Science and superheroes : how close are we to creating real superpowers?

As Marvel’s Deadpool hits screens we ask: with three out of five fictional superheroes owing their powers to science, will we ever have real superpowers?

There are, according to the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game (a source I am choosing to accept as 100% canonical), five general origins for all superheroic powers: Altered Humans (Spiderman, Fantastic Four), High-Tech Wonders (Iron Man, Batman), Mutants (X-Men,) Robots (The Vision) and Aliens (Superman and gods like Thor).

Until quite recently all five of the general origins of super powers seemed entirely beyond reach. But is the high speed advance of science in the 21st century bringing those superpowers based upon it – Altered Humans, High Tech Wonders and Robots – any closer?

Read more @ Guardian Science.

The ominous ordinary: horror writers finding scares in the everyday

Some of the very best work in this genre comes from writers who embed their terrors into strikingly everyday settings.

Long-lived short fiction magazines are a rarity today. And ones that have had a real impact on the wider landscape of storytelling are even rarer. So issue 50 of Black Static marks a important milestone for editor Andy Cox and TTA Press, who are responsible for two of the world’s most significant outlets for short fiction.

Reality, even comfortable suburban reality, is transitory and fleeting.

The Third Alternative was already a well-established showcase for stories that moved between sci-fi, fantasy and horror themes when Andy Cox took ownership of the legendary science fiction publication Interzone. With Interzone’s strong focus on SF, Cox made the decision to refocus TTA on horror, and rebrand it as Black Static.

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How do you balance complexity and simplicity in your writing?

I love this research revealed in The Guardian today from a scientific study that claims to have found fractal patterns in novels like Finnegans Wake.

James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake has been described as many things, from a masterpiece to unreadable nonsense. But it is also, according to scientists at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Poland, almost indistinguishable in its structure from a purely mathematical multifractal.

The academics put more than 100 works of world literature, by authors from Charles Dickens to Shakespeare, Alexandre Dumas, Thomas Mann, Umberto Eco and Samuel Beckett, through a detailed statistical analysis. Looking at sentence lengths and how they varied, they found that in an “overwhelming majority” of the studied texts, the correlations in variations of sentence length were governed by the dynamics of a cascade – meaning that their construction is a fractal: a mathematical object in which each fragment, when expanded, has a structure resembling the whole.

Fractals are used in science to model structures that contain re-occurring patterns, including snowflakes and galaxies.

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The idea of stories as fractals resonates with me deeply. Anything that happens is both part of anther happening, and has happenings within it. I take a walk in the forest. During my walk I see a deer. I follow the deer to a cave. In the cave I find a stone with my name on. Interesting, and it’s all still happening whilst I am walking in the forest, which is a part of the day that I wrote this story on. And so on.

I’ve been working with stories in this way for most of a decade. But it comes with problem. Part of the beauty of fractal structures is their complexity. A diamond is so beautiful because every facet reflects every other facet, and it’s a beauty almost everyone can share in. But complex writing quickly becomes something that only expert readers can enjoy. Finnegans Wake is anything but unreadable nonsense, but if your mind isn’t good at following complex linguistic and narrative patterns, I can see how it might easily appear to be.

Simplicity is a strength in storytelling. The line, not the fractal, is the model for most narrative. A linear sequence of events, connected one after the other by cause and effect, is most of our great stories work. But our minds aren’t linear. They skip between events connected by emotion and theme far more than time. And when you dive deeply into point-of-view and how your characters see the world, fractal shaped narratives seem natural.

How do you as a writer balance the needs of complexity and simplicity? Do you hold to only linear narratives? Are there techniques and ways you use to combine the fractal and the linear? I’d love to know your thoughts, please leave a comment below.

Umberto Eco shares wonderful thoughts on complexity in storytelling in the lectures recorded in Six Walks In The Fictional Woods, a fantastic read for writers grow their practice up to higher levels.

I found the ultimate digital nomad shoulder bag…the maker surprised me.

For the best part of three years now I’ve been living as a “digital nomad”. Nobody I know, including hundreds of digital nomad friends I’ve made along the way, really likes the term, but it’s less clunky than “location independent entrepreneur” and generally conveys the idea of working whilst travelling. Or as one of my nomad friends says, “owning a laptop and a backpack”. And it’s backpacks I want to talk about today. Or to be specific, shoulder bags.

If you move frequently, bags take on a greatly increased significance in your life. Traditional backpackers of the kind who have been trawling up and down the hippy trail since the 70s and 80s, carry all kinds of things like sleeping bags, cooking gear and emergency medical supplies. And good for them, I appreciate their survivalist ethic, I simply don’t share it. The “digital nomad” ethic is more…minimalist.

