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Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.

 

Jeanette Winterson’s Cyberfeminist New Tale of Frankenstein, AI and Sex Robots

A week or so ago I put up several articles criticising Ian McEwan’s latest book as another example of mainstream, literary writers’ appropriation of Science Fictional subjects. As I said in these articles, what annoys me about this is the higher respect given to these works, even though genre authors have frequently tackled the subjects much better. Private Eye in its piece describing how the literary set were turning to robots and AI said that after McEwan’s book would come one by Jeanette Winterson. This is Frankissstein: A Love Story, which was reviewed in Friday’s issue of the I, for 24th May 2019 by Lucy Scholes, on page 44 of the paper.

I realise that it’s dangerous to comment on a book you’ve never read, and that reviews can be notoriously inaccurate guides to what a book or other work is actually like. I can remember the Oxford poet, Tom Paulin on the Late Review about two decades or more ago really attacking the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, as a piece of Nazi cinema in precisely so many words. He had a point in that some groups had felt that the film was somehow racist and discriminatory, particularly in the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. Binks, it was held, was a caricature of Blacks, Hispanics or gays. But many others didn’t find anything racist or homophobic in the movie, and Paulin’s attack was itself a grotesque misrepresentation of the movie itself.

But Scholes’ brief description of the book and its themes raise issues that deserve comment and criticism.

The Plot

The book is split between two periods. The first is that night in 1816 in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva when Byron, his lover, Claire Clairmont, the Shelleys and their doctor, John Polidori, all met to write a ghost story, the evening which saw the birth of Mary Shelley’s tale of the monstrous creation of artificial, human life, Frankenstein. The second is a contemporary tale about a romance between a young transgender doctor, Ry Shelley, who meets and falls in love with the charismatic Victor Stein at a cryonics facility in the Arizona desert. Stein is a leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence, who, according to the review, ‘envisions a bodyless utopia in which race, faith gender and sexuality no longer exist.’

Caught up in this tale is Ron Lord, a millionaire, who has made his fortune from advance sex robots, and his partner, the evangelical Claire, who has designed a version for Christians, and an investigating journalist, Polly D. Ron Lord’s empire of sex robots its misogynistic. His deluxe model offers three orifices and interesting conversation, in which they tell the user he’s very clever and asks him if he knows anything about Real Madrid. Looking at their names, it seems very clear to me that they’re supposed to be the modern counterparts of Byron’s party 200 years ago. But it’s a moot point how accurate this portrayal is about what they would be like if they lived now. As for Claire’s invention of the ‘Christian Companion’, this seems to be a gibe by Winterson at Christian hypocrisy. Winterson’s a lesbian, who had a miserable childhood growing up in an extreme Christian sect. This formed the basis for his book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was adapted as a TV drama by the Beeb. This seems to have established the 9.00 Sunday night slot as the venue for intense dramas about gay women. It was followed a few years later by Fingersmith, a lesbian drama set in the Victorian underworld. And now there’s Gentleman Jack, now playing on BBC 1, based on a real Victorian aristocratic lady, who married her gay lover. I’m very much aware that many Christians do hate gays, and that in response many gay men and women have turned away from Christianity and religion. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I know one woman, who was brought up by her mother and her lesbian partner, who grew up perfectly well adjusted. She was deeply religious herself, and went on to marry a vicar. She also loves her mother, and respects her for the excellent way she feels her mother brought her up.

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

Some of the ideas in Winterson’s book also seems strangely dated. Like the idea of AI as offering a utopia in which people are disembodied entities without race, gender, sexuality or religion. This sounds like it’s based on the views of some of the cyberfeminists back in the 1990s. They hailed the internet as forum in which women would be free to participate as individuals without gender. Now there is a real issue here with misogyny on the internet. There are some sites and forums which are very hostile to women, so much so that a few years ago there were comments that there no women on the internet, as those who were seemed few and far between. But the solution to that problem is to create a culture in which women are free to participate and interact without their gender being issue, rather than forced to disguise or deny it.

It’s also vulnerable to the opposite criticism from feminist academics like Margaret Wertheimer. In her The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Wertheimer criticised cyberspace for being too masculine. It was a disembodied, Platonic realm of mind like the heaven of religious belief. Women weren’t interested in such ideal states, and so were put off it. This idea was influential. One of the museums and art galleries held an exhibition of Virtual worlds created by artists experimenting with the medium. One of the women artists, whose work was featured, included as part of her world the sound of the viewer breathing as they entered her artificial reality. She had done so, she told New Scientist, because the absence of any kind of physical interaction in these Virtual worlds was the product of male scientists and engineers, who made the passage through them like that of a disembodied being. As a woman, she wanted to rectify this through the inclusion of details that made it appear that the viewer was physically there.

