When I was about 11 years old I started transitioning from fantasy books to science fiction. As I’ve mentioned before, this was perhaps hilariously the fault of Piers Anthony who himself flipped back and forth between fantasy and scifi at a moments notice. But I was young and impressionable and for some reason the Elf Quest wasn’t cutting it anymore.
Late one night, long past when I should have been up, I began watching a movie on the local access network. I never caught the name of the movie and 20 years later can hardly remember the plot, save for one aspect: the main character is a woman in a dystopian future who fights the man. There is pregnancy involved. Fin.
And despite perhaps the bulk of the film going over my head, I believe that was the first major turning point for my current tastes in scifi. I like it dark, I like it grim, and I like it depicting a world on the brink of failing altogether.
Which is all to bring me to a somewhat unbelievable point: the movie? Appeared on Hulu today.
Equally surprising is how it made me feel while watching it; after the initial thrilled deja-vu I realized it wasn’t a good movie.
It is okay for what was likely a microscopic budget, but the acting is evenly poor (every minor security guard character over-acts with the passion of a person who believes that someone in Hollywood might see this movie and think, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull! What a fantastic actor Security Guard #5 is!”) and the motivation of humanity is totally non-existent. Compare and contrast with films like THX-1138 and Twelve Monkeys, where the powerlessness of individuals is all for that classic irony of a better world, and Birthright emerges as a particularly unsatisfying and unclear snapshot into what could easily just be an Eastern European country circa now.
Mostly disturbing to me was the flip of what made The Handmaid’s Tale (R.I.P., Natasha Richardson) a nicely complex little moral briar of post-modern feminism. Where Handmaid’s Offred is still a sexual being haunted by memories of her missing (and presumed dead) husband and her stolen daughter, Birthright’s Sarah is infantile and aimless, seeking only to become a mother despite repeated warnings that it is no longer “allowed” and “even if it were, it is no longer necessary.”
It is not just that she wants to have a child to raise, it is that Sarah wants to be impregnated with her own child and then raise it. Early in Birthright Sarah is offered the care of a 6 year-old child that has already been “educated and socialized” (I think we are to read: indoctrinated) by the comically evil Dr. Steiner. Sarah refuses it. Afterwards she is sent back to the giant laundry-factory¹ where she is scolded for “failing to meet the quota” because yes! Quotas and failing to meet them, that sounds dystopian!
In fact, as the movie progresses one wonders what Sarah would truly want if she were just allowed to breed – anything at all? I suppose that wanting to bear and raise a child is representative of wanting a freedom over one’s own body, but this greater analogy doesn’t pass along to Sarah at all; her single-minded desire to become pregnant takes on a cretinous quality that began to disgust me. Again, not because she wants a child, but because for her there is no bigger picture. There is no indignation, no subversive individuality, just the same pedantic bleating of “I want my own child!” over and over again.
Birthright‘s writer and director, Lynn Wegenka, makes a small effort to ameliorate Sarah’s infuriating passivity by having two older, more vocal women in her life, though neither of whom do much more than encourage Sarah’s desire. I mean, yes, it’s horrible that she can’t have children if she wants to, but maybe we can also discuss that everyone is living in what appears to be an abandoned, underground sanatorium where everyone has to dress the same and sleep on rusty cots and deviation results in death?
The strangest part is that of the few scenes I remember from my youth, one of them isn’t in the film. Unless I just completely missed it while watching it and spacing out — which is possible — but I remember a scene where Sarah sees a birthing center where fertile women are rendered brain-dead so they can produce babies without argument or interference. I can clearly envision it, women lined up on tables, bulging fecund abdomens draped in white sheets. Could it be that I completely imagined what would be the best scene of the movie? Or am I super-imposing a scene from another movie? The brain, it is a mystery.
Of note: since Birthright, Wegenka has been sadly relegated to be second assistant director for something like two-dozen made-for-TV movies. On the list of accolades I saw Better Off Dead and squawked — turns out it is the 1993 made-for-TV-movie Better Off Deadabout a dramatic lawsuit. Yeah. I know.
¹I guess the dystopian part of the future is that it becomes the Hell of Female Stereotypes?
This is hard to articulate and even harder to admit, and I expect and deserve a backlash from both my friends and angry strangers, but sometimes, like today, I get a thrill out of not participating in our society.
A while back my mom told me a story, which I am no doubt mangling here but seeing as I am too lazy to call her and clarify, I will paraphrase it for you.
Long ago, before my mom became an angry nurse, she was at some kind of stoner hippie party where a guest of honor was a man we’ll call The Magus. The Magus was a self-proclaimed clairvoyant of great self-proclaimed renown, and sort of shmoozed his way around the party, generally grossing my mom out. I imagine him as corpulent and wearing a great deal of patchwork velvet, so I’ll pass that image along to you. Anyway: my mom realized, as the evening wore on, that this fellow either had no paranormal abilities or wasn’t sharing them. Either way, she was done with his ass.