I can pack everything I own into two bags in under an hour, walk or ride on a scooter  with those bags to an airport, get on an airplane without paying additional luggage fees, and then drop my bags at a new apartment in a new city on the same day. I do this roughly every few months. While it wouldn’t suit everyone, I love the nomadic freedom my minimalist luggage allows me.

Key to my lightweight travel rig is a Lowe Alpine TT Carry On 40. They don’t make these anymore, but the most important thing is that a 40 litre bag is about the limit that you can carry on to most budget airlines. If you can fit the bulk of your possessions into 40 litres of luggage space you can travel almost for nothing, as most budget airlines offer super cheap seats in the expectation they will make money from your luggage.

Most travellers and nomads combine a backpack with a small bag that they carry day to day. Something like the Osprey Daylite Backpack is not uncommon. The clear problem with this is that you’re travelling with two backpacks but you only have one back. Which is why you see travellers with their smaller pack slung across their chest, like some giant needy baby.

Look. If you’re walking through New Delhi in 48C temperatures, you’re going to be a sweaty mess. But at least my torso and essential organs aren’t swaddled on both sides by two huge bundles of heat retaining fabric. This is because I carry a shoulder bag, which I can more easily combine with my main backpack.

A shoulder bag is also, in 98% of situations, both more convenient and more secure than a small backpack. Walking through a Bangkok street market? You can shift a shoulder bag to your front for security. Need to get your wallet in a hurry? You don’t have to twist your shoulders every five minutes to access your bag. Shoulder bags for the win!

Digital nomads are a 21st century counter culture.

I’ve been travelling for over two years with a shoulder bag purchased from a camping shop in the UK for the princely sum of £10. I love that bag. It’s been to Thailand, Malaysia, Laos and across India with me, on planes, bikes, scooters and trains, and for a budget shoulder bag it’s done a great job, but it’s never been ideal. So for the whole of that two years I have been looking for a replacement. SPOILER ALERT : it took me until this week to find one.

Why? Well, other than being the world’s most demanding shoulder bag shopper, companies that make bags do not take the shoulder bag seriously. That is my conclusion after 24 solid months of bag hunting. Shops that are packed full of backpacks will have maybe one or two derisory shoulder bag offerings. And they are ALL WRONG.

Of course, there are no end of impractical, fashion oriented handbags. There also lots of poor quality “manbags” made from canvas and leather, a heavy material that no traveller wants to lug around. Then there messenger bags, with their stupid huge fold over top flaps. Or specialist laptop bags, with ridiculous amounts of padding. Low end bags usually have cheap plastic strap attachments that tangle or break easily. The few high end bags I found that came close to my needs were always either way to big or way to small. Seriously, I looked at hundreds of bags in the last two years, and none of them were better than my £10 camping bag.

(I actually came very close to setting up a Kickstarter for the ultimate digital nomad shoulder bag, but I’m a writer not a luggage magnate. However, if you’re one of the legions of bag companies failing miserably to make a decent shoulder bag, I can tell you exactly where you are going wrong.)

The right bag, when I found it, really surprised me. The Targus Revolution 13 took a little while to win me over when I found it on sale at one of Chiang Mai’s huge electronics stores. Targus is a brand I associate with laptop cases made in the era of 17″ laptops that weighed 6kg and needed industrial grade padding just for a walk down the street. My laptop is a shard of aluminium I could beat a mugger to death with without damaging, it doesn’t need that much padding! But after some rigorous testing, the Targus won me over.

(Yes, I am the guy who stands in the electronics store for an hour testing a bag before buying it. With a growing audience of the stores employees watching me.)

The Targus is similar to the Thule Subterra that was another close contender in my bag hunt. The Subterra is just too small however, and has a weedy strap. The Targus seems small at first, but has a deceptive Tardis like like quality that means it can hold a lot more stuff than seems possible. It has a great strap, with strong metal clips placed a little away from the bags outer edges, which makes the bag much less liable to spin around in annoying ways.

It’s fair to say I am a super-fussy shoulder bag buyer, so I do have criticisms of the Targus. It’s black, when I’d really prefer a slate grey colour for daily use. Some of the internal pockets are of questionable value – a tiny pocket for SD cards? Really Targus? Most of all, it looks like the kind of bag that is likely to have a lot of valuable electronic kit in, which is a security problem in itself, but one that’s unavoidably true anyway as a traveller in very poor places.

All in all, the Targus is a great bag that has really surprised me. The more general point of this post though is 1) a good shoulder bag is a great travel companion and 2) bag makers…do better on the shoulder bags!

Follow me on Twitter, I’ll tell you more about being a nomad. And…er…scifi! @damiengwalter

Suicide Squad might yet save DC from itself

Welp…Batman VS Superman looks like it’s going to be one of the worst films in history. But Suicide Squad…actually looks quite good. It’s been a looong time since anyone could say that about a DC comics based movie!