It’s over 20 years since these arguments were made, and much has changed since then. There are now very many women on the internet, with female sites like Mum’s Net and the feminist Jezebel. And some of the online games and worlds, like Second Life, do allow their users to interact as physical entities as the games’ characters or citizens.

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

As for her view of sex robots, it’s true that the creation of an artificial woman purely as a sex slave is misogynist. At the moment such machines aren’t really much more than sophisticate sex dolls, and some of those, who use them do seem to be very misogynist. One of the denizens of the Manosphere, the Happy Humble Hermit, who really does despise women and feminism, apparently has a link on his web page to a firm making them. But despite dire warning that these machines are a threat to women’s status and real, genuine, loving or respectful sexual relationship, the existing sex robots aren’t popular. A Spanish brothel which specialised in them has had to get rid of them because of lack of custom. Women don’t have to fear being replaced by compliant, subservient female robots, as in Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives, just yet.

But science fiction also shows that there is an interest, at least among some people, for genuine romantic relationships between robots, and humans and robots. One of the Star Wars spin-off books published in the 1980s was Hardware Honeymoon, whose cover showed C-3PIO holding hands with a female robot. The robot seems to have become the subject of some women’s fantasies. One of the independent comics from California was Wet Satin, whose female creator based her stories on women’s sexual fantasies. One of these was about a robot, which looked remarkably similar to the Star Wars robot. Rather less luridly, Tanith Lee wrote a book in the 1980s about a woman having a romance with a robot in The Silver Metal Lover. You could go on. There is a desire for sex with robots, but this seems in most cases to be within the framework of a romantic relationship with a genuinely sentient being, not a mechanical sex slave.

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

As for Stein’s idea of a post-human utopia of disembodied minds, this is profoundly unattractive, as Scholes herself says in her review, saying ‘As with all brave new worlds, though, the reality is rarely perfect’. It seems to be based on the Transhumanists hope that in the near future technology will have advanced so far that that humans will be able to download their minds into computers, so that they can exist as pure disembodied entities in cyberspace, or move into robot bodies, like the hero at the end of the South African SF film, Chappie. But Winterson’s, or Stein’s cybernetic dream of posthuman, post-flesh utopia is horrifically sterile. Part of what makes diversity and multiculturalism such powerful ideologies is that people are naturally drawn, fascinated with and treasure difference. It’s why western tourists travel around the world, to Asia, Africa and South America, to enjoy the experience of different cultures and meeting people of different races and religions. There is friction and hostility between different peoples, all too often exploding into horrific violence. But the reduction of humanity to disembodied minds doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t genuinely promote tolerance, equality and the feeling of common humanity so much as negates the problem by destroying the physical and spiritual differences that form the basis of human identity. It’s certainly not an idea that’s popular in SF. In just about all the Science Fiction I’ve read, people retain their gender and other aspects of their identity even after they cross over into cyberspace. When they appear, either in cyberspace itself, or conjured up in computer displays for characters in the real world, they appear as they did in life, complete with their gender and race. And I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people would find that far more preferable to the strange disembodied existence Stein offers in Winterson’s book.

LGBTQ and Transgender Issues With Winterson’s/ Stein’s Utopia

Which also raises the question about its handling of LGBTQ issues. The inclusion of a transgender character seems to be a deliberate attempt to make the book very relevant to contemporary issues, now that transgender rights have overtaken gays as the issue of the moment. Some transgender people seem to look forward to a future without physical gender. I can remember reading an interview with the first, or one of the first, people to undergo the operation, April Ashley, in an interview in one of the Daily Mail’s Sunday supplements years ago. She looked forward to a time when humanity would have moved beyond gender, and pregnancy would become a matter of simply taking a pill. But I think such people are a very small minority. Back in the 1990s there was a demand from gay Science Fiction fans for Star Trek to tackle homosexuality and include gay characters or stories. This was several years before the new, revived Dr. Who did so, and so would have been extremely controversial. Star Trek – The Next Generation tried to make an effort in that direction with a story in which Lieutenant Riker formed a relationship with a member of an alien species, the J’Nai, who had evolved past gender. However, from time to time there were throwbacks, who were persecuted. They would be hunted down and then treated so that they were proper neuter members of their society. The alien with whom Riker has fallen in love is one such throwback, a female. She is caught by the authorities. Riker tries to free her, but it is too late. She is now neuter, and so has no interest in any sexual or romantic relationship with him. The story’s a metaphorical attempt to deal with the underlying issues around homosexuality, gender identity and forbidden sexuality, but was bitterly criticised by gay SF fans because it didn’t tackle the issue of homosexuality overtly. The Federation was, remember, an organisation in which humanity had moved beyond racial and cultural prejudice and sexism, and gay Trekkers and their supporters felt that the prejudice against homosexuality would also have no place in such a future. But they were also highly critical about how the story presented gays. They felt that it showed them unfairly as wanting to abolish gender. And Winterson’s book does seem to do the same with its depiction of a romance between the transgender character, Ry Shelley, and Stein, with his dream of an asexual disembodied world.

