Who Rules the World? An Interview with DC Miller

 

The following is an interview with the author of Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg is His Son, DC Miller. The book is a trip, skipping between reality and unreality? Where is the line. Discover for yourself.

 

Blurb: When generic millennial computer science graduate Nick Chip accepts a job as a tester for a shadowy Facebook affiliate, little does he realize he’s going to be the subject. Like a nightmarish hybrid of The Manchurian Candidate and your own alienated existence, Dracula Rules the World grabs you by the eyeballs like an algorithm, and doesn’t let them go.

 

First of let’s talk about the cover. Where did it come from?

I didn’t have a lot do with that. Vincente Guedes, the publisher at Empresa Ibis, found the artist, she made the image, and they designed the book together. ‘Dracula’ ultimately is a pulp science fiction novel, and Guedes wanted to capture the classic look of the genre. The artist is http://annasebastian.com and she’s taking commissions.

 

The book is told as a recounting, a story being stated to the reader. Where does the inspiration come for this? Lovecraft? You namedrop Ligotti (i.e. ‘The bar was called Ligeti’s, or Ligotti’s’) as well. Do you think it’s quite a simple method or does it take some skill to pull off? 

The inspiration came initially from a phrase in Dylan’s memoir – he briefly lives with someone in New York whom he reports as saying ‘crazy things that made sense in a cryptic way like “Dracula rules the world and Gutenberg is his son.”‘ I really just updated it. I read a lot of media theory some point, people like Régis Debray and Friedrich Kittler, where the idea is media controls the planet, by controlling our perceptions of it, and the most important form of media today is social media. I was also always interested in writing produced by the insane, people preaching on the street, ‘outsider’ writing you could call it, and I liked the thought of doing something in this vein. So the first of all I wrote a Chinese Dada version of the book with a friend of mine from Shanghai, as a kind of joke. But I was in Iceland a few years ago, working on another project, and it occurred me that it would be an even better joke if I could make a case for it, so I wrote this one as well. As for how much skill it takes, or took, I couldn’t say.

 

Well let’s just call it natural talent then. Another inspiration is of course Orwell (the last line). Given it does focus on Facebook and Zuckerberg, do you think people actually appreciate how Orwellian everything is becoming? This part towards the end of the book is emblematic: ‘I took another sip of wine. Zuckerberg was continuing to stare at me intensively but not aggressively. “We’ve found in tests that this wine is the most liked,” he said. “How did you find that out?” I asked. “We look at a lot of data. Especially to do with user entry and exit points. Does the question bother you?”‘

It’s been pretty amazing in the last few years to observe people who I previously assumed were at least of reasonable intelligence going completely off the rails, and I think that social media has had a lot to do with that. Zuckerberg embodies it, but it isn’t only him – it’s the model of engagement, and relation to the world, therefore of consciousness, which social media promotes, this kind of very basic, quantitative, mesmerizing structure. What’s your brand? Do you like X, or not? It’s an extremely superficial mode of being, and that’s the mode of thought which today is being reinforced across the world. With respect to Orwell perhaps that reference has been overplayed, and also misconstrued, there are parallels but also differences. The falsification and rewriting of history and the manipulation of language is a commonality, obviously, but the tyrannical power which characterizes the current regime is also in certain ways extremely pathetic – Antifa, for example, who are funded and controlled by the State, are violent masked criminals, but they also pitiable losers, the people who work at CNN are not smart people.

 

I definitely take your point about him being misconstrued, I think that’s important. It’s interesting, your knowledge of media theory plays through the actual plot with finesse. The story itself is quite contemporary, featuring figures like Julian Assange. But the messages, I suppose never come across as forced.

Like I said, the title came first, and then my ambition after that was just writing something that was entertaining, and wasn’t absolutely stupid. A little stupid, fine, just not completely. I also thought that the outlandish title and the highly contemporary theme would make it easier to publish, but this wasn’t the case. I probably wrote to three dozen of them. Nobody was interested, and very few responded, before I heard back from Empresa Ibis.

 

Yeah, trust me, publishers have a very small bandwidth of allowable projects. Moving on, what are your reading habits, and are they in anyway linked to your writing habits? 

I mainly read the Bible.

 

I have to say that surprises me, but cool. You do what a lot of writers are incapable of doing, and that’s subtlety. There’s a bit where the female character gets naked, then you jump 20 minutes ahead. Then a few paragraphs later you reveal she and the MC had sex. Why do you think writers are so obsessed with explaining everything?

Perhaps to conceal the fact they have nothing to say.

 

There was a paragraph that grabbed me when you were describing the VR environment the MC works in. ‘It had become a second nature – a living, swimming cloud. I was simultaneously inside it, and it was inside me, composed of me, soaked with information, arriving through a flow which it was possible to enlarge or to taper.’ Are you describing Intelligence here? I think it’s interesting in that it could be taken as a description of the Holy Spirit. 

The underlying question of the book is really, at what point does Nick Chip enter virtual reality, or indeed, at what point does he leave? And we can ask this question of ourselves. To what extent are we free of the synthetic discourse that envelopes us, at what point, and how? I think the answer to that question is religious.

 

I can see the blurring of the lines…Can you elaborate on that? Do you think perhaps that people reject their religious impulse because they want to remain in the matrix, so to speak?

I think we’re living in a fundamentally Satanic culture, and it isn’t necessarily easy to know how to escape. The devil, probably, is man.

 

There is a lengthy section about the Carthaginians and their darker practices. Do you think all suitably advanced civilizations are doomed to sacrifice their children?