I’ve never read the Suicide Squad comics, but based on this trailer I will now check them out.

Sure, DC often seem like the people who know least about what to do with the vastly valuable intellectual property they own…but then Suicide Squad has the air of a skunk works project, running below the radar of whichever fools are steering the Batman / Superman ship.

We shall see.

 

Neuromancer…still the best science fiction novel ever written

When life takes an unexpected left turn I do four things – tidy my room, go running, take 72 hours away from anything stressful…and read a good book.

This time around I landed on Neuromancer by William Gibson. I first read this book when I was 14, I suspect I read it at least seven our eight times before I was 20, and if I had to point at one cause for ending up in the scifi industry, Gibson’s novel would likely be it.

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Neuromancer by William Gibson

Going back to such an influential book after an 18 year time lapse is…risky. I also really liked Dragonlance books when I was 14, and let’s just say those didn’t hold up when I last re-read one. But from the iconic first sentence onwards, Neuromancer didn’t just hold up to, it exceeded my expectations.

Yeah, cyberspace, virtual reality, Artificial Intelligence blah blah blah. Praise for Neuromancer tends to focus on the ideas, and those are certainly there. But coming back to the book with two decades writing experience under my belt, what floored me is just what a spectacular feat of storytelling it is.

Firstly, Gibson writes that rare beast, a truly cinematic novel. Neuromancer weighs in at around 80,000 words – a short book by today’s standards. In that space Gibson constructs a near perfect 3 act structure. Many Neuromancer film adaptations have been rumoured, none have ever materialised, perhaps because of the pretty awful Johnny Mnemonic. If a filmmaker ever does adapt Neuromancer, they could use Gibson’s manuscript beat for beat as an edit decision list. The prose is so spare that Gibson turns entire scenes in a few sentences.

This is only possible because Gibson’s visual imagination is balanced with a poetic sensibility. Nikon eye implants, the scent of German steel, a white cube AI hiding in the consensual hallucination that is the matrix. Gibson isn’t interested in ideas so much as the poetry that the language of ideas creates on the page. There aren’t many poets in the science fiction field. In fact, you could argue that Gibson is the only one.
I write this knowing that, of course, you all aren’t going to agree. Subjective aesthetic standards, etc, not everybody likes the same thing. I’ve never entirely bought that line of argument. Preferences are subjective, but quality is rather more objective. Not everyone likes Porsche sports cars, but few people would tell you they’e low quality. There’s a reason Neuromancer has sold 6 million copies and counting, amidst a science fiction genre where most books sell only a few thousand…it’s brilliant storytelling, in a genre that tends to overlook the value of story.

“Hard SF”, that part of the genre that is all about the science, has a problem with storytelling. Perhaps it’s because the story is the humanistic part of the equation, and the personalities drawn to scientific speculation and futurism have a bias against the “soft” arts of communication, persuasion, composition, and of course poetry. Hard SF novels often feel like they’ve been written by people who don’t read or even particularly like novels, or who have simply never applied the same intelligence to learning story that they have to learning physics.

Which leaves Neuromancer almost alone and entirely unmatched in the the tiny field of hard SF books written by people who actually know how to write, and how to tell a great story. It’s held that title for thirty some years now. And it will continue to hold it, until anther great poet comes along and decides to recycle the detritus of hard SF into something readable.
Read an extensive interview with Neal Stephenson, whose vision of cyberpunk starkly contrasted with William Gibson’s.

The intellectual conflict that defined 20th century science

Most of us today recognise the theory of relativity as a foundation of modern science, even if few of us can claim to truly understand it. Even if we can’t conceptualise the truth of a universe in which space and time are famously unified as spacetime, we can enjoy the idea that a human travelling at light speed could return to Earth years or decades in the future, producing the time travel effect made famous in sci-fi stories like Planet of the Apes.

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The Physicist & The Philosopher by Jimena Canales

So it’s fascinating to remember that Einstein’s theory of general relativity was published only a century ago in 1916, and that from the publication of the theory of special relativity in 1905, Einstein’s ideas met with resistance every bit as fierce as the excitement they generated. Much of that resistance came from within the scientific world itself. But perhaps the most significant challenge cam from the parallel field of philosophy.

“On April 6, 1922, Einstein met a man he would never forget. He was one of the most celebrated philosophers of the century, widely known for espousing a theory of time that explained what clocks did not: memories, premonitions, expectations and anticipations.”