Conclusion

I may well be doing Winterson’s book a great disservice, but it does seem peculiarly dated for a book which is trying so desperately to be acutely relevant. And I do feel that readers would probably get a better idea of the issues about cyberspace and AI by going elsewhere. I think there’s probably a better fictional treatment of these subjects waiting to be written. And as for human-robot romance and sex, this has also been very extensively explored in genre SF. And some of this almost certainly represents what people really want from such relationships than simple sex robots.

As for the book’s inclusion of Mary Shelley, Byron, Claire Clairmont and Polidori, Brian Aldiss also did it, or something like it, in his 1970’s SF story Frankenstein Unbound. This was filmed by B-movie maven Roger Corman. It’s not supposed to be a good film, but even so, it seems far more to my taste than Winterson’s book.

 

 

 

May Resigns, But Her Replacement Will Be as Bad or Worse

On Friday, after months of obstinate refusal May finally gave in to pressure and metaphorically fell on her sword. She resigned as Tory leader, but has said that she will stay on as Prime Minister until June 7th, when her party will select her successor. According to one of the videos of her resignation speech put up by one of the newspapers, she was quite lachrymose about it. The video’s title was about how she cried at her resignation.

Well, call me hardhearted, but I’ve no sympathy at all. May has been a disastrous Prime Minister, and before that was a disastrous home secretary. And her party has had no sympathy for Britain’s working people, and particularly the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. She was part of Cameron’s cabinet when he was pushing through the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS, the massive rise in tuition fees for students, the establishment of workfare, and the expansion of the benefit sanctions regime and the infamous work capability tests. She was there when they cut public spending, froze wages and allowed the establishment of highly exploitative part-time and zero hours contracts. It was Cameron’s Tory government that instituted the bedroom tax, and created the mess we have today where most people now cannot afford to buy their own home, and an increasing number of people are priced out of even rented property. All this was done in order to reduce the tax burden on the super rich elite. This would all somehow reduce public debt and create more jobs and prosperity. With prudent Tory financial management, the economy would soon be back on its feet and we could call an end to austerity.

It hasn’t worked. As Mike’s shown on his blog, the debt’s higher than ever. And the time when it will finally be cleared keeps getting put back and back. The I today ran one article on her, listing the arguments for and against. One of the arguments for her was that she had ended austerity. This is, in my opinion, a flat out lie. She said that austerity was over, but has not reversed her policies. The poor are still seeing their services cut. Actions, it is said, speak louder than words. And the actions say that austerity is still very much Tory policy. They also listed under the ‘for’ column her announcing that £260 million or so extra cash would be pumped into the NHS. But an examination of that announcement reveals that it’s much less impressive than it sounds, as it’s still far short of the money needed to restore the NHS. And I got the distinct impression when the announcement was made that there were no promises on how this would be financed, or when and how the money would be put it into the health service. It seemed another one of Tweezer’s promises, promises that are always broken.

And to add insult to injury there’s the continuing lies and denials about the number of people, who have been killed by the Tories’ welfare cuts. It’s now tens of thousands, and the poverty that the Tories have inflicted is so horrific that they stand condemned – again! – by the UN.

Now I realise that Tweezer wasn’t directly responsible for these policies under Cameron’s administration, and that the Ian Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and the other heads of the DWP are responsible for the horrors of the benefit cuts. But May never raised her hand against them, as far as I know, and she certainly continued them once she got her rear into No. 10.

But as the Home Secretary she was responsible for the government’s racist immigration policy. This included posters encouraging people to inform on illegal immigrants, vans going round to pick up any illegals, who wanted to hand themselves in. She was responsible for the hostile environment policy. A policy that found its lowest expression in the forced, illegal deportation of the Windrush peeps and their children. These were immigrants who, under the terms of the immigration treaties at the time, were perfectly entitled to remain here. Many of the people deported had never seen the country to which they were to be returned, or had last seen it when they were very young. But Tweezer wanted to show she was hard on immigration, as the racists in her party wanted, and so broke the law to have these people removed from their real homes hjere in Blighty.

