The writings of social theorists who analyse "the techno-cultural condition of the present and forseeable future"
sometimes reveal a recursive relationship between SF literature and post-modern social theory: Jean Baudrillard's narrative, for
example, can be read as science fiction and cyberpunk literature in turn as a kind of social theory.
The article opens with a Science Fiction overview before considering the Cyberpunk movement in some detail. It is an objective to investigate "the making and remaking of [virtual] worlds," while rendering generative links between science fiction content and contemporary technologies. Graphic user interfaces and the internet, for example, have drawn due inspiration from Gibsonian cyberspace. The article also examines the post-modern pastiche of the film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, before converging on the fictional universe of Stargate SG-1.
1 Science Fiction and Cyberpunk
Science Fiction (SF) is a genre based on science, techno-culture, and speculative events in a future world. Sci-Fi has appeared in
books, film, TV and electronic games, and includes the classics of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury, authors from
the '60s like J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, and Frank Herbert, and cyberpunk works by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. SF subjects
encompass space travel, parallel universes, alien life forms, robots, cyborgs, computers and artificial intelligence.
Science fiction creates a mise-en-scène (and 'cognitive estrangement') by dissolving physical and psychological structures, by inverting binary oppositions of known and unknown, human and machine.
"It was late in the day when she began singing the song as she moved among the whispering pillars of rain. She sang it over and
over again ... She put her hand to her mouth, unbelieving. The sun was setting. The house was closing itself in, like a giant flower,
with the passing of light ... " (Bradbury, 1950)
Cyberpunk SF combined film noir, detective fiction, and postmodernist elements with contemporary trends to render a dystopian, over-technologised near-future world. Cyberpunk stories are usually structured around Cyberspace - an immersive datasphere based on human-machine fusions and globally networked computers.
The struggle between alienated outsiders and totalitarian systems, organic and synthetic lifeforms drives the cyberpunk odyssey. In traversing the urban sprawl, "flowering electronic landscapes" or the tall skyscrapers, a skilled hacker may challenge the status quo - perhaps by infiltrating some megacorporation more powerful than a government. And yet the same 'heroic' protagonists will succumb to this infinity, like "the speed of thrill," as their soul comes under "the sway of matter" while "hallucinations and reality collapse into each other," leading to entrapment, psychosis, and virtual death. (1)
"The surfaces, faces, were white, perfectly blank ... The thing unfolded a pair of horns; these lengthened, curved, became pincers that arced out to grasp the pyramid. He saw the tips sink smoothly through the flickering orange planes of the enemy ice. 'She said "What are you doing?"' he heard himself say. 'Then she asked me why they were doing that, doing it to me, killing me ... '" (Gibson, 1986)
Jump-cut and New York crime noir, William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) became the ground-breaking work of the cyberpunk movement.
His vision of the urban sprawl, a fractured society, cyborgs, artificial intelligences, and his speculation about computer networks and
interfaces, quickly attracted "the technologically literate and socially disaffected" more so than his intended audience. (1)
Gibson's vivid information space [the matrix] involved immersive environments, avataric co-presence, and artificial beings. The main protagonists in the novel are: Henry Dorset Case, urban misfit and computer hacker; Molly, a cybernetically enhanced 'tough dame'; two AIs called Wintermute and Neuromancer; Lady 3Jane of the Tessier-Ashpool corporation; Armitage, a computer-resurrected personality; and data constructs such as Dixie Flatline.
Neuromancer's central themes include the union of opposites, transcendence and perfection, and the search for eternal life .. Case is 'the console cowboy' who prefers a visionary experience of cyberspace to the dark sprawl of his physical world, while the Tessier-Ashpool immortality is based on cryogenics and AI. Wintermute and Neuromancer - their mainframes separated by oceans - aim to escape from their human masters, to gain omnipotence through cosmic unity, and to control their corporation, if not the matrix itself. Gibson's universe, however, remains in a magical state of flux due in part to the novel's "continuum of human-machine fusions" - that is, surgical modifications, 'jacking into cyberspace', iconic representation, personality constructs, and so on. His human characters are driven by corporations and whispering AIs, as much as their drugs and implants, and can be less emotive than some intelligent machines.
3 Blade Runner
A future noir classic directed by Ridley Scott, the film Blade Runner (1982) was adapted from the novel Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Blade Runner integrated film noir elements [the alienated hero, dark cinematography, the femme
fatale], as well as influences from Metropolis and 2001: A Space Odyssey, to generate a lasting iconography.
The Blade Runner megalopolis of 2019 successfully combined the 'Old New York City Street' backlot, retrofitted by visual futurist Syd Mead, with real-life locations in L.A. -(see also, Dark City and The Matrix)
Rachel: What if I go north? Disappear. Would you come after me? Hunt me?
Deckard: No. No, I wouldn't. I owe you one. But somebody would.