That man was Henri Bergson, the most famous philosopher of the 19th and early 20th century. And as Jimena Canales reminds us in her fascinating work of non-fiction The Physicist & The Philosopher, had he not been seen to lose in his argument with Einsten, Bergson might still occupy the public imagination as one of history’s all time great thinkers. Instead today he is all but forgotten.

Einstein and Bergson’s argument represented far more than a clash between two great intellects. By the late 19th century Bergson was hailed across Europe as the champion of a new, romantic worldview that fought back against science, materialism, modernity, and the shocking waves of industrialisation that had transformed much of Europe by 1900, and would contribute to the huge carnage of World War One. His works including Creative Evolution reignited a passion for philosophy around the entire world. By 1915 he was as famous, and as controversial, as Richard Dawkins is today.

But as The Physicist & The Philosopher documents, Bergson’s public conflict with the upstart Einstein would ultimately undo his reputation, consign philosophy to an at best tertiary role in the shadow of science, and usher in a century and a society dominated by hard science, technology, industry, and most of all, progress.

 

“The major task of the twentieth century will be to explore the unconscious, to investigate the subsoil of the mind.”

Henri Bergson’s famous words, that encapsulate the heart of his philosophy, proved to be only half true. While Freud, Jung and a generation of psychological thinkers would dig deep into that subsoil, their conclusions would remain starkly separate from the physics of Einstein and others. The argument Jimena Canales so elegantly allows history to make in The Physicist & The Philosopher is just how close the ideas of Einstein and Bergson really were, and that the challenge for 21st century thinkers must surely be the unification of the two.

Read The Physicist & The Philosopher by Jimena Canales to gain a full insight into the epic conflict that shaped modern science, and combine it with The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts to dive deeper into spiritual philosophy.

Why is Rey such a great hero?

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Heroes are an interesting character type. Not every protagonist is a hero, far from it. Most stories are about relatively ordinary people going on journeys and overcoming challenges. But there is no challenge too great for the hero. Need a dragon slain, an innocent rescued, a Death Star explodeyed? The hero is your man. Or woman. Or non-gender binaried person.

READ MORE : What is the Kenobi Theorem?

Anyone who tries writing the archetypal hero eventually hits the the Hard Question of all epic narratives. Why is this human, among all these other humans, the hero? What makes them special? From whence do their powers come? And buried inside this Hard Question is an even harder one…why should we the audience care? We know heroes are never what they seem, so why should we for the timespan of this story believe that this one hero is?

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Haynes’ Star Wars Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual

This little essay is going to get to Rey, the young hero of The Force Awakens, soon enough. But in preparation lets just acknowledge that Rey is, without argument, the most perfect hero of 21st century storytelling to date. Throw some other names in the comments if you wish, you won’t find one that beats Rey for absolute raw heroic brilliance. We’ll get to why.

There have, in the history of epic storytelling, been a few answers to the “why” of heroism. The most common, by far, is fatherhood. And it is always through a father that the heroes heroic lineage is established. Epic heroes from Rama to Arthur have been defined by being the son of a king or lord of some kind. In Star Wars Luke Skywalker is of course the son of Anakin Skywalker, that bloodline being the source of his strength with The Force.

“Contrast that with Kylo Ren, whose upbringing has given him, to say the least, crippling daddy issues.”

How many sons of rich fathers do you know who are heroic? How many powerful men can you name who are heroic? Even if we accept that occasionally some spoilt trust-fund kid MIGHT be heroic, experience suggests it’s despite their bloodline, not because of it. Snowboarding holidays in Aspen, yes. Sacrificing all for a noble lost cause? Not so much. Even though we continue to repeat it endlessly, the patriarchal inheritance myth doesn’t really hold water today, if it ever did.

God. Or gods, are the other source of heroic powers. Like many classical heroes, Theseus is said to be the son of the god Poseidon, which in turn gives him strength to rescue the city of Athens. Many heroes of Indian myth were avatars of the gods Shiva or Vishnu (an interestingly modern idea, the avatar, in our era of virtual realities). George Lucas roled out the Christian version of this one by making Anakin Skywalker a “virgin birth”. I probably don’t need to work too hard to dispel the credibility of divinely sourced heroism. Few now believe in gods of this kid, or in heroes as their children.

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New hope…or chosen one trope?

 

The Chosen One is the modern, secular equivalent of these outdated origin stories. Neo (Or Neil as I call him) in the Matrix isn’t the hero for any reason other than he just is, alright? He’s been chosen by…someone…to save everybody. The problem with The Chosen One trope is, it doesn’t actually answer the question. Why has THIS random dude been chosen? What is it about them that means they can triumph against the odds? This trope is used in wish fulfilment narratives like the recent, utterly awful Armada by Ernest Cline, where the only point of the hero is to stand in for the reader and let them fantasise about effortless success and glory without sacrifice.