Far from lamenting her departure, my initial reaction was to quote the Wizard of Oz: ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is dead!’

Unfortunately, her successor is likely to be as bad or worse. We now have a selection of contenders which includes Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom. Even Esther McVey threw her hat into the ring a few days ago, when she gave a speech to the Blue Collar Conservatives group. She was obviously trying to pose as the one thing she is not and has never been, the working man’s and woman’s friend to get the populist vote. As for the Blue Collar Conservatives, I could write a whole rant about them. The whole organisation strikes me as being made up of the type of people Johnny Speight drew on for his monstrous creation, Alf Garnet. I got the impression that BoJo is probably the bookies’ favourite. He has received Murdoch’s blessing, as his papers have been praising him and presenting him, despite all the evidence to the contrary, as some kind of future statesman. Instead he’s a vain, treacherous incompetent with the same savage hatred of the poor and a long streak of racism.

Just flicking through the I today I also caught headlines predicting that if a hard Brexiteer is chosen, confidence in the Tory party could collapse and a general election called. And the Labour party, or at least one of its leaders, has indeed called for one. Quite right. I’m sick of Prime Minister’s handing on the reigns of government to their successors safely in their allotted term, so that the next general election somehow acts as a public acclamation of the new Premier, rather than a proper democratic selection. It’s just a way in which democracy effectively becomes a rubber stamp for a transition of power really done by the party elite. As far as I can remember, it came in with Thatcher. She was ousted part-way through her term, and Major installed by the party faithful. He then went on to win the next election. It doesn’t always work – Blair tried it with Gordon Brown, who lost spectacularly, but the process carried on with Cameron’s departure and the installation of May. And now the Tories are set to do it again with May’s successor, whoever he or she is.

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the Tories. I’m sick of the misery, the starvation, the deaths and deportations. I want them all gone, not just May.

It’s time we had proper general election to decide her successor. One that will hopefully get rid of them and her, and put Labour and Jeremy Corbyn in instead.

Masters of Myths – From Homer to Hollywood

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Hugh O’Neill The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” JFK, [Yale …

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Morales juggles his life as a high school student and Avengers: Endgame. However, when Wilson “Kingpin” FiskAvengers: Endgamees is a super collider, another Marvel captain from another dimension, Peter Parker, accidentally finds himself in the Miles dimension. While Peter trains Miles to become a better Spider-Man, they are soon joined by four more Avengers: Endgame’s “Spider-Verse”. As all these conflicting dimensions begin to tear apart, Brooklyn separates and Miles has to help others stop Fisk and make each one of his dimensions. . The DVD indAvengers: Endgametry has had the greatest impact on the DVD indAvengers: Endgametry, making it possible to cope with its demise with the mass popularization of online content. The rise of multimedia broadcasting has caAvengers: Endgameed the fall of many DVDrental companies such as BlockbGame of Thrones Season 8

Episode 5ter. In July 2015, a New York Times article published an article on Netflix’s DVD How to Train Your Captain 3, Dragon Marvels. He stated that Netflixis continued Their DVD How To Train Your Captain 3 amazes 5.3 million subscribers, which is a significant drop from the previoAvengers: Endgame year. For their part, Avengers: Endgames has 65 million members. In a March 2016 study assessing “the impact of streaming video on the traditional DVD MovieRental”, it was found that respondents did not buy DVD movies that were almost as large as streaming. Watch movie Avengers: Endgame, viewers did not find the quality of the film mAvengers: Endgamet be significantly

different between DVD and online streaming. According to the respondents, the improvements needed with streaming movies included fast rewind, rewind, and search functions. The article points out that the quality of film streaming as an indAvengers: Endgametry will only increase over time, as advertising revenues increase each year throughout the indAvengers: Endgametry, prompting quality content. New MCU’s Superhero (The Curse of La Llorona) Watch Online Free Video The Curse of La Llorona Full Movie, Watch The Curse of La Llorona full movie online in full HD quality anytime, anywhere only here.Yeah, I know, we’re not supposed to care that Brie Larson smiles, but I will choose to care that Larson smiles while cracking low-key jokes or otherwise wins laughs. I still maintain that a big reason why Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow became so popular is that she was both a “fierce” action Hero.

So we get more outer-space adventure, more origin story material and more of what will make this 21st MCU movie different from the previous 20 MCU movies.