There’s an interview where Michel Serres describes the parallels between the Carthaginian religion and the space program in which he describes the Challenger disaster as a kind of disavowed sacrifice: ‘Baal is in the Challenger, and the Challenger is in Baal; religion is in technology; the pagan god is in the rocket; the rocket is in the statue; the rocket on its launching pad is in the ancient idol – and our sophisticated knowledge is in our archaic fascinations.’ I basically agree; enlightenment is our myth. Ultimately, the structures of our technological, modern society are mythical, not rational, the capacity to exercise independent judgement is extremely rare, and even dangerous. The majority, especially the majority of the educated, which is really, the indoctrinated, are superstitious and conformist, and sacrificial violence underpins everything we do. The only question is who, in our society, opposed to others, can be murdered with impunity, and for what. Seventy million American women have had abortions since Roe vs Wade in 1973, this is very unusual historically, and people think’s it normal. As Chelsea Clinton said recently, it was good for GDP.

 

Dracula, Nosferatu, Baphomet. The book seems to creepily skirt around possible occult issues which are generally linked to abortion, sacrifice. Recently there was an academic woman who said that mass Aztec sacrifice was ‘culturally’ relative and so not necessarily a bad. Maybe the book answers this, but do you think people deliberately flirt with demons, or are simply naive? Or even malicious?

There’s no doubt in my mind that demons walk the Earth, but again, this proposition is more banal then people realize. The most obvious form that they take is addiction, and addiction defines a lot of forms of contemporary behavior – addiction to drugs, addiction to sex, addiction to images, addiction to status. There’s a singer I like called Willis Earl Beale, I remember, he did a great interview where he talked about pursuing things that ‘don’t exist and have never existed.’ How many people are doing that? A good friend of mine put it really nicely lately: ‘If addiction were a person, they would be in a prison.’ And Dracula is the king of addiction.

 

Literally sucking the life out of you. There’s the hint of conspiracy in the bit about Carthaginians so I want to ask about conspiracies. Who are the people that believe in them? Low, mid or high IQ? Why are there so many conspiracies flavored for both left and right? How can we both be fully aware of conspiracies and yet indulge them? Is the main problem with conspiracies that people never consider that they might be wrong?

Again, I think that this is normal. Conspiracies have always existed, and there’s no reason to think they aren’t active today. The question is how much we can know about them, and, I guess, do about them, which in most cases is probably nothing. I have a professional interest in trying to understand what’s going on, and it seems to me that the important facts are mostly there to see, if you’re prepared to look, but the question also is why. Why are they doing this? Arguably, any sufficiently regressed intelligence is indistinguishable from malice. But I’ve also always liked the idea of a good conspiracy – like the Rosicrucians, for example – lurking in the shadows, but benevolently. But I can’t say any more about this now.

 

Moving on then. What do you think the role of fiction is in the wider cultural sphere, and dare I say its role in politics? So much of fiction is super liberal. Booksellers are progs, publishers are progs, authors are progs. Is there space for right wing literature or is it just that people towards the right are uncreative?

I don’t find the output of the contemporary publishing industry too compelling, and I don’t pay much attention to it, same as with contemporary art. In my opinion, fiction has to tell the truth, and it seems to me that’s something that contemporary publishing can’t do.

 

Let’s talk about Phillip Kindred Dick. I want to have my interviewees pick one book they either love or want to read, and then we discuss it. But you chose an author so I read both A Maze of Death and The Man in the High Castle. I’m sure I will read more though. Tell me, what do you think of PKD himself, as a writer? 

I read pretty much everything Dick wrote as a teenager, and then in my twenties I was involved with academics like Mark Fisher, who came out of the CCRU at Warwick and were interested in theory-fiction, which is one way you can read Dick. I think Fisher had his problems but he probably summarized Dick as well as anyone when he wrote, ‘It increasingly seems as if Dick did not so much predict the future as dream it in advance.’ His books describe flattening subjectivities and affects, incoherent and contradictory transmissions, social and psychological disintegration, which is the world that we’re in now. The central point is Dick was somehow something different to a writer, even though he also was an archetypal writer, to the extent the focus of interest was really metaphysical and speculative, and fiction was his method for exploring that. And that’s also the case here.

 

Certainly he seems to be another source of inspiration for Dracula Rules the World, where you explore the nature of reality, characters that seem duplicitous, interpretation of history, etc. Would you say his style effects your writing? This quote in particular is a good example of that exploration: ‘Because a nation was also a semi-imaginary place. Just like cyberspace. “The idea of a nation,” he said. “The myth. Its shape in the imagination. Its relationship to ritual. Its feelings. Because my mother’s family were from the Crimea. So they’d never even visited Armenia! Yet still it exerted this powerful force.”‘

The main character in Dracula Rules the World is called Nick Chip, after the main character in Ubik, and the novel basically adopts Dick’s signature theme, of multiple shifting and unstable realities, but I’m really interested in why they shift, and what that looks like. The idea of a nation as an ‘imaginary community’ is a dogma on the left today, but imaginary is usually taken as a synonym for fake, or non-existent, which is an extremely superficial viewpoint on the subject. The truth is that reality and the imagination can’t easily be distinguished, at least not straightforwardly, and the relationship to ritual in that respect is crucial, because it’s really repetition that sustains sustains realities through time. I read last week that, on average, people touch their phones two thousand times a day.

 

Dick plays hard and fast with the nature of reality. The obvious one is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but for this interview I read A Maze of Death, and that does a massive switcheroo at the end, and also The Man in the High Castle of course plays with an alternative world where the Nazis won World War 2. Do you consider this one of his strengths, that all his books focus on one theme, namely ‘reality’?

Dick says somewhere that all of his fiction is motivated by two main questions: ‘What is Real?’ and ‘What is Human?’ What’s interesting to me is how these questions are connected. What can we, as humans, as human individuals, know about reality? What’s our relation to it? Personally, the moments in Dick’s writing, and his biography, that really stick with me are the moments of humanity, like his soulful androids, the fact that in Monopoly he was always the shoe, or his habit when he lived in Orange County of taking midnight breaks from writing to get a roast beef sandwich and an Orange Crush from Trader’s Joe. Dick also said, ‘Reality is whatever, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.’