Dull.

Rey’s heroism is built on a very different foundation, that has two main pillars.

The first is adversity. Director JJ Abrams spins a red herring narrative to make us all ask who Rey’s father is, but the answer is, it doesn’t matter. The Rey who kicks ass isn’t the child of that father, they are the child of almost twenty years spent alone as a scavenger on Jakku. That adversity has shaped Rey’s spirit into a strong form. Contrast that with Kylo Ren, whose upbringing has given him, to say the least, crippling daddy issues. It’s never in doubt that Rey will kick Kylo’s pampered butt when they finally get to it, because she has had to live the life of a badass, while Kylo knows deep down that he’s only a pretender.

The second is choice.

 

Both Rey and Finn become heroes because they choose, again and again, to throw off power. And it’s the choice that is key here. They aren’t born to this, it isn’t a matter of fate. Finn, in particular, has been conditioned from birth to comply to power, but CHOOSES not to. Every choice Rey and Fin make takes them a step further on the heroes journey, and every step is freely chosen. The outcome is a story of a young woman and a black man beating the hell out of patriarchal power structures, a truly contemporary heroic tale if ever there was one.

It’s not surprising then that some people haven’t reacted all that well to Finn and Rey. People who’ve been brought up to believe that being a rich white male will automatically make them the hero of the story face a rude awakening in a world where it’s the adversity we overcome, and the choices we make on the path, that truly define our heroic value. There’s still plenty of stories about indolent princes with god complexes for those spoilt boys to enjoy, Star Wars just isn’t one of them any more.

The rest of us can find new hope in Star Wars. We can’t change the circumstances of our birth, and we certainly can’t claim to be children of gods. We aren’t the chosen one, because there’s nobody in the real world with the power to choose. But we all face adversity, and we all have the power of our own choices. The reason our hearts sing when Rey finally takes up the lightsaber in The Force Awakens, is because the heroic part inside us all wakes up to watch. That’s why we need heroic tales, because once the hero inside is awakened, they can never truly sleep again.

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Hope you enjoyed this little essay on heroism. Come follow me on twitter! @damiengwalter

So. Who are Rey’s parents? ***SPOILER WARNING***

***SPOILER ALERT***

Watch The Force Awakens before reading this. It won’t mean much to you if you haven’t. If you have and you see an option not listed here…put your argument forth in the comments.

UPDATE – courtesy of the very talented Dean E S Richard we have solid evidence of a romantic relationship in Ben Kenobi’s past that supports The Kenobi Theory. From the Wookiepedia entry on Obi Wan Kenobi under Mandalore’s Death Watch (source is the Clone Wars which is SW canon) :

Maul let Satine go, but stabbed her with the darksaber. She ultimately died in Obi-Wan’s arms saying with her last breath, that she always loved him and always would. Maul, then, had his guards escort Kenobi to a cell where he could “drown in his misery” and “rot.”

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So. That question everyone is asking about Rey? I have an answer. No inside knowledge here, just a careful consideration of what we know from the film, and how the archetypes of Star Wars may play out.

The question of course is…who are Rey’s parents? We have a young girl abandoned on a desert planet, who is the hero of a story that smartly riffs on Star Wars : A New Hope, but gender flips the boy hero into a girl hero. As you must know by now (or where have you been?) Luke’s parentage provides a big shock in the original trilogy. And now literally everyone is asking…who is Rey the daughter of exactly?

Before we get into this…NOBODY IN THE STR WARS UNIVERSE HAS HAD THEIR MEMORY WIPED. If your explanation of parentage relies on mind-wiping…you are wrong.

Lets knock out the obvious candidates first.

Rey Skywalker

rey-the-force-awakens-jakkuForce Awakens leaves us with the very strong lead that Rey is the daughter of Luke Skywalker. From Rey’s strong ways with the Force, natural piloting ability, her being called by Luke’s saber, and final journey to find the last Jedi, it would surprise nobody if Rey turned out to be Luke’s daughter.

Which is why she most likely isn’t. First, daughter with who? Aren’t Jedi basically monks with vows of chastity? And then, why would Luke just dump his own daughter on a desert planet then runaway? Sure, it’s possible, but add it all up, and Luke seems more of a mentor than a father to Rey.

Rey Organa-Solo

daisy_ridley_99867Han Solo turns up suspiciously quickly when Rey is in trouble. And the Millenium Falcon is just sitting on Jakku waiting for her? Likely story. This and many other clues suggest that Rey is the daughter of Han Solo and Leia Organa. They get on well, and as Daisy Ridley hinted in a interview, Rey is a “SOLitary” character.

