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What I'm Watching: BLAME!

BLAME! was a manga by Tsutomu Nihei from the late '90s/early '00s, like the result of listening to the Terminator soundtrack and Front Line Assembly and drawing that. A weird loner named Killy with an overpowered gravity gun, wanders an infinitely large ruined city, infested with Exterminators that want to kill all the unauthorized Humans, as he searches for someone with the Net Terminal Gene which would allow Humans to connect to the city again. It's bitter and mostly silent, harsh industrial lines and weird kabuki-masked spidery bots and fake people.

It's not quite "cyberpunk", because it's not the street finding new uses for (military-corporate) technology, but techno-savages trying to survive the street killing them. Cyber-apocalyptic, like Terminator's future, Screamers, or Hardware.

What I didn't know is there was a movie made, available on Netflix!

And, uh, it's the manga. The point of view characters are Human survivors in a village, and why they were mostly safe (but dying out) until Killy shows up is the main plot. The city is as brutal and unliveable as the manga, and the technical scenes are fantastic. Killy is quiet and blank, because he knows they're screwed and they don't have what he wants, but he'll help as long as it's practical and he might get some advantage over Safeguard. Very slight nitpicks: There's only a couple of bot designs instead of the rampant cyberization of Human and near-Human and the whole environment of the manga. There's a plot twist I didn't see any clues for, but I might've spaced out at some run-and-scream bit. There's a lack of discussion of the nature and motives of Cibo, that I think was also needed. Maybe the Man in Black Rides Off Into the Sunset ending and denouement is a little trite for the manga which is so harsh and unforgiving. But for anime adaptation of an impossibly harsh and inhuman source material, I've never seen better.

★★★★★

What I'm Reading: Instantiation, by Greg Egan

Egan's always been best at short story length, writing an idea that cuts away your Human delusions of self-importance and self-awareness, and then terminates. His characters have maybe more depth now than they did 30 years ago, but it's focused on the task at hand. A number of these skip forward in time rapidly, sketching out a scene and then a # section break and it's months or years later; generally obvious from context, but I'd prefer timestamps.

I'll try to be vague but it's impossible to say even how a story worked for me, without some hint of what it is; you might want to read these cold. If so, you can probably skip Uncanny Valley or Break My Fall.

 

  • The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine: The soft AI apocalypse, as they take our jobs but nobody can figure out how to stop it. Borderline positive view of Human adaptability, which we also got in Perihelion Summer, which is always a little surprising from Egan.
  • Zero For Conduct: Afghan girl in Iranian school cultural piece, see also Egan's novel Zendegi, with a bit of SF on the side; I don't believe the SF widget is plausibly that easy, or it would be found by someone other than the protagonist, but it's a cute enough story.
  • Uncanny Valley: Legal wrangling around a kind of immortality. I've previously read this online, and was bored out of my skull by it then; the character development/backstory would be interesting if the setup wasn't all for accountants and lawyers.
  • Seventh Sight: Not quite a Reasons to be Cheerful but improved sight doesn't make everything better. OK, sure. I would expect this to be commonly available as glasses or a shitty phone app long before it became available as implants, bicycles before rockets and all that. Feels like a Vernor Vinge short story, in the good idea/half-assed delivery way.
  • The Nearest: Excellent story about alienation and how fallible Human meat brains are. Almost exactly what I read Egan for (although there's no technical cause or solution, which he'd normally provide).
  • Shadow Flock: How do you defend against insect-sized drones? Almost every kind of security is just nonexistent. Egan barely touches on this; it's kind of a straightforward heist story with the inevitable twist (see also Rick & Morty S4E03 "One Crew"). I think I have some technical arguments against the sight & sound suite these things have, real insects don't have great senses because physics makes it difficult, but maybe it's solveable with enough software post-processing?
  • Bit Players: A woman calling herself Sagreda awakes in a world that makes no sense, immediately tests the physics and deduce the nature of the world, and exploits that, as life always does. So, this is 100% in my wheelhouse. But I question the peaceful nature of this world. Maybe it's just lucky that there's not psychotic adventurers running thru here, and the next world over is blood-soaked? James P. Hogan's Realtime Interrupt and Terry Bisson's In the Upper Room deal with this at length, and I'd like to see Egan address it beyond contempt for barrel-bottom shovelware and misuse of AI. Also the setting reminds me strongly of one of my favorite joke D&D adventures, There's No Place Like Up by Paul Jaquays, in WG7 Castle Greyhawk: "If the PCs wish, they can fall forever".
  • Break My Fall: I assume this is a fragment from a book in progress, or perhaps a fragment that didn't gel into a book; it seems of a similar setting to The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred. An interesting if unlikely low-powered spaceflight solution, a disaster, and people doing their best to fix it… but it goes nowhere and the finale has no closure at all.
  • 3-adica: Sequel to Bit Players, Sagreda and Mathis move on to new worlds and try to find the way out. The world most of it is in, is the kind of shithole I would expect adventurers to like. The titular world is a bizarre mathematical premise, like Rudy Rucker's White Light, and I don't know how to visualize it; I get the trick of movement, but not how you'd even exist particle-by-particle within it. Very much the middle third of a novella.
  • The Slipway: A cosmic disaster story, the like of which Egan hasn't done since Distress or Diaspora. The Pane's an interesting Big Dumb Object, and reminds me of the Artifacts in Charles Sheffield's Summertide series, but I think either people would panic to the point of global disaster, or not care in the least, and the middle ground here is unstable. I'm not clear on how you get the long-distance view until old light has passed and new light reaches the Earth, a few years out. On the one hand, this is the safest possible place for Earth, on the other hand it's not great for long-term exploration, and on the gripping hand I would be surprised if there were any more Panes in their new location.
  • Instantiation: The finale of Bit Players and 3-adica, Sagreda spends much of this one following someone playing Kurt Gödel in a Vienna intellectuals killing Nazis game. I understand Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem (mostly?), but every explanation of it in plainer English/German sound more insane than the last. A moderately clever heist/con game, and finally a conclusion to a story. Yes, for once Egan mostly wrapped up a story without an apocalypse or "well what do I do now?"

★★★★★ despite a couple clunkers

Cyberpunk Meditation Wednesday Music

Reminder: I have useful helper scripts for youtube-dl and VLC, ytplaylist

What I'm Maybe Watching: Omniscient

Brazilian show about pervasive personal drone (annoying little robot bees that don't need to recharge?) surveillance and a murder that somehow isn't recorded, but the premises are so stupid it Black Mirrors itself:

  1. Surveillance footage is impossible for humans to watch and held by a trustworthy AI. What government would let that happen?
  2. AI is still somehow Human-programmed by 2 whole programmers & a couple interns. As opposed to the hundreds or thousands on less complex project teams IRL. That's convenient for the plot which has to obviously point at one of these programmers.

Girl protagonist (Carla Salle) is super cute, tho. Gidget/Amelie/Audrey Hepburn type.

So I may watch another to see if it sinks further into Black Mirror/The Scary Door territory.