Thursday, 28 January 2010

"Don't be an asshole, Deckard. I've got four skin-jobs walking the streets".

Well ok, not quite yet. But everytime I read something about the military sponsorship of regenerative medicine, I start to imagine the Tyrell Corporation doing subcontracting work for Weyland Yutani. Remember though, the thesis of the cyborganisation of the human is not just about the militarisation of our hearts and minds, but rather a more general commodification. According to this logic, capitalism will solve its accumulation crisis by colonising the inner frontier (our bodies), in tandem with the colonisation of outer space (spearheaded by the colonial marines, who may be private mercenaries, in contrast to the armies of nation states we are more familiar with). I'm very eager then to follow up Carl Abbott and William H Katerberg's work concerning sci fi's envisioning of capitalism's "spatial fix" (to use Marxist geographer David Harvey's term).

I realise there is an air of familiarity to these musings, not only because I've alluded to these issues before, but rather because they basically rework the familiar frontier thesis. But if this just sounds like "back to the future" syndrome (i.e. the more things change, the more they stay the same), this is true only up to a point. Privatisation will probably be of a different economy of scale than the mass conscript armies that were once mobilised by nation states. Its logic dictates instead that individual entrepreneurs' sense of entitlement, risk and adventure, will be the most likely means of realising Manifest Destiny- sorry, ahem- benefitting "all humanity".

The representation of heads of state in such a light can appear antiquated by comparison. Growing awareness of this cultural shift might explain the choice of the "steam punk" style in this series to convey an alternative "nostalgia for the future" (where allies can transcend narrow self interest in a war against fascism):

I referred earlier to the "colonial marines", and it reminds me of Ziauddin Sardar's point in his introduction to Aliens R Us about how the genre of sci fi has served the western, imperial imagination. Hence I'm always on the lookout for anything that can show in a critical light the developmental logics I've tried to highlight in this post. I'd recommend anything from Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia to, say, Ian MacDonald's River of Gods. Even if someone reads such works and takes issue with them for whatever reason, the fact remains that they are clear evidence of how sci fi is a much broader church than it's sometimes given credit for by critics.

In this spirit then, looking ahead, I'm hoping to catch up with the Kenyan sci fi film, Pumzi. The movie takes place 35 years after World War III, the "Water War":
Nature is extinct. The outside is dead. Asha lives and works as a museum curator in one of the indoor communities set up by the Maitu Council [in East Africa]. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she plants an old seed in it and the seed starts to germinate instantly. Asha appeals to the Council to grant her permission to investigate the possibility of life on the outside but the Council denies her exit visa. Asha breaks out of the inside community to go into the dead and derelict outside to plant the growing seedling and possibly find life on the outside.
It's certainly worth reading the filmmaker's response to the question of whether science fiction is new to Africa, in addition to watching the trailer:

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