But COME ON! If General Leia Organa had a daughter, is there any chance in hell she would leave her stranded on Jakku. No. Leia would tear the fucking galaxy apart to get her daughter back. This theory is a non-starter. But, if she’s not Luke or Leia’s daughter…where exactly do Rey’s Jedi powers come from?

Rey Nobody

It’s always been a weakness of Star Wars that the Force was so related to genetic inheritance. It’s possible that JJ Abrams and team are throwing us off the scent and that Rey is just a young woman of no particular importance, who happens to awaken as a Jedi as she’s being sucked into an galactic adventure.

Possible. But in storytelling terms, it seems very unlikely. Close relationships are fundamental to epic storytelling. If Rey is just the daughter of some random folks who forgot to put her back in the shuttle after stopping for petrol at Jakku…it’s going to be an anticlimax…and Hollywood does not like anticlimatic anything, ever.

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Rey Kenobi

This is my speculation, and the more I think about it, the ore it makes sense to me. We now that Luke was training new padawan to become Jedi. We also know that Kylo turned darkside, and was leading the Knights of Ren, who we might guess are the other padawan that turned with him. It would take all of them to defeat Luke.

Now think. Where did these padawan come from? Luke must have collected up children with latent Jedi abilities, and they would most likely have come from families with some Jedi heritage. And what other family name do we connect with the Force ad Jedi.

Kenobi. Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi was a super powerful Jedi. He defeated both Darth Maul and Anakin Skywalker in single combat. A girl of his family, perhaps a granddaughter, maybe a grandniece, has the potential to be a Jedi as powerful as anyone. And Rey’s characterful accent…sounds more than a little like a female Alec Guiness!

And here’s the real thing. Luke loved Ben Kenobi like a father. It makes perfect sense that just as old Ben Kenobi mentored a Skywalker, old Luke Skywalker might now mentor a Kenobi. Rey Kenobi.

My point. I believe it is proven!

Go ahead. Prove. Me. Wrong.

PS – I really want this.

 

 

 

Book piracy is likely a thing of the past

Most writers are still getting used to the idea that almost anybody can get a copy of almost anything on the internet, including the book that took the writer months or years of effort to create. Understandably, many writers get very angry about this, while others think constructively about how copying can help writers and creators build new business models.

Books are actually much less affected by piracy / file sharing / copying than other media. Reading audiences are smaller in size and generally more loyal. The general wisdom today is that copying brings more upsides than downsides, and that even if it doesn’t, there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. But even as authors are adapting to the 15 year old reality of file-sharing, technology is disrupting the digital paradigm in what might be exactly the opposite direction.

You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin as a new kind of money that fluctuates wildly in value, leading to multiple suicides and suspicious deaths. It’s a cryptocurrency, each “bitcoin” the outcome of a complex calculation. Bitcoin in turn is built on a technology called Blockchain. And it’s highly likely that Blockchain, or a technology similar to it, are about to effectively end digital file sharing.

All you need to know to understand why is that Blockchain allows people to track online transactions with a very high degree of accuracy. The how isn’t profoundly complicated, you can read about that elsewhere. Imagine that every time a digital music film, film or book was copied, the creator could see the exact details of that transaction. That’s the promise of Blockchain.

A number of startups are currently attempting to lever Blockchain type technologies as a way to limit, control or stop file sharing. Currently these are music centric, but there’s every reason to think this will be applied across all digital media types. It’s early days, but here are a few Blockchain based models you can easily imagine emerging.

Limited Editions – writers might choose to limit the number of copies of a book to create artificial scarcity. This is impossible with ebooks currently, but an ebook integrated into a block chain can be tracked to limit its distribution.

Trust Systems – writers give readers access to a book, perhaps for a set fee, but if it’s then discovered that user has made or passed on copies they are knocked out of the trust system and don’t get future access.

Collectables – the Blockchain system could make all kinds of digital assets collectable, in the same way they were in the print era. Signed editions, first editions, variant cover and all kinds of merchandising, all become possible for artists to make income from.

The implications of Blockchain for creators are staggering. To get a deeper insight pick up a copy of Blockchain : Blueprint for a New Economy by Melanie Swann.

This conspiracy theory will change how you see Star Wars…forever!

FINALLY! The true hero of the Star Wars saga…REVEALED AT LAST!

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Our story begins on a forest moon in a distant sector of a a faraway galaxy. For generations this diverse world has been protected, a sanctuary, home to dozens of sentient and semi-sentient species. Now the Galactic Republic has fallen, an Empire has risen to replace it, and pivotal to Imperial power is a new class of space battle stations. The first of these “Death Stars” is to be built in orbit of a distant planetoid named Yavin. The second, far larger, will soon take shape in the blue sky over this sanctuary world – Endor.

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Watch Star Wars : A New Hope now.