But he was getting more intoxicated and eventually responded to someone’s insistence that he tell them something about the future by tersely saying, “When America elects a black president, we will be near the end.”
At the time she was disgusted at the sudden burst of bigotry that came from him, left the party and forgot about it.
30+ years later, she tells me on the phone in a kind of nonchalant airiness, “What if he wasn’t being a bigot? What if it was a point of fact?”
I like to say that I just don’t have any social ideology, but the reality is that I have a very, very pessimistic one. I’m paranoid, I suppose, in that I don’t believe that “voting” has any real outcome, or that anyone in political office has the “people” in mind (what’s that old adage? that the desire to be in a position of control should automatically disqualify you?), but since this feeling manifests as a vague disapproval, perhaps I’m not paranoid after all. Yet again, “grumpy” is the best descriptor.
My point: this morning I said to Halcyon, “I get a thrill at the thought of not voting today. Like I’m really committing to my beliefs.”
Hal: “Well, the vote in California doesn’t matter, so you might as well do it.”
me: “And also, I feel like I’d be a hypocrite when I riot after McCain gets elected.”
We don’t really discuss politics much here, mostly because we’re all busy squirreling away canned goods and machetes for the coming apocalypse. For the record though, Halcyon would have voted Edwards, Leesa spills a cup of blood to her Obama shrine every sundown and I will probably forget to vote. That doesn’t stop this from making me shoot iced tea out my nose.
When I was 10 years old I read a book titled Missile Envy, by Dr. Helen Caldicott. It is a sensationalist account of what a nuclear attack on a city would be like, including the preceding events and the aftermath. Then, as in now, Dr. Caldicott is scolded for her emotional, maternalistic feminism, a fact that was entirely lost on this pre-teen. As far as I knew it was as untainted an account as any – and after all, is there any other way to present the details of what is essentially a planet-buster? Anyway, it started a lifelong preoccupation with all things nuclear (and lightly related: chemical warfare). It was my Nightmare on Elm Street – it terrified me and I couldn’t get enough of it.
I saw Silkwood on television and became convinced that bologna and/or cheese slices were tainted with radiation. Luckily no one in my family ate bologna.
I believe it was Dr. Caldicott’s book that stated (erroneously?) that some common radioactive element smelled like garlic, a fact that haunted me for years. Combined with Silkwood, I thereafter had nervous fantasies that my showers were tainted with radiation, to the point where I powerfully hallucinated smelling garlic. Oddly, I can’t eat enough garlic.
Shortly thereafter I read a magazine article about improperly discarded nuclear waste, a story in which a foreign child finds a small chunk of pasty, glittery blue material. The child then smears some of the blue glitter on his/her body and pockets the rest. Within the week the child is dead, the regions where the blue paste had been smeared are rotting away and a orange-sized pit in the thigh near where the remainder of the chunk had rested for several hours. A local doctor is at a loss. I became hyperaware of suspicious items in the trash and assumed them to have a half-life of 1,000 years.
Fuel containing mass emerging from ducts (image has been altered with black lines to enhance visibility of slag)
Chernobyl, unsurprisingly, had occurred around this time. I can and do spend hours reading about it. Among the aspects I find most fascinating is the phenomenon of radioactive lava that formed during the explosion. Some 95% of the uranium became what is referred to as “fuel containing mass,” or molten fuel slag. The lava splooged in waves through the facility, down four levels by running through pipes and channels and sometimes melting clean through walls. The slag cooled and hardened into a super-ceramic that scientists later had trouble chipping a sample from (they ended up firing at it with a rifle to get a chunk off; there goes that old adage about not shooting molten fuel slag). One slag outcrop is referred to as “The Elephant Foot” and is so radioactive it cannot be approached by living things, even in protective suits.
A moment of silence for Spock.
Another aspect about Chernobyl that still gets me going is the rumored mutations that have since evolved in the surrounding countryside. As expected there are a plethora of strange tales, including glowing trees, over-sized and overconfident wolves, “Chernobyl Snowmen” and colonies of vicious squirrels.
Some movie from my childhood that really stuck with me: a kind of biography about the men of the early atom bomb tests who may or may not have been used as guinea pigs by being exposed to fallout. There was a scene where the men almost immediately begin to vomit a kind of white, creamy bad-movie vomit, the little spitted mouthfuls kind (I don’t know about you, but when I puke there had better be a bucket ready)(okay, except for that time in Seattle when I threw up all over the sidewalk and a waitress accused me of being drunk but I was having some kind of allergic reaction to surf clam). It was the first time that I understood that radiation sickness wasn’t like getting a cold: it is instantaneous, irreversible and horrid.
On November 1st of 2006, Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by a lethal dose of polonium-210 slipped into his tea cup. While the entire story is intense and worth looking up (a teaser: the most likely suspect for the actual act is “Igor the Assasin“, an ex-KGB judo master who walks with a limp), it’s worth noting that polonium-210 is not a typical gamma-type radioactive element (think: Chernobyl/Hulk) – it emits alpha particles, the kind that can be blocked by a piece of notebook paper. Alpha particles don’t set off airport detectors or even geiger counters under certain conditions. Polonium-210 must be ingested or inhaled, and the victim will die a slow, painful and terrible death.
