Tag Archives: the future

the movie “Arrival” based on the short story – “The Story of Your Life”

51zipo22i7l-_sx322_bo1204203200_  Not until I found the short story by Ted Chiang, “The Story of Your Life,” in his collection of short stories – Stories of Your Life and Others – did I understand the movie Arrival with Amy Adams.  Now I get its message on the importance of language and cooperation, buried in a science fiction drama reminiscent of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  

Someone told me to watch carefully as the story unfolds, and it is good advice – but I may have to watch it again anyway.  The story of Dr. Louise Banks’ encounter with aliens, and her attempt to learn their language is mixed up with her own life and the trauma of her marriage and daughter’s death.  The differences between the written story and the movie had me admiring the screenwriter’s adaptation of the complex linguistic and mathematical theories Chiang uses in his short story; however, Chiang’s explanation of Fermat’s physics Principal of Least Time would have be helpful in understanding Dr. Banks’ flashes of memory. Unfortunately, it was not included in the movie – maybe to keep the viewer guessing until the explanation of events at the end.

In another Chiang short story – Babylon – in the same collection, Chiang theorizes about the notion of time.  As he describes the building of the tower of Babel to reach heaven,  the main character, Hillalum, discovers the same truth as Dr. Louise Banks – “Men imagined heaven and earth as being at the ends of a tablet, with sky and stars stretched between; yet the world was wrapped around in some fantastic way so that heaven and earth touched.”  Chiang envisions time in a circular continuum.

In his short story about the aliens landing on several sites across the Earth, including China, Russia, Pakistan, the United States and Europe, Chiang focuses on the importance of immersion in someone else’s culture to fully understand it, with the scientists and linguists working together to solve the puzzle of the aliens’ visit.  Their purpose for coming is difficult to understand without language.

In the movie, someone at one of the sites gets nervous and shoots first. The aliens are forgiving, and thankfully, the movie stays true to the communication theme and avoids becoming Star Wars.  Instead, nations come together to do something that seems more like science fiction today than ever – they work together.

arrival_movie_poster   If you have not yet seen the movie, you might want to read the short story first, and try not to get lost in some of the technical jargon.  The story of Dr. Louise Banks is at the core of both; just remember to look forward, not back.  And consider what you would do if you could see your whole life, from beginning to end – would you make the same decisions?

Although I’m not a big fan of science fiction in books, I am enjoying Chiang’s collection of thought-provoking short stories.  At the end of the book, Chiang offers “Story Notes,” explaining his inspiration for each -for “Story of Your Life,” Chiang notes his interest in telling a story “about a person’s response to the inevitable.”   Chiang quotes Kurt Vonnegut in his introduction to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Slaughterhouse-Five:

“Stephen Hawking found it tantalizing that we could not remember the future…. I know how my closest friends will end up because so many of them are retired or dead now…To Stephen Hawking and all others younger than myself I say, ‘Be patient.  Your future will come to you and lie down at your feet like a dot who knows and loves you no matter what you are.'”

The future will get here, no matter what we do.

New Year’s Eve

Tonight’s December thirty-first,

Something is about to burst.

images-1The clock is crouching, dark and small,

Like a time bomb in the hall.

Hark, It’s midnight, children dear,

Duck! Here comes another year!    

Ogden Nash

As the end of another year approaches, what happens to you?  Are you instilled with the remaining fervor of the holiday spirit? Are you complacent observing the folly of others making resolutions?  Are you depressed pondering things undone?  Charles Dickens offers an old tale, written in the nineteenth century and set in Italy – The Chimes.  If you are a fan of “The Christmas Carol,” you will note the similarity in tone, and enjoy the possibilities of the ending.

 The Chimes was one of five in a series of Dickens’ Christmas stories. Appropriate for New Year’s Eve, the moral of the story focuses on the choices we make and their consequences. Like “A Christmas Carol,” a ghost guides the way.

The story opens with the chiming of church bells. After Toby, a messenger, delivers a letter to Lord Bowley and and receives the response – to imprison the man mentioned in the letter, he accidentally bumps into a man carrying a little girl. An apologetic exchange follows, during which Toby discovers this to be the very man to be imprisoned. Toby invites the two home for the night, but he continues to be disillusioned.

He finds  his daughter, Meg, seated by the fire drying her eyes about her apparently aborted marriage plans. When reading his paper,  he comes across the account of a woman, driven from her home by poverty and misfortune, who has killed her child and herself.  He falls asleep convinced of “the inherent vileness of his class.”

The Goblins of the Chimes appear and spirit the sleeping man to the bell tower. His dream takes him on a journey to the future, revealing the dire consequences if he continues to believe there is no purpose for his life or the lives of those around him.  In the end,  Meg wakes Toby from the dream. It’s New Year’s Day. Neighbors enter with greetings and congratulations and a happy party ends the story.

You can read this short tale as you ponder your own resolutions, while waiting for the clock to chime twelve tonight.  Keep your spirits up… images

Dickens Online – The Chimes 

 

Nonfiction Authors of the Moment

Fiction always has more appeal for me, but when Eliot Glazer of the New York Times listed five nonfiction authors in his chart for the One-Page Magazine, I noticed.

Al Gore – The Future9780812992946_p0_v4_s114x166     9780307594884_p0_v4_s114x166     9780062238399_p0_v4_s114x166    9780446585187_p0_v3_s260x420  

Sonia SotomayorMy Beloved World

Cissy HoustonRemembering Whitney: My Story

Tommy MottolaHitmaker: The Man and His Music

Bill O’Reilly – Killing (Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus – take your pick)

If you have digressed from fictional lore to reading any of these creative nonfiction books, which do you recommend?

The Hunger Games

Target practice on children has been a theme that occasionally pops up in literature – from Jonathan Swift’s 18th satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, suggesting we eat them for population control to Shirley Jackson’s haunting short story, The Lottery, having the winners stoned by family and friends.  The latter is closer to Suzanne Collins’ young adult science fiction  The Hunger Games, the first book in a trilogy.

True to form, Collins has adventure, true love, and villains – and a subliminal message.  The hunger games occur annually in the future – after the world as we know it has been destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again, and finally at a place you wouldn’t want to live – unless you had lots of money (maybe not so different from today?).

Katniss

When Katniss’s 12-year-old sister’s name is announced as the district 12 (coal miners district) female representative to the murderous games, she volunteers to take her place.  The baker’s son, Peeta, becomes the male “tribune,” and they form an alliance that helps them both as they try to survive, without killing each other.  The Gamemakers’ rules  demand that out of 24 children, only one can be alive at the end.

Pitting children against each other in a fight to the death, the games are televised for the pleasure of gladiator thrill seekers – think Survivors episodes.   The games have a futuristic and macabre quality:   the controllers can strategically shoot fireballs at the participants just to liven up the action and electronic chips keep track of each participant and projects their moves (ala the Truman Show).

You know Katniss is going to survive – hey, she’s the heroine and this is the first in the trilogy – but you’ll still be on edge as she encounters each terrifying obstacle and almost dies a thousand deaths.  Collins hooks you into the action, and it’s fun – like riding an upside down roller coaster in the dark.

Katniss is better than Wonder Woman or Supergirl; her powers are those of a real girl and anyone young and resilient, smart and strong, true of heart, could tap into them – although shooting a rabbit in the eye with a bow and arrow might take some practice.

Part of growing up, at any age, is knowing how to play the game – unless you refuse to play or make your own rules.

I started this book in the morning and could not put it down until I finished.    What a trip – check it out for yourself.