An Imperial research team dispatched to Endor comes under attack from a curious race of furred bipeds whose name for themselves is best translated as “Ewok“. Long have the Ewok elders observed the human presence within their forests, fearing its spread, knowing that any action may bring down wrath upon them. A hot headed Ewok warrior, who shall remain nameless for now, ignores all warnings and launches a secret attack on the Imperial researchers. In the ensuing Imperial bombardment millions of Ewoks die. The few survivors flee from their towns and cities to hidden forest tree villages. Little did they know that this tragedy would forever alter the course of galactic history.

Is watching Star Wars a religious experience? READ MORE

Decades later, and a Corellian Cruiser is blockaded by an Imperial Star Destroyer above the desert world of Tatooine. Aboard are two droids, one a protocol model of golden colour who bears little significance to our tale. The other, by outward appearance only, an astromech droid of the R2 series, R2-D2, whom we shall call henceforth by its correct name – Artoo. As Storm Troopers lead by Darth Vader board the ship, these two droids escape to the world below. But not before becoming embroiled in a desperate mission.

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Consider the incredible series of events that Artoo will go through as this story progresses, events no ordinary R2 droid could respond to with such warrior guile. First. What can possibly explain the decision of Princess Leia Amidala, a senior leader in the Rebel Alliance, seasoned diplomat, and latent Jedi master, to entrust the entire future of the cause for which she fights into the the hands…or rollers…of an astromech droid? What does she know at this time that we do not? Ask yourself that question.

Stranded in an unforgiving desert, captured by slave trading Jawas, and fitted with a restraining bolt, Artoo is nonetheless able to exert a mysterious influence over its captors that persuades them to take the droid to the only person on the entire planet who can help it complete its mission – Luke Skywalker. Artoo then displays advanced psychological manipulation skills, playing only part of Leia’s message to General Kenobi, thereby tempting the young farm hand into action. Kenobi claims never to have owned an R2 unit, but is careful not to press the point. What does he see in Artoo that we do not? What does Kenobi…fear?

Artoo’s role in the infiltration, and later destruction, of the first Death Star is well documented. But the droid’s true significance has never been recognised. Consider these events. Upon exiting the captured Millenium Falcon, Artoo’s absolute focus is on accessing the Imperial computer systems, so much so that he almost allows his entire team to be garbage compacted. Why? What could Artoo being doing, other than scouring for every kilobyte of available data on BOTH planned Death Stars? A true spy thinks well ahead…and a true warrior always takes revenge.

Consider this. ALL of the data on the Death Star, both the stolen secret plans, and the additional material from the hacked Imperial computers, comes from Artoo. Are we to believe that one skilled X-Wing pilot after another failed to hit those exhaust ports – a shot no harder than “bullseyeing a womp rat” – or is there a simpler…if more sinister…explanation? Is it not more believable that the location of the exhaust ports, misrepresented in the data handed over by Artoo, allowed a long held vendetta to be played out?

“To what end did Artoo radicalise the young Skywalker, and deploy him as a weapon in its personal vendetta against the Empire?”

The official narrative tells us that Luke Skywalker was guided by the ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi to use the Force to destroy the Death Star. On which I am here to call BULL SHIT. We already know that Artoo has access to holographic visual and audio projection capabilities. Seated behind Skywalker, Artoo was more than capable of fooling this impressionable youth into closing off his sensors AND SHUTTING HIS EYES then using its own superior astro-mech capabilities, and the accurate location data, to take the shot itself.

But why? Only a being intent on revenge would go out of their way to bloody their hands with the thousands of Imperial lives who perished on Death Star #1.

Remember the words of Vader as he, the galaxy’s greatest pilot, closes on Luke’s X-Wing. “The force is strong in this one.” Remember also, it is Artoo, not Luke, that Vader then hits (but fails to knockout, Artoo’s pretence at being unconscious in the crucial moments only strengthens its cover. Remember also, the celebratory medal giving event? Picture the R2 droid rocking on its wheels as Luke is given his medal? That’s not joy, that’s the suppressed rage of a true warrior who can not claim its victory!! !

Artoo is merciless in its ongoing manipulation of the young Skywalker. Time and again it conjures visions of the dead Ben Kenobi to send the young Jedi warrior in the direction that Artoo’s true agnda requires of him. Artoo’s skills are so great, it can even prime Skywalker with hypnotic suggestions that manifest at a later time, as when Skywalker “sees” Kenobi on the icy plains of Hoth, and receives the message to visit the enigmatic Master Yoda.