 

Some people say PKD is a bad writer, but I didn’t pick that up at all from his writing. It’s very clear, the characters seem real, and best of all his book are short and punchy. Do you have any thoughts on the strength of his prose?

People talk about bad writing as if there was a clear consensus on it, but the polite, polished writing that comes out of writing programs – well, I don’t read those books personally, and I don’t respect people who do. Dick, in my opinion, wasn’t boring, which is the only real sin.

 

Most writing today is either written about minorities, whether that is refugees or the ultra-rich, but never really about the common people like with PKD. Do you think people who say he is a bad writer just don’t like the people he writes about, or him as a person, or are they jealous?

I don’t care about minorities or refugees.

 

What about women?

Not as such. But let me put this more precisely – I don’t accept this blackmail, that is, the prostitution of literature to political propaganda. It’s normal today to hear about marginalized voices, privileged by their marginalization, ironically, whether imaginary or real, but fiction isn’t a democracy, and I don’t read out of a misdirected sense of charity, but because I want to understand something about what living on this planet, right now, means. If someone wrote a book from the perspective of a Muslim taxi driver in a generic northern British town, an honest book, you understand, which would also be a brutal book, I might read that.

 

Exactly, so you want to read stories about real people, not imagined oppression or hierarchies. Not people’s personal paranoia or projections (unless it’s drug-induced paranoia, I suppose). Finally, what’s your favorite PKD and why? What do should the reader here pick up next?

I think The Dark-Haired Girl. It’s a strange book, compiled mainly out of letters Dick writes from Vancouver to a series of dark haired girls, telling each of them how special and important they were, in the exact same way. It’s the book of a man on the edge of a breakdown, which is indeed what happened next: Dick tried to kill himself. I’m also a screenwriter and I’m working currently on an adaptation.

 

You can buy Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg is His Son here.

Hysterical Women: The Fortress

Hysterical Women: The Fortress by S.A. Jones

‘Don’t let the bitches grind you down.’ – Margaret Atwood’s first husband, probably.

If you haven’t noticed, women are getting more hysterical by the day. I mean that very much in the general. I’m sure some specific women have managed to keep their heads, but in between all the abortion praising and hand-wringing over misogyny, it’s getting a little out of hand. And what do women do when they’re breaking down in hysterics? They project. And the novel is a brilliant medium through which to project. The ur-text of the hysterical woman is most definitely The Handmaid’s Tale. While not the first, it is the contemporary Schelling point (consider, a Schelling point is ‘a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication’ which perfectly sums up the state of modern politics) when it comes to discussing female bodies. This series of book reviews will explore the aftermath of a post-Trump world. Specifically, just what are women complaining about now?

Imagine a world where women ruled. No, not a world, as such, but a neocameral state, a patch for the feminine to flourish. In this patch women are in control, and their histrionics are on full display. Their every desire, fulfilled. Their every fear, confronted. Men are literally bent over and ass-fucked if the women so desire, and all for the benefit of the man. It’s enlightening, you see. Welcome to the world imagined by S. A. Jones in her novel, The Fortress.

Where to begin with this convoluted raving? Our protagonist is called Jonathan and we are first introduced to him when he is entering and subjecting himself to the Fortress. This is a place separated off from civil society. The whole set up makes very little sense. On the one hand it appears the Jonathan comes from our world, a world of corporations and families. But on the other, the use of made-up words and history makes it seem like a poorly wrought fantasy world. Compounding this phony feeling world, the entire novel takes place over the course of a year, dipping back in time to showcase what a reprehensible little sod Jonathan was, and why he has to repent for his crimes against the feminine. This arbitrary time period again sets up the whole book as nothing more than a diatribe – Jonathan has a year to change! Spoiler alert: he does. Nothing in the entire set-up feels authentic, and the author relies on caricatures and clichés, whether directly or frail attempts to ‘flip’ the narrative.

I think women writers have forgotten that fantasy should be used as a metaphor, not a stand-in. The book begs many questions. Is there a purpose to this mish-mash of real and unreal? Is the author trying to make a comment on modernity, where our world is just a step away from a fantasy? The reader won’t be able to tell. Instead, both possibilities are juxtaposed weakly, and the world never feels real enough to care. In addition, the author employs a horrible fantasy trope, that of coming up with random words in place of what it’s actually called. In between words like ‘goosen’ and ‘oorsel’ – make-believe plants – are sentences discussing credit cards. It’s bizarrely forced, a female creation in which to inject her politics. It’s also lazy. For example, when Jonathan first enters he is told, ‘Every eleventh day you will have half a day to spend according to your inclination and wishes. This is known as “the half”.’ So imaginative. When the author does try to add a little flair, she trips over herself – my eyes bugged out when I read, ‘He could feel her concentration from the seat next to him. Empires rose and fell in the seconds before she answered.’ How can women expect us to not call them melodramatic? The author also has a real problem with the obvious, in particular her over reliance on exposition. I suppose being a woman does mean that she feels the need to explain herself. The lengthy opening segment lays it all out in the first chapter, a pandering attempt to build a world. ‘Here is how everything works,’ she seems to be saying, ‘Now with that out of the way, let me preach.’ And boy, does she preach.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter that there is little coherence to the world of The Fortress because the author is trying to make a point. Take for example the credo of the women. Work. History. Sex. Justice. That’s it. That is literally what they believe in. But it’s worse than that, because of course they pervert all four. So far as I could tell they take sex the most seriously, and instead of a world where (apparently) men have complete control over the sexual marketplace, the women of the Fortress are ravenous sluts on the constant prowl for a good dicking. There’s so much sex in this book, it’s like the author is saying, ‘See, women like to bang too!’ I mean, sure, but the depravity is ridiculous. Either it’s the least subtle gender reversal of all time, or the author is really randy. But mostly it’s distracting, these constant digressions to (honestly, rather vanilla) sex scenes. As I mentioned earlier it all ends with man-on-man butt sex (‘Breathe, Jonathan. You need to breathe.’). It’s clear to me the author is trying to humiliate the male characters (‘It hurt and it was strange and it was also…good.’) by subverting at every opportunity how ‘men see themselves’ (in quotes because I don’t think the author actually understands that in the slightest). Isn’t it obvious that the only way for a lady’s man to repent is to be on the receiving end of rape and sexual manipulation? Geez, duh!