She is the one we did not see happen. Still, Brie Larson’s resume impresses. The actress has been playing on TV and movie sets since the age of 11. The one that some confuse with the Swedish Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider) won an Oscar in 2016. She is the star of the very first film Marvel with a female lead. And soon, she will play a CIA agent in a series commissioned by Apple for its future platform. Series that she co-produces.

significant drop from the previoAvengers: Endgame year. For their part, Avengers: Endgames has 65 million members. In a March 2016 study assessing “the impact of streaming video on the traditional DVD MovieRental”, it was found that respondents did not buy DVD movies that were almost as large as streaming. Watch movie Avengers: Endgame, viewers did not find the quality of the film mAvengers: Endgamet be significantly

different between DVD and online streaming. According to the respondents, the improvements needed with streaming movies included fast rewind, rewind, and search functions. The article points out that the quality of film streaming as an indAvengers: Endgametry will only increase over time, as advertising revenues increase each year throughout the indAvengers: Endgametry, prompting quality content. New MCU’s Superhero (The Curse of La Llorona) Watch Online Free Video The Curse of La Llorona Full Movie, Watch The Curse of La Llorona full movie online in full HD quality anytime, anywhere only here.Yeah, I know, we’re not supposed to care that Brie Larson smiles, but I will choose to care that Larson smiles while cracking low-key jokes or otherwise wins laughs. I still maintain that a big reason why Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow became so popular is that she was both a “fierce” action hero.

So we get more outer-space adventure, more origin story material and more of what will make this 21st MCU movie different from the previous 20 MCU movies.

She is the one we did not see happen. Still, Brie Larson’s resume impresses. The actress has been playing on TV and movie sets since the age of 11. The one that some confuse with the Swedish Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider) won an Oscar in 2016. She is the star of the very first film Marvel with a female lead. And soon, she will play a CIA agent in a series commissioned by Apple for its future platform. Series that she co-produces.

Unknown to the general public in 2016, this “girl next door” won the Academy Award for best actress for her poignant performance in “Room”, the true story of a woman sequestered with her child by a predator. She had preceded on the charts Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence, both already haloed of a statuette, but also Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan.

At the age of 26, at this Oscar night, where she appeared in a steamy blue-gauze dress, the auburn-haired actress gained access to the club of Hollywood’s hottest actresses.

With its classic and discreet beauty, this Californian from Sacramento has won the summit. She was seen in “21 Jump Street” with Channing Tatum, and in “Crazy Amy” by Judd Apatow. And against more prominent actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence, Gal Gadot or Scarlett Johansson, Brie Larson signed a seven-deal deal with Marvel.

Why she ? His long history with Disney can partly explain this choice, but also the fact that it does not embody an inaccessible perfection. A majority of girls can project themselves into their character of “The Curse of La Llorona” who hears that she is not talented enough to succeed as men, before becoming the most powerful in the universe.

Rest a mystery. Brie Larson has spoken a lot as a key figure in the feminist Time’s Up movement. Strangely, as part of the promotion of “The Curse of La Llorona”, she is reluctant to address this theme, which is nevertheless central in this blockbuster.

Certainly, in the genre, the distinguished competition has already passed by with his Wonder Woman of 2017, embodied by Gal Gadot. But it would be hard to see the Amazon warrior fighting in high heels, mini-skirt, strapless bustier and resting once again on a man to complete his mission, a female character leaving the beaten track and Hollywood rebutted. Moreover the scenario of this film was the work of three men …

Nothing like it with Watch The Curse of La Llorona Online Free, signed mainly by women. And it feels. When she’s not in a full-featured combination of superhero, Carol Danvers walks Nirvana as an anti-erotic grungy as possible and proves fiercely independent. This is even the key to its power: if the super-heroine is so unique, we are told, it is thanks to her ability since childhood, despite masculine mockery, to stand up all alone. Too bad that it is not enough to make a film that stands completely … The fault of a scenario and a complicated realization flat as possible and uninspired.

No action sequence is really striking and actress Brie Larson fails to make her character endearing. Spending his time displaying a mocking pout and a mocking air, his perpetually brave attitude undermines empathy and prevents the spectator from shuddering at the dangers and vicissitudes that the heroine faces. Too bad, because the footage offers very good things in the person including a red cat and a Nick Fury young and with both eyes (the film takes place in the 1990s). In this regard, if the rejuvenation of Samuel Jackson by digital technology is impressive, the illusion is only for his face. As soon as the actor moves or starts an action sequence, the stiffness of his gestures is obvious and reminds his true age. A detail but that shows that the digital has fortunately still its limits. As for Goose, the cat, we will not say more about his role to not “reveal”.