Just in case radiation doesn’t impress you enough, here’s a little treat from Wikipedia:
It is interesting to note that, under some conditions, shielding can increase the dose rate. For instance, if the electrons from a high energy beta source … strike a lead surface, X-ray photons will be generated (radiation produced in this way is known as bremsstrahlung). It is best for this reason to cover any high Z materials (such as lead or tungsten) with a low Z material such as aluminum, wood, plastic. This effect can be significant if a person wearing lead-containing gloves picks up a strong beta source. Also, gamma photons can induce the emission of electrons from very dense materials by the photoelectric effect; again, by covering the high Z material with a low Z material, this potential additional source of exposure to humans can be avoided. Furthermore, gamma rays can scatter off a dense object; this enables gamma rays to “go around corners” to a small degree. Hence, to obtain a very high protection factor, the path in/out of the shielded enclosure should have several 90 degree turns rather than just one.
Sorry if you’re a regular reader here for scifi, but apocalyptic weather is pretty awesome. And I don’t mean like “Awesome, dude!” but “Lo, and His Wrath was Awesome.” I might not be making any sense. It’s early and I stayed out late dancing last night. We left when my friend’s leg was humped and a woman flung her hair at me and showered me with hot sweat. You know that scene? In the second Matrix movie? Where there is the giant, damp, underground hippy rave? It was like that.
Turns out Leesa, our Ship Engineer, took some photos afterall! Almost certainly to make a fool of me, but I’ll take it where I can get it.
She’s one of the very few who have power right now, thus proving that God may not totally hate Jews. Good job, GalacticMu crew!
33% of this website’s personality and 107% of it’s computer skillz is facing the oncoming path of Hurricane Ike.
In honor of this imminent bad news, I’d like to recount the following conversation during the last hurricane about a week ago.
Sunday: Hey, I turned on the news and the weather guy was all, “Great news everyone, New Orleans is going to be fine! The hurricane is headed for Houston!” They seemed really happy that the hurricane was headed for my best friend.
Leesa: It’s okay, New Orleans doesn’t need that shit. Sometimes I turn on the news and the weathermen are like, having these dramatic fits all A HURRICANE IS HEADED RIGHT FOR YOU and a few hours later there’s a light rain. You know what we call them?
Leesa: Hurri-CAN’Ts. Get it?
Sunday: I get it. I was just wondering if you could evacuate to Austin or something.
Leesa: Ooooh no. No. You know what will happen when the storm gets to Austin?
Sunday: It’ll turn into art cars?
Leesa: Tornadoes. Those things are fucked. They’re like, weather’s Velociraptor. You’re just sitting outside, minding your own business and BLOU! It snatches your baby! And your house!
Two movie posts in one day! I know, but it’s summer blockbuster time which means one thing: getting excited over what is coming out next year.
I’m not ashamed to defend my love of the Terminator franchise, and like any true love I can admit to its failings. The Sarah Connor Chronicles, for example – I’ve never seen a whole episode and while I like the concept, something in me just fails to get a nerd boner. I can wait until they come out on DVD, and even then I’m not going to be breathing heavy all over my Netflix waiting for the Saturday night clock to roll over to New On DVD day.
But imagine my temporary blackout when I learned that Christian Bale was set to not only be John Connor, but to star in a possible trilogy of post-apocalyptic machine-war movies. This! Is! Me! Hitting myself in the head with a nerdstick! There is bad news, as always: the producers have made it clear they want the franchise to become PG-13, unlike the first trilogy, to “broaden audiences.” I like the generous wording of “broaden audiences,” it sounds so much more respectable than “make more money” and “abandon integrity”. But there is also strange news: since The Governator cannot reprise his most famous role due to some conflict having to do with being a politician or something, they’ve hired Roland Kickinger, a Schwarzenegger look-alike. I can’t imagine that someone pretending to be Schwarzenegger pretending to be a robot could be any worse than the original, but time will tell I suppose.
All this aside, this is the story I’ve always wanted to see: the resistance, John Connor meeting his paradox-headache-inducing teenage father, Kyle Reese, GIANT MACHINE ARMIES. You know, the important things.
There I am: 20-something, cute, blonde and utterly and horrifyingly without a Cadillac Escalade. I am, in fact, totallycarless. And I have to throw a giant balloon party in 4 hours. OMG.
The situation is grave, but I’ll just have to call a cab. I mean, have to do whatever you pay them to do. Stuff ‘em in there harder, Juan! Or, Aziz! Whatever!
Well, that worked out just cherry! Let’s be off, Luigi! What are you – oh, right. There’s a whole other bundle of balloons. Um. I guess, try and put them here – oh, watch out for my Blackberry. I need that in my hand.
Mhrh Mph! Hbbt.
(squeak!) Unh, uh, hello? Oh hi! Yeah, I’m on the freeway. Oh, just getting some stuff for the awesome balloon party later. Where are you?