And as for the other quadrants that make up the Vaik outlook (Vaik is the name for the women of the Fortress)? Their sense of work: let the men do it, and make it as meaningless and/or painful as possible. Their understanding of history: men are evil and sisters have always done it for themselves. The justice they hand down: typically indeterminate and mysterious – maybe this, or maybe that. Oh yeah, and they definitely don’t believe in God! (‘The Vaik had no god and worshipped no supreme beings, but they did believe in the infinite nature of life.’ Damn pagans are at it again.) Perhaps the author is trying to say that even with women in control, the world wouldn’t be perfect, that if women had control they’d still be power hungry and sex-craving lunatics. That seems like the least feminist take possible. This doesn’t stop her denigrating men in the process. Of work, she notes that Jonathan, ‘…had a horror of timelessness, those marshy spaces between deadlines. He must always be attaining the next goal or he felt himself dematerializing, a science-fiction character stuck in a malfunctioning teleport.’ Aside from the awful (again, forced) metaphor, the assumption of course is that men only think about work and goals, never love. Like most women the author doesn’t understand that any obsession with the job is solely down to providing for family, and so this comes across as a self-own, particularly since the Vaik are so heartless when it comes to the day-to-day ordering of life. These four quadrants are meant to be some grand theory of women, but it comes across as lame and poorly thought out.

Overall it is painfully clear that the book wants to be a social commentary, but instead it makes women look terrible. What woman would let her husband be used as a sex toy to make up his extra marital affairs? The illogical nature of this punishment of course belies the utterly female narrative: revenge for revenges sake. Where is the justice in that? You, the reader, are never going to touch a book like this, but for your sake it is good to know what women are writing about, and what is being published. Ideology trumps aesthetics in the modern world, and The Fortress is a great example.

Neoreaction is True Acceptance

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The first sentence is how the world in general sees life. ‘This is good, and that is bad’ is the general mantra of the government and populace. An obvious example is immigration, and specifically Islamic immigration. Acceptance doesn’t mean you rollover and take it, pretending it is beneficial.

Acceptance should be acknowledgement of negative elements and either working at the margins to create a better reality, or to create an alternative reality for when ‘acceptance’ collapses in on itself. This is neoreaction. The two strands sit together: one for change, one for what comes next.

The above image is a quote from a book on CBT, which on first principles looks to me like little more than a more engaged form of Stoicism. So, thinking through negative thoughts and combating them with acceptance (not the kind where you pass it off as good). This manifests itself in so many ways and facets of life. But the bad form of acceptance is directly linked to the thought processes of the democratic society we live in. There is a deluge of bad things happening as it all breaks apart, and the majority accept and endorse this collapse. They don’t take the time to think through their reactions. And that is where NRx steps in.

Keep thinking of alternatives and what comes next.

When It Comes to Facts and Truth, We’re All Just Along For the Ride

Let me start by saying, yes it is a bit strange to be going on about a slightly-better-than-average movie like Passengers. Surely there are more important topics! But Passengers and the discussion that has arisen around it does serve a useful base for a deeper discussion, something that was brought to my attention that seems to divide Left and Right: the nature of fact and truth.

Because there is a difference, albeit slight. Facts are things like ‘Hillary won the popular vote by 3 million votes’. The truth is that Donald Trump is President. Facts can be twisted to produce a truth, but enough facts show the truth. Facts rarely change, while the truth can evolve. A fact is one thing only, but the truth can be many things: the opposite of a lie, an internal sense of meaning, a theory like gravity. Truth is far more nebulous, and that is why it is both dangerous and liberating. True truth is the absence of lies and the conglomeration of facts.

I found this great quote to illustrate my point:

Facts are notes and lyrics on sheet music. Truth is what the singer gives to the listener when she’s brave enough to open up and sing from her heart.

My review of Passengers shows that it is a story about revealing truths. Specifically, mending lies. Lies are problems that hurt us at our core, and can have cascading effects on our lives. This reading of the movie is close to the truth. But of course, Mel Campbell doesn’t think so.

I can’t tell if she has read my review and is referring to the theme of the movie, or my use of the word truth in my tweet (I think the latter). Either way, she immediately stumbles over herself.

First, it’s more often the Left who deploy emotional truths. That picture of a drowned child on the beach carries more weight than the realities of a massive refugee influx. In fact, since I quit hanging around in Leftist circles, I’ve never seen such use of statistics, studies, quotes, sources and more. Leftists on Twitter just tend to ‘YASS QUEEN’ everyone else’s opinion pieces. The Alt Right pride themselves on discovering the truth by looking at the facts.

The article she links to doesn’t back her up at all. It starts by detailing the rise of statistics, how they are fallible, and the way they have been used for the nation state. It then goes on to describe Big Data and how its future is uncertain in how it will used. Of course, we all know that statistics like GDP are faulty, and that if you dig deeper you find that the Australian economy is propped up by massive immigration, so much that the equivalent of a new Melbourne will have to be built in the next 10 years, and that as a result our infrastructure will not keep up (never mind the cultural repercussions). The scariness of Big Data points towards either accelerationism, or a return to high trust nation states. I know what I would prefer. The article reads like propaganda passed off as information, and is itself guilty of twisting facts to produce an emotional outcome.