If any creature suffered at the hands of Artoo as the “droid’s” plot unfolded, it was the swamp dwelling creature, his true name unknown, that was made to pretend the identity of a great Jedi Master. Using its projectors on the tightest setting, focussed to whisper directly into the dumb creatures cerebral cortex, Artoo used this “Yoda” as a puppet and then, at the last, disposed of it without mercy. The potential for humiliation at the highest levels of the New Republic forced authorities to retcon the official history of the Jedi Order to include the improbable figure of a swamp dwelling sub-sentiet toad as it’s greatest ever Jedi Master! From the green lips of “Master Yoda” came the lies that gave Artoo absolute control over the soul of young Skywalker.

Anakin Skywalker murdered Padawan children. LIES. The Empire arose from a Sith conspiracy. LIES. Vader intended to turn Luke, his own son, to this dark side MORE LIES. Evidence is strong that Vader’s true plans were for a largely democratic galactic government. It was only the terrorist threat from the Jedi Order itself, best on a return to theocratic religious dictatorship, that forced Vader to institute such draconian security measures. The conflict between competing Republican and Imperial power bases had raged for centuries, with BOTH sides committing atrocities when it suited their purposes.

To what end did Artoo radicalise the young Skywalker, and deploy him as a weapon in its personal vendetta against the Empire? It was as a radicalised terrorist that Luke walked into the throne room of the Emperor aboard the second Death Star, as a weapon primed and set to murder both his own father and his father’s mentor, a decapitation strategy that…against all odds…succeeded in crippling the far superior Imperial military forces. All of it guided by the intelligence of Artoo Deetoah, for that indeed is her true full name.

But why? Why? WHY??? Think back to those tragic events on Endor. For where, ultimately, do Artoo Deetoah’s actions lead us but there? It is here that the Skywalker plot reaches its fulfilment. It is here that a Rebel Fleet is lured into a trap that forces a conforntation with Imperial forces. It is above Endor that the second Death Star is destroyed, ending forever it’s threat to the world below. Whose agenda does this play to? Do you not see?

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A once great people reduced to refugees

Artoo Deetoah was none other than the young warrior maiden who sought to safeguard her people against the military threat of Imperial colonisation. Mortally wounded in her ill considered frontal assault, grieving the many Ewok lives lost through her miscalculation, Artoo Deetoah has her shattered body placed into the shell of a scavenged astro-mech, and heads to the stars to take her bloody revenge.

We may question Artoo Deetoah’s methods. We might mourn the tens of thousands dead from her actions. We may sympathise with the calculated destruction of the Skywalker clan and its once great reputation. But could we truly ask a great warrior to do anything less to protect the innocent indigenous people of Endor? Thanks to Artoo, they have peace, which neither side – Imperial or Republican – might have otherwise given them. Those who know the truth now fear the Ewok as a fearsome foe. Is that not the ultimate evidence that Artoo Detooah is the true hero of Star Wars?

Joseph Campbell on why we must create our own mythologies

Myth still conjures a strong negative reaction in many of us. For most of the millions of people awaiting the release of Star Wars : The Force Awakens, myths are an entertaining diversion. For the rigorously scientific and many people of a skeptical mindset, myths are nothing moe than glamorous lies. But for millions of others, myself included, myths have a meaning so profound we find it almost impossible to express.

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

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The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The words of Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth inspired an entire generation to think in new ways about myths. In discussion with Bill Moyer, Campbell found the ideal format to communicate his complex ideas to the widest possible audience. Published almost forty years earlier, The Hero With A Thousand Faces was the first full of expression of Campbell’s ideas on myth. It would ultimately inspire storytellers and filmmakers including George Lucas and Steven Spielberg among many others. Campbell’s thoughts on how modern myths are crafted echoes much of the best advice given to writers today to seek a sacred space in which to create.

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

In his great history of world religion, The Masks of God, Joseph Campbell articulated the most inspiring idea of his long and fascinating career. As the great religious traditions had begun to collapse and lose credibility, a process he dates back as far as 1600, humanity had reclaimed the true power of myth. No longer would myth express the monolithic ideas of Christianity or Buddhism. Instead writers and storytellers of all kinds would create new myths that captured the uniqueness of each ones transcendent experience. Campbell named this reversal of the old ways, “creative mythology”.

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The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell

“…the individual has had an experience of his own–of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration–which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realisation has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the value and force of living myth – for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, uncoerced.”

It’s the value and force of living myth that bring so many millions of people to a story like Star Wars, The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. And surely it’s our own desire to find new symbols for own experiences of order, horror, beauty and exhilaration that inspire so many people today to create their own mythic stories using ancient formulas of myth. If you’re on the path to getting your own creative mythology down in words, read about Alan Watts and the myth of security to help keep fear at bay.

If you found value in the post, please think about supporting as a patron, and getting access to my essay series on conquering creative fear in return.

 

 

Writer. Columnist for The Guardian. Writing teacher.

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