Queen to Bishop 6. Check .. Knight 6, Queen .. Bishop to King 7 .. (Blade Runner, 1982)
Ridley Scott is "a design-driven filmmaker" whose direction, film set, photography, and actors engage the audience in a world-building novum ... His camera is both fractal and panoramic, tracking through a post-modern pastiche while resolving a multi-modal assemblage "not based primarily on the human body and its movements in space, but on relational acts and events within the urban." The city in Blade Runner becomes ambiguous - ahistorical, rain-slicked, electronic. (Designing for a Digital World, 2002)
Genetically-engineered humanoid robots called Replicants are integral to the simulacrum of this shifting world. The Replicants have arrogated a pseudo-consciousness based on memory implants and limited life experience, yet unable to extend their four-year lifespan develop a biblical distaste for their human masters, seen here as rather imperfect "industrious insects pollinating [their] species of machine-flower" ... (4)
Replicants nevertheless compete with humans to be 'more human[e] than human', a juxtaposition which allows the film to examine identity-constructs, social control, god-play, and self-determination.
4.1 Tele-Vision SF: Stargate SG-1
The film Stargate (1994) begins in Egypt where archeologists have unearthed a huge ring-shaped artefact, later determined to be a wormhole-generating portal that enables intergalactic travel. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the film provided a mythology and technological basis for the Stargate series produced at Vancouver's Bridge Studios and surrounding region. In the science fiction universe of SG-1, the discovery of stargate addresses on another planet have unlocked a network of gateways scattered across the Milky Way. The TV series follows the space adventures of the SG-1 team.
Note: This section is divided into Cultures and Races, Planets, Technology, Ascension, and Contemplative Frameworks. It is presented as variously expanded lists due to the volume of information on the subject.
4.2 Cultures and Races
Ancients; Asgard; Athosians; Asurans; Genii; Goa'uld; Human; Jaffa; Ori; Replicators; Tok'ra; Wraith;
The Ancients were once known as Alterans and thus share part of their history with the Ori. The Ancients evolved over millions of years and became "the original architects of the Stargate network." They first moved to the Milky Way after a quarrel with the Ori before settling in the Pegasus galaxy some five million years ago. There, the city of Atlantis became a splendid centre of their civilisation, however, the species came to a halt when they encountered the vampirous Wraith. The Ancients then created the ill-fated Asuran machine race as a possible defense. In the series, they have ascended to a higher plane of existence and maintain their influence as "a hierarchy of omni-present, ethereal beings." (5)
Benevolent bearers of great intellect who depend on mitosis (cloning) to perpetuate, the Asgard became a powerful ally of the human race. They are governed by a High Council and have developed advanced technologies, including faster-than-light space transports. When their vessels were attacked by a rampant artificial species known as Replicators [conceived originally by an android as a sophisticated toy] the Asgard were unable to defend their empire without assistance from the Tau'ri. The Replicators were eventually trapped in a time-cell, allowing the Asgard hundreds of years to perfect their destruction.
The Ori are from a distant galaxy, fully ascended and, like their other Alteran half [the Ancients], possess vast knowledge of the universe. The Ori believe themselves to be the makers of humans and in their religion called Origin occupy the centre of all creation. Their power over the corporeal plane relies on Priors [the missionaries], the Book of Origin, and a fleet of warships .. In the series, the Ori were able to construct a Supergate that will facilitate their crusade against the inhabitants of the Milky Way. The Ori offer their intimidated followers neither truth nor choice since their promise of Ascension will augment their own supremacy only.
Abydos; Asuras; Athos; Chulak; Dakara; Earth; Genii homeworld; Lantea; P3X-888; Tollana;
4.4 Stargate Technology
Control chair; Beaming technology; Crystal Tunnels; Dial-Home Device; DNA Resequencer; Drone Weapon; Hyperdrive; Life-signs Detector;
Long-Range Communication Device; Mobile Analytic Laboratory Probe (MALP); Naquadah Generator; Phase-shifting Device; Quantum Mirror;
Ring Transporter; Spacecraft; Staff Weapon; Stasis Unit; Stargate; Supergate; Time Dilation Device; Transport Rings;
Zero Point Module;
THE STARGATE (Astria Porta)
"A wormhole is a connection between two distant places in space that enables one to get from one place to another without passing through the space in between." (6)
a. A wormhole causes space to fold, enabling faster-than-light travel in principle since the object will have crossed a fraction of the distance being covered by the light. By bending space-time, a wormhole links two distant points at different locations, or it may link two locations at different times. Though unlikely to make for safe space travel, the phenomenon is permitted by the Theory of General Relativity.
b. The origin Stargate in the series, once activated, connects with a destination Stargate by generating a wormhole.
During this process, humans and objects are dematerialised as they pass through the first gate, converted into energy, transferred
through a 'tunnel' and reassembled when they emerge from the second gate.