But Mel finally undoes herself in that last Tweet. Now, I imagine she is not in favour of Trump, maybe even thinks he didn’t deserve to win. Well, he persuaded the American people. That’s what subjectivity gets you: democracy. You can’t espouse an adherence to facts and reject emotional truth and then turn around and say, ‘Everything is subjective, it just comes down to how you say it’. But some things are definitely closer to the truth than others.

As a film, Passengers is strong. It’s well plotted with a nice pace, has smooth editing and a logically consistent story. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent. It’s a bit paint by numbers at times, but we can forgive it that. This all rates the film for what it is and how it is made. My judgement is based on a deeper level of story, one of myth and archetypes. Writers today only focus on references and ideologies, both of which are inherently shallow.

Speaking of references, let’s count them:

  • King Arthur
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Titanic
    • A stretch.
  • La La Land
    • Literally just another movie she would have watched because it came out at the same time, and so has zero bearing beyond emotions (in this case sensory memory).
  • The Shining
    • This is a big stretch. Thematically the movies are not very similar, beyond some superficial idea of loneliness. Plus, it’s very easy to find a picture of a bartender wearing the same uniform.

  • Alien
  • Elysium
  • Prometheus
    • These three were used for a small rant about the autodoc which led absolutely nowhere.
  • WALL-E
    • The third act merely ‘reminded’ the reviewer of the children’s movie, so again an irrelevant point to add to the word count. No deeper level analysis.

To judge a movie on its own merits can be hard, as it requires some original thought. And I do mean original, since it often feels the millennial crowd of game, book and movie critics reviewers just feed off each other. Here are some I found and the ‘facts’ they discuss:

Most audiences going in off the back of the trailer would assume it’s a meet-cute movie that tilts into a lovers’ fight for survival together. As Aurora says, “You die, I die”.

Except that’s not really how it plays out.

That is exactly how it plays out, except with added nuance and depth, which the reviewer clearly missed.

This escalates into obsessively watching her introductory video, with the suggestion the journey is also a great big dating scenario to repopulate the new planet.

Not even close. Calm your emotions and try to write a balanced review.

Lawrence Fishburne shows up momentarily as a senior crew member also jolted out of his deep sleep who functions merely as a plot device to help the white folks open doors before being dispensed with swiftly.

*yawn* it’s racist too, OK, sure thing.

Further compounding that idiocy, the facility only has one super-duper do-it-all operating table, an idea Spaihts clearly recycled for Prometheus before Passengers was resuscitated.

Unlike Mel, this retard didn’t bother to look up TV Tropes.

So far, I’ve seen the failing of Passengers be explained in a number of ways: One, as an example of the problems of relying on so-called A List actors to bring in the audiences without a recognizable brand name in the title, which could have some truth. The staggering cost of the project – $150m after its original budget was set at $90m – may not have helped, but most infuriatingly, I’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence’s salary – $20m, which is pretty much par for the course with major male stars – blamed for the box office numbers.

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That’s some good fact manipulation.

Passengers missed its projected $50m opening week by a sizeable margin, and will probably be written off as a flop by current industry standards (films generally need to make two and a half times their budget to break even). Yet there’s been little discussion of the reasons why it will underperform, and the specific gender dynamics at play, both in terms of economics and storytelling. Clearly the reviews and the reveal of that creepy twist played a part in audiences rejecting the film, but there doesn’t seem to be much mainstream industry discussion on why those audiences said no, as noted by Abigail Nussbaum.

There is literally no evidence provided that women – specifically – deigned not to watch the movie. Not even an anecdote or two. Indeed, since that is the argument being made, you would think providing some evidence, or indeed good counter-evidence to the prevailing idea, would be necessary. But facts are for losers, and what matters is winning by insisting on an emotional truth: that women turned away in droves from Passengers because it’s rapey. Not only are no facts provided to lead to that truth, but the writer provides alternative facts to try to make a point

As long as Hollywood views the Default Viewer of its movies as a cishet white guy aged between 18 and 49, the same films and the same problems will keep coming back to our screens.

The assumption that this is what all movie marketing people sit around thinking is beyond naive. It’s wilfully ignorant. It’s propaganda.

Aurora suggests that the corporation has sold Jim a false romantic fantasy of settler life. Frustratingly, the irony that Jim is already in the grip of a romantic fantasy is never fully articulated.

Back to Mel’s review, she misses the point completely here. First, dismissing Jim’s idea as false is disingenuous. Of course a feminist would think the hard work of setting up a colony is a ludicrous male fantasy, but she even glosses over the reason why Aurora is there. The female motive is superficial: a year long stay for writing inspiration, a chance to see the future. Now, tell me again which goal is a romantic fantasy? Jim is there to teach Aurora how to be a better person. And he succeeds.

At the nadir of a yearlong descent into existential despair (signified by an extremely bushy Beard of Sorrow), too craven even to kill himself in the ship’s spacewalk airlock, Jim stumbles across a sleeping passenger, a journalist named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence).

Did I mention making fun of male suicide?

suicideratesarefunny

But the film can’t quite nail a shift into psychological horror, or recast Jim as a sinister stalker antagonist.

So instead of appreciating an original story and a science fiction movie that doesn’t dissolve into horror Mel would prefer that her worst nightmares are proven true, that Jim is just a psychopath rather than a conflicted man who just wants to do what’s best. Again, judging something for what it is not seems dishonest.

Jim’s and Aurora’s second-act romance is shown to be as artificial and entropic as their spaceship – doomed to break down, then explode. And it tries to redeem their connection by affirming their shared, ‘natural’ humanity. The film ends on a hopeful note; but ultimately Passengers can’t stay the course of its own cascading errors.