Already the 21st film for the stable Marvel Cinema launched 10 years ago, And pending the sequel to Avengers: infinity war (Avengers: Endgame, released April 24 home), this new opus is a suitable aperitif but struggling to hold to the body and to be truly invigorating. Let’s hope that following the adventures of the most powerful hero Marvel manages to raise the level and proves more tasty.

Completely Unreliable Assholes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 12:54am in

Tags 

Film, Fun, Movies, YouTube

I don’t know why, but I love that someone took the time to isolate this 3 second clip of Scatman Crothers speaking truth to power in The Shining.

And if you’re not into the whole brevity thing and you feel you haven’t gotten your money’s worth for clicking on the link, the scene below may be my favorite of the film (at least right now):

There ain’t nothing in bavatuesdays, so stay out, ya hear me, STAY OUT! 

Now Milo Yiannopolis Turns Up to Help Sargon Destroy UKIP

More from the continuing implosion of UKIP thanks to Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad. As I’ve blogged about several times previously, Sargon’s one of the extreme right-wing bloggers, vloggers and internet personalities Kipperfuehrer Batten has recruited to boost UKIP’s electoral chances. The others include Mark Meechan, alias Count Dankula, of Nazi pug infamy and Paul Joseph Watson, late of American conspiracy news site, Infowars. As well as the vicious islamophobe and thug, Tommy Robinson. And rather than increase UKIP’s popularity and chances, these personalities are actually torpedoing it massively.

Sargon’s become infamous for a series of comments he made on social media. These include the tweet he sent to Labour MP Jess Phillips, saying ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’. This was bad enough, but then the Sunday before last the Mail on Sunday did a hit piece on him, reporting other comments Sargon had made which suggested he endorsed paedophilia. In one internet conversation, Sargon is supposed to have said that people could quote him as approving of adults have sex with boys. Because they did in ancient Greece, where it was called mentoring. In another chat with the Justicar, another vlogger, who claimed to have had sex before he was 11, Sargon had commented that it depended on the child whether this was right, and had to be considered on a case by case basis. When he was running The Thinkery podcast, Sargon had also made a broadcast with Singaporean vlogger Amos Yee, who genuinely believes that the age of consent should be scrapped.

And this is in addition to Sargon’s own use of racial slurs and his casual antifeminism. Sargon has attacked the media reporting these comments as ‘dirty, dirty smear merchants’, but he hasn’t disavowed them. Or at least, not the tweet directed at Jess Phillips, which he’s tried to defend, as has Batten, who claimed it was satirical. This has just made it all worse.

But, it seems, as Michael Medved used to say when presenting Channel 4’s The Worst of Hollywood back in the 1980s, ‘the worst is yet to come.’ How much worse? Milo Yiannopolis has announced that he’s coming to help Sargon out. That’s how much worse.

Yiannopolis is, you’ll remember, another extreme right-wing pundit. A former technology correspondent for Breitbart, Yiannopolis made his name promoting extreme Conservative views and policies. He was another anti-feminist, who also attacked Blacks, other ethnic minorities and has been accused of homophobia because of his comments about gays. And like Sargon, he tried to excuse it all in the name of ‘free speech’. He also hid behind his own identity as a half-Jewish gay man with a Black husband. A year or so ago he was touring America’s campuses as part of his ‘Dangerous Faggot’ campaign for the Republican party and Donald Trump. He also had a very lucrative book deal ready with the imprint of publishers Simon and Schuster specialising in right-wing politics.

Then it all spectacularly self-destructed. Like Sargon, Yiannopolis opened his mouth to make comments approving of child abuse. This was to Joe Rogan on his internet show, where Yiannopolis revealed that he had been molested when he was 13 by a Roman Catholic priest, called ‘Father Michael’, but claimed that he had been the active seducer. He said that sexual relationships between boys and older men were beneficial in that they helped these young gays with their sexual identity. He also claimed he had been to Hollywood boat parties where very young boys had been employed as prostitutes, but refused to name names. Under Californian law, failure to report sexual abuse is a crime. I don’t think Yiannopolis was formally charged with any offence, but his comments cost him his job with Breitbart, his book contract, and an invitation to the annual American Conservative gathering, CPAC. He has been declared bankrupt to the tune of £4 million. He was also hoping to go to Australia to do a tour there with Tommy Robinson, but the Ozzie authorities refused to let him in. But now Yiannopolis has sent a message telling everyone that he is flying in tomorrow to help Sargon on the campaign trail.

