton explains the look he wants for the Westworld Robot Repair Room.

“I hesitate to state this so bluntly, but this movie is fantasy and in the end I don’t really care if the equipment surrounding each table is ‘appropriate’ or not, so long as the total effect is impressive and organized in some way.  There is a fine line between a thrown-together look, and an organized look.”

From the Robot Repair room we cut to Roman world, stock characters posing in stock sets, static and patently fake—which is perfectly appropriate, since the park itself is fake.

Later the two main characters, park guests, reflect on the simulation while sunning themselves in the desert:

“It’s as real as anything else.”

“Yup, I reckon.”

This brief nod to the central metaphor of Westworld is about as meta as it gets in the 1973 film, which otherwise plays to the one-dimensional nature of the old westerns whose tropes it incorporates, without depth in character, plot or theme.

The more overt theme concerns the darker side of the park (as in the later Crichton work, Jurassic Park). The consumeristic dream, marketed as “fail-safe,” turns to nightmare when the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) turns rogue. Twenty minutes later, wide-eyed, he discovers fire; in the process becoming more reflective (i.e., more human) and thus, vulnerable.

The death of the Gunslinger at the end of the film illustrates the wide gap in cinematography and viewer attention spans in the forty-three years between productions. The action stops for over a full minute (unthinkable by today’s standards), switching between the smoking robot corpse on the floor, and Richard Benjamin’s florid expression of finality.

Futureworld (1976)

brainwaves2Like the first film, the sequel, Futureworld,  is so cardboard in its presentation, one is tempted to think the intent is ironic, fitting with the nature of the theme park’s simulated worlds. But where is the knowing wink, the stylish contrast, the flash of deeper meaning? In truth, in the absence of any visible framing, one is left to discard the effort as a tawdry genre flop.

As with the original Westworld, descriptors that come to mind include: generic, unimaginative, flat, stock, hackneyed, amateurish, laughable, shallow. Examples abound: the red plastic tape supposedly collecting biometric data on the faces of the clonees; the stultifying dialogue (“Um, yup”); the empty corridors; the computer banks with their flashing lights, whirling data disks, and rudimentary graphics (albeit state-of-the-art in that era).

When Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) glimpse for the first time the clones of themselves and world leaders, Ballard emotes, “Oh my God. I don’t believe it.”

Browning then deems it necessary to explain the obvious: “They’re duplicates. They’re creating and programming duplicates of real people… politicians and commissars and generals. They’ve all been replaced by these things.” The earthshaking metaphorical implications of such a revelation notwithstanding, the presentation is delivered without nuance.

At the climax of the action, Ballard confronts her own duplicate in a showdown on the street of the deserted Westworld town: “What are you?”

“You.”

Postscript: PsyBot (2014)

coverAt first glance the chapters of virtual reality experienced by Joe Norton in the novel PsyBot (originally titled Future.Net, then Future.Con) appear like those of the Delos theme park, Futureworld.  The various modules generated by the PsyBot virus are analogous to the Delos theme offerings (Westworld, Romanworld, Medievalworld, Futureworld, and Spaworld)—with the key difference that programmer Joe Norton is unwitting victim instead of paying guest. Both presentations serve to cast ironic light on the glitzy promises offered by such escapist fantasies.

biometric_visaIn such a light the transparent artificiality of characters, setting, and plot within the virtual reality modules themselves is, to use Crichton’s term, “appropriate.” The viewer/reader is invited to understand the nature of the illusion and to apply such discrimination in one’s “real” life, so permeated as it is with confident claims of happiness deliverable for a price.

Tellingly, Michael Crichton the writer explains his preference for dealing with this kind of theme in film instead of in a novel, his usual forte:

The actual detailing of these three worlds—and also the kinds of fantasies that people experienced in them—were movie fantasies, and because they were movie fantasies, they got to be very strange-looking on the written page. (http://www.michaelcrichton.com/westworld/)

virtual-reality-220mainStrange indeed, then, are the scenes encountered by unwilling volunteer Joe Norton in PsyBot, as he navigates the alien Hookup Room, the Saragossa Space Station, the virtual planetoid Desertia, and the cartoonish nightmare known as Witch Bay. Patently unreal—except to the poor schmuck whose brain has been co-opted to experience them as all too real.


Further Reading…

Rendezvous at Jumbo Pass: A Twisted Tale of Wilderness Adventure9780981143132

PsyBot: A Novel of Virtual Reality

Mind Control: Fiction or Nonfiction