Rather than properly analyse the ending and the subtext, she glibly passes over it, probably because she’d spent so much time mentioning other movies and how awful men are. She doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that both Jim and Aurora’s relationship and the ship are mended by getting to the heart of the matter. That is to say, finding out the truth.

And of course, in all the reviews I have read, I have not actually seen anyone discuss the fact that the marketing line ‘There is a reason they woke up’ works. There is a reason, for if Jim had not woken Aurora, the entire ship would have exploded, killing every person on board. Fate (more commonly known as coincidence) is just as good a reason as any. And often truth is more important than facts.

Passengers is a Great Red Pill Flick

Spoilers: most of the plot is discussed.

I often worry that I am far too intellectually informed by what I have recently consumed. In the current case I have been listening to a lot of Jordan B Peterson. Hence, my reading of Passengers is something I would hope he would also see.

Here’s the thing. Once you are opened up to a truth you begin to see it everywhere. Jordan would probably take issue with this, as it is a key problem with ideological thinking. SJWs tend to see the world through a very specific lens, as does everyone with a particularly stringent political inclination. You can’t let yourself be constrained by a narrow way of thinking. So I reconcile this expanding my mind and allowing myself to finally see reality.

Peterson has great stuff to say about stories.

This is where Passengers comes in. Abigail Nussbaum represents everything wrong with SJWs in SFF (even if I agree with her assertion regarding Westworld being a show about itself). Overly analytical and one-sided. Massive tweetstorms about l’issue du jour. Her take on Passengers is one driven purely by ideology, one that barely judges the film for what it is, but rather for what it could be and what outside influences affect it or that it affects. The premise of the movie is that Chris Pratt’s character (Jim) accidentally wakes from his cryosleep and after about 1 year and 3 months he wakes up Jennifer Lawrence’s character (Aurora), but tells her it was also a malfunction (not a spoiler since it happens fairly early on). The mere fact that it is a man going after a woman, rather than a gay romance or having the gender roles reversed, is enough for Abigail to class Jim as a murdering, rapey asshole. Both these alternatives are ideological fantasies, and the assertion is simply false. I’m not going to pretend that Passengers is an amazing film (Arrival is the sci fi pick of the moment) but it is a deeply radical story, and that is because it’s a biblical story.

Apparently we need new stories for a new age. That is why people like Abigail insist on new narratives that up-end archetypes. However, there is a reason these are archetypes, and that is that these stories are recognisable to 99.99% of humans (that is, before you get snarky, 99.99% of humans that have ever lived). Man has existential crisis. Woman saves man from nihilist void. Man does not admit truth, breaks woman’s heart. Differences are eventually reconciled with re-birthing of man. Characters live happily ever after in a garden of Eden. That is not the story that Abigail – and many reviewers – saw. By the very fact that two different ideologies present two different stories, that tells you that it is not a clear-cut case. One group wants stories that break the mould; one group wants stories that tell the truth. But both want stories that confirm their beliefs.

Let’s look at Jim’s character. Apparently the plot is ‘rapey’ because Jim’s character is a massive creep who forces Aurora to become his lover. This is false. First, the plot acknowledges that the act of waking someone up just so that you can have a companion is despicable. Jim agonises over it. A lot of time is spent on the rage that Aurora rightly has (in particular, the scene where she wakes him by beating him and the scene where he tries talking to her over the speaker but she yells at him were both well nuanced). Another character later on is disgusted by it. Even the android knows it is wrong. But as Jordan Peterson says, you have to put yourselves in their shoes. Most people would have been Nazis if they were German in the 1930s. Most people would be tempted to wake someone up if they were caught alone on a spaceship and were doomed to die, especially if you almost killed yourself and were saved by a beautiful woman. Yes it’s wrong, but do not be so quick to judge. In addition, exceptions do not break rules. One asshole act does not make you an asshole. Nothing else Jim does is the act of an asshole. Indeed, calling Jim a murdery rapist devalues the actual evil of murderers and rapists. He’s a good character who makes a terrible choice. Sounds like a good point of conflict for a solid plot, no?

But like I said, these SJW critics only criticise ideology and external factors, never the actual aesthetics of media. A story like this would never work if it were a man waking up another man, not if the roles were switched. First, only a handful of people want to see an abnormal romance such as two men engaging in zero-g intercourse. And if it were a ‘bromance’ well, a lot of tension would be lost. Second, I find it highly unlikely that a female would be that enamoured with a man to wake him. I think if that happened it would be a totally different movie, and much more likely to be go towards psych-thriller territory.

Let’s face it, romance is inherit in human understanding and history. A man trying to win over a woman is a quintessential set-up, and can be endlessly re-engineered. Think When Harry Met Sally as a classic with a good ‘twist’. Here, we have the story transplanted to a spaceship, with a crucial and quite novel plot development. Usually a man does hurt a woman in someway, and then he has to win her back. In this movie, he basically kills her. But not quite. It’s… complicated. Wow! What a twist! The story works, and Passengers handles it with grace.

All this talk makes it sound quite run-of-the-mill. Wrong again. Sure, it’s a pretty straightforward romance, but from a sci fi angle it’s unique. Think about it. Most science fiction in film is grim, even nihilistic. Event Horizon, Sunshine, Infini and Alien are all horror-thrillers set in space. Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Avatar and Star Wars are war movies where the cosmos is the battlefield. These movies indulge our darkest recesses. But Passengers is a mostly wholesome romance, something you don’t see often in this aesthetic genre. The special effects are mesmerising, especially the space walk and the slingshot around the sun (makes me think a TV mini-series based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora would be superb). I found the characters had chemistry, and Jennifer Lawrence once again proves she has immense talent (overall I think she outshines Chris Pratt). Laurence Fishburne was a bit flat, but Michael Sheen was fantastic as the android bartender.The editing was also great. I’ve been lamenting some terrible editing recently, but Passengers kept the whole thing moving smoothly. If anything this is one of the best original sci fi screenplays in recent history.