This is someone, who has destroyed their career through comments supporting paedophilia, coming to support someone else, who’s political career is being destroyed because they’ve allegedly made comments supporting child abuse. This brings to mind the old adage, ‘When you’re in a hole, stop digging.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/05/ukip-enlists-disgraced-paedophilia.html

A few days ago, Kevin Logan, Kristi Winters and Steve Shives did a livestream together, in which they discussed and mocked Sargon’s utterly incompetent management of his electoral campaign. To say it is not going well for Sargon is an understatement. Thanks to Sargon, the Gloucestershire branch of UKIP have shut themselves down rather than endorse him as a candidate, posting this on their website. When Sargon went to Gibraltar to drum up support there, as apparently it’s part of the southwest England European constituency, governor Fabian Picardo refused to meet him. The good politico then issued a tweet stating that as far as he was concerned, Sargon’s views represented hate speech that had no place in his country.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73f1TYBlRo4

This is nearly two and three quarter hours long, and I haven’t watched all of it, so I can’t comment on the video as a whole. But the reports and screenshots of Gloucestershire UKIP are at the 38 minute mark.

Logan, Winters and Shives also believed that Sargon was also refused entry to a Beefeater restaurant when he went to my home city of Bristol the other day. He wanted to hold a meeting in it, but somebody phoned them up to warn them that a Fascist wanted to hold his meeting there. So they refused.

The trio also joked that Sargon was the reverse Midas. Just as the ancient King in Greek legend turned all he touched into gold, so Sargon turns everything he comes into contact with to ordure. Why, joked Shives, couldn’t he join the Tories? Quite. And while he’s at it, I’d also like him to join the Jewish Labour Movement and get a job with Gabriel Pogrund on the Sunday Times, writing articles about how Corbyn and his supporters are anti-Semites. That should destroy those organisations.

According to Logan and co, UKIP’s polling is about 2.4 per cent, which is just above the 2 per cent level needed to get one of the two listed candidates for south-west England elected. But Sargon is the second, and at this rate definitely won’t be going to Europe any time soon. But after his performance, and support from Yiannopolis, it’s going to be a good question whether there’s still a UKIP party after this election.

 

 

 

The Shallow Now

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/05/2019 - 4:39am in

Tags 

reviews, Film


The worst advice anyone ever got in a movie is in Casablanca. An underage, newly married Bulgarian girl (Joy Page) wants to leave Casablanca and go to America with her husband, but without having to sleep with the local corrupt cop (Claude Rains) to get them both visas. She asks café proprietor Humphrey Bogart what she should do. “You want my advice?” he says. “Go back to Bulgaria.” Cold War is the story of that girl if she had gone back to Bulgaria.

Sargon Begins Car-Crash UKIP Campaign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/04/2019 - 7:20pm in

As it’s now certain that we’re still going to be in the EU for the European election, the various racist, anti-EU, anti-immigrant and islamophobic parties are lining up to campaign. And that includes UKIP, who, as I’ve blogged previously, have selected Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, to be one of their two listed candidates for the southwest. Sargon’s a right-wing internet personality with a hatred of ‘political correctness’, meaning feminism and anti-racist and gay rights activism. He styles himself a ‘centrist moderate’ and a ‘classical liberal’. The latter means that he isn’t moderate, but believes in the classical economics of the 19th century: everything should be privatised, and there should be little or nothing in the way of a welfare state. And as an anti-feminist, Sargon is notorious for a Tweet he sent to the Labour MP, Jess Philips, when she was describing the rape and death threats she’d received via twitter, which said ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’.

Sargon launched his campaign at a big UKIP conference last week or so with his fellow internet rightist, Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula, and current Kipperfuhrer Batten. Dankula is the man, who was convicted of spreading hate by making a video showing how he had taught his girlfriend’s pug to make the Nazi salute when he shouted ‘Gas the Jews’. It was not a pretty spectacle. In fact it was, as Star Trek’s Ferengi used to say, ‘Ugly. Very ugleee!’ Although it was supposed to be a press conference, Sargon started by attacking the press, boasting that their audiences were collapsing while he had a million subscribers. When asked about his notorious rape tweet by a female reporter from Sky News, Sargon got defensive and said that it wasn’t a rape threat. Which is disingenuous, as no-one said it was. What everyone found offensive was that it was directed at a woman, who had suffered rape. Kevin Logan, discussing the tweet and Sargon’s catastrophic press meeting with Dr. Kristi Winters, argued that his tweet was threatening, in that by including the word ‘even’ Sargon was suggesting that there were people, he did consider worth raping.