A stargate consists of one outer ring with nine chevrons and a spinning inner track with thirty-nine symbols, each representing a constellation of stars. It is made of naquadah, a heavy element suitable for storing large quantities of energy. Each Stargate has a unique address, comprising at least seven symbols, which may be dialled (using a DHD or rigged computer interface) by aligning a unique symbol from the inner track with seven chevrons. Six symbols are used [like coordinates] to determine a single point in space - the destination gate on the other planet. The seventh symbol verifies the origin Stargate at which stage the wormhole is activated. The event horizon is usually depicted as a vertical, mercurial puddle.
c. A convincing CGI spectacle involves the seamless combination of digital simulations with an existing analogue realm. This must appear both alien and naturalistic, be "ontologically coextensive" with the actors in the physical space, and create a plausible event by integrating with the story itself.
The rotations of the Stargate used in the film set were achieved using an electric motor, a pinion drive wheel, sensor technology and custom software. To depict an unstable energy vortex, the displacement effect obtained by filming the windstream of a jet engine placed above a water tank was inserted digitally in post production.
Ancient warship; Asgard mothership; Daedalus; Death Glider; F-302; Ha'tak; Ori warship; Prometheus; Puddle Jumper; Wraith Dart;
Wraith hive ship;
The Prometheus was Earth's first space-faring vessel equipped with hyperspace engines. It was replaced by the Daedalus-class Battlecruiser after its destruction by an Ori satellite. The Daedalus was built to support the Stargate Atlantis expedition. Its shields, sensors, and hyperdrive were based on Asgard technology. The Daedalus accommodates a unit of fighter craft and is armed with rail guns, missiles, and tactical warheads.
ANCIENT DRONE WEAPON
Drones can be installed in several Ancient technologies, including Puddle Jumpers (which are small multi-purpose ships for wormhole-based transportation). Drones seek their target automatically but require a direct mental interface to operate.
"Ascension, being the ultimate goal of human evolution, is perhaps the supreme human pursuit." (6)
In the series, Ascension refers to a transformation of the physical body into energy and the gradual migration to a higher plane of existence. The Ascension process is infinite (and thus incomplete) though it does involve states of consciousness, supreme knowledge of the universe, and a range of special powers. Although Ascension may involve spiritual guidance, devotion, and meditation, it is primarily based upon: i. natural evolution, ii. technological manipulations of the body or, iii. the aid of an Ascended being. While the Ancients and the Ori ascended long ago, some humans have also attained this goal, most notably SG-1's Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks). One Goa'uld was able to ascend partially before being killed and the Asuran [machine race] is known to have made an attempt.
5 Contemplative Frameworks
"Quantum theory suggests that all possible outcomes from each variable event actually occur simultaneously, but each leads off
into its own quantum reality.
In effect, we are offered a potentially infinite number of what Farscape dubs 'unrealised realities' within our own universe, none of which actually exists until we encounter it." (7)
Time travel, wormholes, parallel universes, etc. have resulted in countless SF scenarios informed by Quantum concepts and speculative enabling technologies. A 'precise mathematical harmony', however, might be vulnerable to the Butterfly effects of a meddling species, and so the co-existence of past, present, and future provides a precarious context for our cosmic dramaturgy ..
For Baudrillard, "the virtual/hyperreal results from a reversal of causality, the introduction of the finality of things at their origin, the accomplishment of things even before their appearance." (Subject in Hyperreality, 2003)
Time travel tempts the practitioner with legitimised corrections of an imperfect past, but 'the space you occupy determines the time that you live in. One consequence of creating false memories of history (especially if wormholes have infinite exit points) is the disappearance of humans and objects in a labyrinth of newly realised realities. In one Stargate episode*, stasis and virtual reality have replaced the physical with a perfect simulacrum, or age of innocence. Once it has rigged a computer to one of the lost ship's stasis units in order to access the said VR space, the Atlantis team must inform its commander (who still believes he is in control of his ship and crew) that his ten-thousand-year-old body is beyond revival and that his wife's electronic avatar is being infiltrated by an enemy Wraith.
* Stargate Atlantis, Season 2, Episode 209: Aurora
"We are in a golden age of building fantasies." At the same time the cinematic visions of our dream makers are feeding
back into the tectonic and computing reality of our city worlds. (9)
Three science fiction works were selected in order to explore the development and proliferation of synthetic worlds. The urban sprawl, almighty cyberspace, orbital stations, and hi-tech towers in Neuromancer provided a complex setting for its hackers, megacorporations, cyborgs, and AIs, as well as readers, hip academics, and information theorists. Gibsonian cyberspace greatly influenced today's user interfaces, immersive environments, and the world wide web. By investigating the post-modern pastiche, simulations, and cybernetic mirrors of Blade Runner, the article identified techno-cultural issues related to genetic engineering, social control, the struggle for freedom, and sustainable futures for intelligent machines. The fictional universe of Stargate SG-1 - structured here around Creative Technologies [the Stargate, wormhole physics, mechanical models, CGI], Cultures and Races, and the pursuit of Ascension - provided a comprehensive mise-en-scène for 'what if' scenarios (and juxtapositions) relevant to philosphical and ethical concerns, as well as multiculturalism, anthropology, and inter[stellar] protocols.
Concept, Text, Coding (c) Marcel Ritschel, Sydney 28.06.2007
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