Some of you may be wondering how any of this makes it a great red pill movie. I’ve already been over it a bit, but let’s go deeper. Jim wakes up early and has to resign himself to dying before they reach their destination, a new world where he plans to help the colony with his engineering skills. Unfortunately, the realisation that he will die pushes him to indulge in sin, playing games, eating luxuriously and drinking to excess. This culminates in an attempted suicide, something all too common for young men without hope. But, miraculously, a beautiful woman saves him. It’s a sign. He learns her history – she’s a journalist and writer – and he falls in love. He makes the very painful decision to wake her up (the android barman, Arthur, acts as his conscience) and decides to lie by omission. He never makes any overt advances until a good deal of time has passed, and he begins to woo her with expensive dinners, personalised gifts and handpicked flowers. I mean, if you’re the last two people on earth, you’re probably going to fall in love with each other, right? Finally he takes her on a space walk – his previous space walk had resulted in him contemplating death – and this pushes her towards him (see the symmetry). They enjoy each other for almost a year, falling deeply in love and become resigned to their fate. All sounds rosy so far.

During this time Aurora shows herself to be a typically modern woman. She’s a liberal arts student (journalist/writer) from a famous and rich background. She is skeptical of the company, Homestead, which organises these colonising missions, saying that they are only there to make a buck. Jim disagrees: he sees this capitalism as an opportunity to reach for the stars. She only plans to visit the colony for a year before returning to the future; he wants to start a new life and help humanity. In this time he also encourages her to write, something which she had been struggling with (wow, he sure sounds like a murderous, asshole rapist). Disaster strikes: as Jim prepares to propose, Arthur reveals the truth to Aurora. Arthur is actually the most fascinating character, as the whole time Aurora and Jim say things like ‘you wouldn’t understand, you’re not human’. Au contraire, mes amis. Arthur is more than human. His revelation is the crux of the movie: the nature of truth. Only by telling the truth can we find true meaning. Only be throwing away the danger of lies can we truly live. We lie to ourselves, and we lie to others, and all it brings is suffering.

So now we come to the final act. A crew member wakes up, but quickly dies. He judges Jim, but cannot reconcile Aurora. Essentially, she has to deal with it now. But the crew member discovers that something is wrong with the ship. The race is on to mend the dying vessel, and Jim and Aurora must help each other. The problem reveals itself: a tiny meteor has penetrated to the very core, disturbing the reactor and setting off a cascading failure. Sounds like a metaphor? It is. This tiny meteor (a lie) damages the core (the heart) and sets off a never-ending chain of events. The core problem must be fixed so the ship can be restored (people can love each other again). It’s endlessly elegant. Both Aurora and Jim work together to fix the problem and they do, but Jim sacrifices himself in the process (as he dies he says, ‘I would have built a home for you.’ *sob*). At one point Aurora implores Jim to not kill himself for her. Jim stoically reminds her that there are 5000 other living souls on the ship. He has no choice. Honestly, I teared up a bit at this point. In the end, he is reborn (man as Christ) with the help of Aurora, who realised that she can’t live without him. That year together was true love. In the denouement, Jim tells Aurora in a final act of recompense that he has now found a way for her to go back to sleep.

She refuses. Together they create a literal garden of Eden for the other passengers to discover when they wake up. It’s beautiful. A true story of love and sacrifice. There are plenty of juicy metaphors too – ‘passengers on this thing called life’ for one. If you are looking for healthy entertainment, Passengers delivers.

Unfortunately I don’t think it will be that financially successful. You need to be an animated children’s film or a massive superhero franchise to do well these days. Talking about money though, Abigail compares the movie to the Ghostbusters drama. She implores that real women have turned away from Passengers because it is ‘rapey’, whereas men turning away from Ghostbusters was all hype.

Let’s do the math:

Ghostbusters Total Lifetime Grosses

Domestic:            $128,350,574        56.0%

+ Foreign:            $100,796,935        44.0%

= Worldwide:     $229,147,509

Movie Budget + Marketing: 288,000,000

Domestic Summary

Opening Weekend:         $46,018,755

(#2 rank, 3,963 theaters, $11,612 average)

% of Total Gross:              35.9%

Widest Release: 3,963 theaters

Close Date:         November 10, 2016

In Release:          119 days / 17 weeks

Earnings compared to Spending

229,147,509/288,000,000 = 79.56%

 

Passengers Total Lifetime Grosses

Domestic:            $94,533,188              35.1%

+ Foreign:            $175,100,000          64.9%

= Worldwide:     $269,633,188

Movie Budget + Marketing: 220,000,000

Domestic Summary

Opening Weekend:         $14,869,736

(#3 rank, 3,478 theaters, $4,275 average)

% of Total Gross:             15.7%

Widest Release: 3,478 theaters

In Release: 33 days / 4.7 weeks

Earnings compared to Spending

269,633,188/220,000,000 = 122.50%

So really Passengers isn’t performing badly. And given Ghostbusters had franchise power behind it, and massive marketing, it doesn’t paint a great picture. I think people really did turn away from Ghostbusters, and I really do think people don’t turn out for original screenplays in large enough numbers. Painting Passengers in a falsely negative light does it a great disservice, especially since it should be commended. The Rotten Tomato score is 30%, but the safe assumption is that the negativity is from SJW ideology. The IMDB score is just over 7/10, not amazing, but also not the 5/10 that Ghostbusters has. Don’t you just hate it when facts and figures jar with your ideological beliefs?