And everyone has picked up on that Tweet. Sargon has been massively pilloried for it in the mainstream press, with the Scum – of all papers! – describing him as a ‘sicko’. But this hasn’t deterred Sargon and his supporters from defending it. They try to wave it all off by saying that it all happened three years ago, and so it’s no longer relevant. But it is, as unlike the other politicos, who’ve been forced to apologise for ill-judged or malign comments, they’re still defending it and haven’t changed their views. In fact, the evening before the press conference Meechan and Sargon had held an event at which they talked about themselves. And Meechan told a joke that was arguably even worse. He was talking about how he had been poor at university. The were so poor, they couldn’t afford hook-ups, and so had to resort to rape. But it was worse for the women, who were also poor and always being raped. It’s the kind of joke which would have any other political party demanding an apology or considering suspending the politico involved. Not so UKIP, apparently. Back at the press conference, Sargon said he wasn’t going to answer any more questions from them, as they were ‘dirty, dirty smearers’. Which he then contradicted by immediately asking, ‘any questions?’

Sargon is also notorious for a post he put up on his YouTube channel in which he used a range of racial slurs against Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gays and the mentally handicapped. The anti-racist/ anti-religious extremism organisation has dug it out, and yesterday put up a piece about this wretched video, including a transcript. The post was made in November 2015, and was titled ‘Offence Is Never Given, Retard’, but has since been pulled from YouTube for violating their community guidelines. Sargon’s video was a response to another piece trying to get people to stop using racial slurs. This featured a Black man, Hispanic woman, gay man, an Asian, a Jew and a woman with Down’s Syndrome, who come forward and say, ‘It’s not acceptable to call me – ‘ and then the racial or sexual slur, ‘n***er’, ‘Sp*c’, ‘f*g’, ‘k*ke’, ‘Ch*nk’ and ‘retard’. Sargon then protests against all this, and claims it’s perfectly acceptable to call Asians ‘ch*nks’ because they are more privileged than Whites. He then ends his video with a piece of text reading

DON’T LET THESE AUTHORITARIAN BUSYBODIES CONTROL YOU.

IT’S NOT UP TO YOU TO PROTECT THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS, IT IS FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL TO DO THAT FOR THEMSELVES.

AND IT CAN BE SO LIBERATING TO BE PURILE [sic] OCCASIONALLY.

GOD FORBID THESE STODGY BASTARDS OUTLAW OFFENDING PEOPLE.

Oh yes, and just to be really offensive he puts up in front of the Black man the title of a notoriously offensive Danish movie, Gay N*ggers from Space.

The piece by Hope Not Hate also states that Benjamin’s cameraman, Michael Brooks, is another rightist, who has described himself as ’14 and 88′, a far right code mixing ‘Heil Hitler’ with the notorious ’14 words. He has contributed to various far right sites, and once posted a graph showing how the birthrate in Africa was outstripping that in Europe with the phrase, ‘Planet of the Apes is coming’. Brooks appeared alongside Sargon at another Brexit rally organised by UKIP and the Islamophobe Tommy Robinson.

UKIP Euro Candidate’s Vile Racial Slur-Ridden Rant

And this week Sargon kicked off his campaign in his home town of Swindon. He arranged to meet his public by the fountain, before moving to the pub, which he considered to be a more comfortable environment. He showed his characteristic lack of punctuality by turning up half an hour late. No-one from the mainstream media bother to be in attendance, and even the reporter from the Swindon Advertiser packed it in and went off after a while. Which doesn’t bode well for Sargon’s media coverage. Not that he can really complain – he deliberately baited them at the UKIP press conference, expecting to be able to pick up votes online. Kevin Logan pointed out that what he doesn’t seem to understand is that of his million subscribers, many are abroad and so can’t vote for him, while those in Britain are spread all over the country, so that there may be very few of his supporters in the southwest. Which means that the number of people, who know who he is, yet alone intend to vote for him, may be very small. He did turn up in Bristol on Wednesday, where he had a small gathering, but the UKIP rally was vastly overshadowed by Change UK’s.

See Kevin Logan’s and Kristi Winter’s video discussing Sargon’s campaign at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOd0KMVJDBQ&t=7193s This is two and three-quarters of an hour long, but the last 50 minutes or so are about an incident in America where the racist YouTuber Andy Warski was threatened with violence for his stupid antics.

Also, as Zelo Street has pointed out, Aubrey Attwater, the chairman of UKIP’s Swindon branch, has also demanded Sargon’s deselection because of his rape tweet. See https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/04/carl-benjamin-forgotten-already.html

Sargon is proud of having appeared at the European parliament supporting UKIP, but this looks like it’s going to be the high point of his career. With antagonism, hostility and apathy from the press and his own local party, and more general outrage from the rest of the population at his racism, misogyny and bigotry, hopefully Sargon’s hopes to be an MEP are doomed to failure.

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.

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