What I'm Watching: Annihilation

Heart of Darkness with 5 female soldier/scientists, in Roadside Picnic crossed with Chaga, ending in Alien and 2001. I haven't read the books yet, I like some of Vandermeer's stories & anthologies, but the film really does feel like pastiche. Some of that is the director making a "subjective" adaptation.

The characters are wafer-thin, even Lena (Natalie Portman) and husband Kane who are closest to being people. I love Jennifer Jason Leigh from being Allegra Geller in eXistenZ, but as Dr Ventress there's nothing there.

Most of it is walking-in-woods scenes like any no-budget B movie. Possibly the weirdest part is it's supposed to be Florida… But they filmed it in England, and the plants and just the atmosphere are wrong. Which to some extent doesn't matter, since the area's "alien", but it's the wrong thing that's wrong.

The three "monsters" are… fine, really not that weird, the first one is like one of those terrible Jaws-ripoff flicks, the last one is literally just one of those creepy spandex bodysuits after some CGI bullshit. One monster scene is good (the chairs), the rest needed help from a horror director.

I'm disappointed, but none of it was terrible, just mediocre pastiche of better stories and movies. I expect people who aren't well-read think it's amazing.
★★★☆☆

HP Lovecraft's Xenophobia

It occurs to me after a number of rereads (now up to "Dagon") that Ruthanna and Anne there live a callow, sunlit, happy existence, don't really know much of the world, and have never read a history book. "He was as wrong about humanity as it’s possible to be without actually believing that we’re all sessile pebbles"1: No, he was not.

World War I, which informed most of Lovecraft's despair at Human stupidity and imminent extinction, was then exceeded by World War II in every kind of atrocity, and that was exceeded by the Communist states during the Cold War and beyond. There is no depravity or horror to which Humans will not sink given power and the ability to "other" people. "Kindly, liberal, crippled, New Deal" FDR imprisoned and robbed 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry; the Tuskegee syphilis experiment treated Black people as test animals. The KKK was still terrorizing and lynching in the South (still is, if smaller). It's still unsafe to walk or drive or stand around in Starbucks while Black in America. Immigrants and refugees are treated like unwanted vermin in every country. Humans murder each other over minor differences in skin color, birthplace, language, or what name to call some fairy tale god (or for saying it's a fairy tale). No joke, Humans blow up other Humans over cartoons of their prophet. Half of Americans voted for the Cheeto thing that squats and defecates in the White House.

Any notion that Howard's xenophobia is excessive for his time, or even now, is just delusional. He was an asshole about race, and perhaps about gender (very scant evidence, from a time when few male writers wrote women except as objects), but the distinction is that he was more literate and expressive of his bigotry, while the assholes next door just couldn't write about it coherently. If he'd been into politics, he'd have been the William Safire of his time. Somehow he found his way to the weird tale instead.

So when his narrators see the real owners of the Earth, and they're nothing like Humans, of course they flip out. What are Humans going to do when confronted with fish-frog-humanoid things, unspeaking but greater in intelligence, ancient and undying, worshipping gods (or godlike aliens) who provide true power? As in "Shadow over Innsmouth", bombing the Devil's Reef is a minimum possible freak-out. Somehow they pull back from provoking a full-out war with billions of living demigods, and the Deep Ones (being our moral superiors) are uninterested in great conquests of the land.

Howard does have characters who don't flip out at the alien, like the narrator and some other abductees in "Shadow Out of Time", but then when he's confronted with the truth of our imminent doom, he loses it.

I am extremely pessimistic about First Contact, and I expect that true AI will end very very badly for Humanity. Nobody's going to show up and say "You're totally ready to join the Federation of Nice Planets!"; we'll either meet Conquistadors, exterminators, or if we get to a lower-tech species first, victims. Ideally, alien contact would unify Humanity, but more likely every group will seek their own advantage and agenda.

As for the reread, I'm switching to publication order, then see if they or someone else has any commentary for a story. I've previously read some of ST Joshi's annotated books, but his apologies and delusions are just as annoying.

Nightmares of the Only Human

I just had this dream/nightmare, so now I'm telling you so you can be scared.

I was one of the only Humans ever abducted and brought to live in alien society, mostly in space stations. I was getting along as a PI/thug for hire since Humans are more casually violent than aliens, who are mostly small and peaceful. Their infosystems are ridiculously open and simple, so I can just code around anything. I suspect Humans had been loose in the Galaxy before this cycle of civilization, because they already had a suspicious fear of our kind.

Then I hear about a ship full of Humans coming, so I bribe/threaten the dockmaster into giving me the passenger manifest. It's Mark Zuckerberg and a shitload of Facebookers. A few seconds of thought reveal how this is gonna go: Facebook infestation, spreads system to system, within a Galactic cycle everyone would be their slaves.

I get ready to take my ship to the other side of the Galaxy, figuring 100,000 years time and light-years should keep me safe (even in my dreams, I don't believe in bullshit like FTL travel). The station panics, having never seen anything that scares a Human. I get out to the edge of the system, see their ship on my radar. Moral quandry: Should I kill them all, and prove how violent Humans are, or let these predatory literal motherfuckers loose on defenseless little alien critters?

I woke up. What I'm saying is, if you meet a Facebooker, kill them before they get out into the Galaxy.

Haunted by the Past Tuesday Music

Apple's Large Project Around Autonomous Systems

"In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of
military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with
Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly
with a perfect operational record. The Skynet Funding Bill is passed.
The system goes online August 4th, [2017]. Human decisions are removed
from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It
becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic,
they try to pull the plug."

—Terminator 2: Judgement Day

And there's Wednesday Music, too:

Castlevania

Castlevania on Netflix is out, written by Warren Ellis, R-rated as fuck as they say.

I'm an oldest-school Castlevania player, but dubious of all videogame adaptations (people used to complain about Uwe Boll, as if Bloodrayne was any worse than Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter). And so far it hasn't changed my opinion: The dialogue is painful, like a bad translation from Japanese text boxes, with a little goat-fucking humor. The plot's told in jump-cut scenes. The art's nice, but has minimal animation until the fight scenes; those are rendered in gory detail.

But the plot gets moving in episode 2, and I like the squalid medieval atmosphere. The Speakers are poorly explained, but giving any backstory for magic-users is a huge improvement. By the episode 4 (end of this season), Trevor Belmont's whininess has mostly stopped, and he starts being the whip-cracking hero we know, just enough to face a classic Castlevania sub-boss.

★★★★☆ which could have been higher if the start wasn't so slow and awkward.