The majority of stories all speak to the heart of humanity. As painful as it is, most people are heterosexual. Most people like a story about ‘meaning’, ‘truth’ and finding fulfillment in one’s life. You might think it’s bland, but that’s just those ideology-tinted glasses doing all the work for you. Stories repeat, and the resonate.

I said that this is a ‘red pill’ movie, but it’s much more traditionalist than that. This is Neoreaction in all its glory: traditional values, a Christian narrative AND it’s set in a hyper-capitalistic future. What more could you want? At first I worried that I was blinded by what I wanted to see, but as I have shown this movie truly does cover exactly the same ground as what Jordan Peterson talks about. It proves his points. These stories are all-encompassing, almost hereditary. In other words, natural.

Maelstrom

Morality was a chemical.

I believe it is the prescience of a work of science fiction that makes it a classic. The only way for this to happen is not by correctly predicting the future technology (though that can help), but by interweaving a strong philosophical core into the usual elements of plot, character and setting. I can think of no modern writer who does this better than Peter Watts (and perhaps Cixin Liu), who is quite simply an under-appreciated genius.

Maelstrom is the sequel to Starfish, and while it does continue the story and themes, it brings a lot more to the table. In some cases this harasses the main story, where too many characters are introduced, and too much is going on. But as a whole it still provides a nihilistic look at the world, this time without constraints. Because while Starfish was contained on the bottom of the ocean, Maelstrom takes the chaos to the surface.

Spoiler alert: Behemoth, the ancient microbe that gobbles sulphur like there’s no tomorrow (which, there won’t be) is loose and being spread by Lenie Clarke, our genetically modified and physiologically fucked-up protagonist. It’s a grim story where really grim things happen. Refugees, food shortages, technological breakdown, you name it, it’s happening. And then the apocalypse walks out of the ocean.

Even just as a science fiction story it’s a fatalistic romp, but it’s more than that. It describes the situation we find ourselves in now.

Watts discusses memes before they became cool, and indeed we can look at the memes in the book as a reflection of the memes that lead to the rise of Donald Trump. Whoa, where did that come from? It’s quite clear.

There were exceptions, of course. Every now and then a single thread persisted, grew thick and gnarled and unkillable: conspiracy theories and urban legends, the hooks embedded in popular songs, the comforting Easter-bunny lies of religious doctrine. These were the memes: viral concepts, infections of conscious thought. Some flared and died like mayflies. Others lasted a thousand years or more, tricked billions into the endless propagation of parasitic half-truths.”

Memes play an important role. Not only is there the biological agency of memes, such as in Behemoth or general evolution, but there are the sociological memes we are so used to today. Lenie Clarke is essentially hi-jacked by a computer program that vomits out memes until one sticks: that of doombringer. Isn’t that EXACTLY what has happened with Trump? Isn’t that a huge part of his popularity? When everything is fucked up, we want it to end. Another quote describing the end:

 

“What happens is, the dog’s a social animal, and it gets so lonely it actually looks forward to the shit-kicking. It asks to be kicked. It begs.”

“What are you saying?”

“Maybe everyone’s just so used to being kicked around they’ll help out anyone they think has a big enough boot.”

“Or maybe,” Perreault said, “we’re so fucking tired of being kicked that we’re finally lining up with anyone who kicks back.”

“Yeah? At what cost?”

“What do we have to lose?”

“You have no idea.”

This idea is reflected both by the general populace’s embrace of doom, but also in Lenie Clarke’s embrace of sadism. She looks to be raped, she looks to be harmed, but only to further her own end, a weird perversion of schadenfreude. She doesn’t give a fuck about a world that treated her so badly, so she’s going to return the favour. That idea of embracing the end because what do we have to lose? Well, with Trump we have no idea. (As an aside, with Hilary we have a pretty good picture.)

To further hone in on what is happening, let me take a recent quote from Ran Prieur, renowned doomer:

When people lack that skill, when they know how to focus down into “us-vs-them” but not focus back out, then there’s a ratcheting effect where former allies fight each other about ever smaller disagreements. This is socially unstable, like a black hole collapsing in on itself, or maybe like a forest fire. If you see this happening, the first move is to put the fire out, to make peace; if that fails, the second move is to isolate it and let it burn itself out, to let the enemies fight in a way that doesn’t harm the world around them; and the emergency third move is to run away.

Us vs Them is what the current American (global?) situation represents. This is very much what is happening in Maelstrom, though it is simply Order vs Chaos. Indeed, a large part of the book involves putting out fires, and when it inevitably fails as Lenie marches onward, we move towards isolation (as happens in all outbreak stories). Then, right at the end, the forces of order literally run away (in the most ironic fashion possible). Maelstrom is a book written 15 years ago that represents the very problems we face right now. That is what I call a science fiction classic.

Some more choice quotes:

“Perhaps they’d been conditioned by all the quarantines and blackouts, all the invisible boundaries CSIRA erected on a moment’s notice. The rules changed from one second to the next, the rug could get pulled out just because the wind blew some exotic weed outside its acceptable home range. You couldn’t fight something like that, you couldn’t fight the wind. All you could do was adapt. People were evolving into herd animals.

Or maybe just accepting that that’s what they’d always been.”

“It’s the pattern that matters, you see. Not the choice of building materials. Life is information, shaped by natural selection. Carbon’s just fashion, nucleic acids mere optional accessories. Electrons can do all that stuff, if they’re coded the right way. It’s all just pattern.”

 

“Sometimes she really pissed him off. ‘There’s a war going on,’ he wanted to shout. ‘And it’s not against corpses or bureaucrats or your imaginary Evil Empires; we’re fighting against a whole indifferent universe that’s coming down around our ears and you’re shitting on me because sometimes we have to accept casualties?’

Oh, and it’s depiction of a future internet is just fucking perfect.