First Impressions: “Blade Runner 2049” (Film)

Although I originally hadn’t planned to see “Blade Runner 2049” at the cinema, I had a sudden spontaneous moment of inspiration yesterday and decided to see it.

But, since I’ve only seen it once, this won’t be a full review. No doubt, after I’ve rewatched it at least once more when it comes out on DVD, I’ll have formed a suitably detailed opinion about and understanding of the film to be able to review it fully (although I’m not sure when I’ll post said review). But, I wanted to write about it now too.

So, this is a long, rambling “first impressions” article – based on just one viewing of the film. I’m still forming my opinions about the film, so this article will also help me with this too. It might also explain why this article is such a long ramble as well. This article will also contain a lot of comparisons between this film and the original “Blade Runner”.

“Blade Runner 2049” is a different film to the original “Blade Runner” in many ways. I’m still not entirely sure if it’s as good, better or worse. Although many of my comparisons here will sound negative, this is only because they’re the easiest comparisons to notice. But, even though some parts of this article may sound cynical, “Blade Runner 2049” is a very good film. But it is also a sequel to a perfect film.

This article will contain SPOILERS, but I’ll mostly try to avoid major ones.

Firstly, the story of “Blade Runner 2049” is really good. It’s deep, compelling and confident enough to move at a pace that feels right.

Yes, there are a few elements of the story that I don’t fully understand (I’ve only seen the film once, after all) but it keeps the complexity, humanity and depth of the first “Blade Runner” film. The film’s story also has several plot threads that are left intriguingly ambiguous too, such as a group of replicant rebels that the main character encounters at one point.

Like the original film, this sequel raises more questions than it answers. Interestingly, the film’s conclusion focuses entirely on a powerful moment of human drama, with the after-effects of both this moment and the greater significance of the film’s events left unshown – kind of like in the director’s cut of the original “Blade Runner”. So, it’s good to see that the film doesn’t spell literally everything out, and still leaves a lot to the imagination.

This film is actually a lot slower-paced than the original “Blade Runner”. Although there are some frenetic moments, most of the film has a surprisingly slow and contemplative tone to it. But, even though the film feels longer than it’s gargantuan 163 minute running time, this actually works in the film’s favour, since it almost feels like a TV mini series.

There are lots of lingering close-ups, silent moments and slow conversations. Whilst this is in keeping with the original “Blade Runner”, that film tended to use these kinds of moments slightly more sparingly in order to give each one a greater level of dramatic significance. By contrast, the cumulative effect of all of the many “slow” moments in “Blade Runner 2049” is to give the film a more intimate, artistic and human tone. This also makes the film feel more modern too.

The atmosphere of the film is very different to that of the original “Blade Runner” too. Although I still can’t think of a way to articulate this fully, it feels very different in many ways.

One example of this is how the city in “Blade Runner 2049” feels like a much sleazier and more vicious place (eg: nude holograms, high street brothels, anti-replicant graffiti, sweatshops, utilitarian architecture etc..) than the coldly indifferent, but warmly old, city in the original “Blade Runner”.

One interesting thing about the film is that the location design feels a lot more spartan than the intricately cluttered locations of the original “Blade Runner”. Although it is really awesome that this film reveals a lot more of the “world” of Blade Runner, it feels like all of this extra breadth sometimes comes at the expense of depth. The smaller number of locations in the original “Blade Runner” (due to the budget limitations) left a lot to the imagination and allowed for a much more focused aesthetic and atmosphere.

The set design in this film often feels a lot more spartan, post-apocalyptic and utilitarian when compared to the complex aesthetic of the original film.

Yes, there are still beautifully bleak cyberpunk cityscapes (including the Tyrell building 🙂 ), a kipple-filled “old future”-style casino (where Deckard now lives), some 1960s/70s style brutalist architecture and some interesting use of orange mist. But, on the whole, the film feels like a more minimalist “Blade Runner”, grounded more in post-apocalyptic realism than in awe-inspiring visions of the future.

A good example of this is Officer K’s apartment. Although the kitchen looks a little bit like the kitchen from Deckard’s apartment (and there are a few wall tiles that are similar to Deckard’s apartment), it is a rather stark, cramped and featureless apartment.

The bare walls are a cold shade of grey/blue, and the room feels cramped rather than cosy. Again, this might reflect the fact that Officer K is clearly a replicant. A fact emphasised by the fact that the only company he has in his apartment is a hologram.

But, saying all of this, the film’s stark location designs also serve as something of a blank canvas that places a much greater degree of emphasis on the characters and the story than on the world of the film. So, I can understand this creative decision – and, from this perspective, it works fairly well. This film is a lot more story-focused than the original “Blade Runner” was.

“Blade Runner 2049″‘s depictions of violence are both in keeping with and different from the original “Blade Runner”. One of the central themes of the original “Blade Runner” is that violence is almost always presented as slow, painful and ugly. It is meant to be shocking and aversive, rather than slick or thrilling. Whilst “Blade Runner 2049” stays true to this philosophy in many scenes, the violence in the film sometimes has a cruel quickness to it that sometimes feels a little bit too slick (but, other times, brilliantly emphasises the cruelty of certain characters).

Surprisingly, although I’ve been comparing this film to the original quite a lot, there are some interesting connections between the two films.

Deckard (who probably isn’t a replicant) actually makes a few appearances later in the film. However, the events between the first film and the sequel have turned him into a grumpy, bitter, paranoid old man who seems like a tragic shadow of his former self.

Likewise, the scene with Deckard, Wallace and a clone of Rachel is unsettling and shocking – but the dramatic value of this scene is left somewhat understated.

But, on a lighter note, the scene when Officer K visits Gaff in an old folks’ home is a pretty cool scene (with Gaff even making an origami sheep, perhaps as a reference to “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep”). Plus, one central object in this film is a small wooden horse that Officer K finds – which is a rather interesting parallel to the unicorn from the original “Blade Runner”.

Officer K is a really interesting protagonist. He’s a replicant Blade Runner, who knows that he is a replicant. This has a huge effect on the style, tone and narrative of the film. Although the film briefly shows him encountering anti-replicant bigotry during a few early scenes, his replicant nature is often a much more subtle and understated part of the film.

As a character, he’s also shown to be something of a blank slate too – often being something of a nice guy who is also brooding and tough. His curiosity, artificial memories and quest for self-understanding is also one of the main driving forces of the film.

The film’s main villain, Niander Wallace, really doesn’t get enough screen time. Yes, he’s meant to be an evil version of Eldon Tyrell, but he only appears in a couple of scenes – which kind of makes him seem a bit more like a cartoonish villain. An evil hipster with a god complex, a sadistic personality and a love of slavery. Yes, there’s something to be said for leaving his character slightly more mysterious. But it is interesting how he stands in contrast to the more paternalistic, but seemingly benevolent, character of Eldon Tyrell.

The film’s police chief is both similar and different to Bryant from the original film. Although she’s a lot more professional than Bryant, there’s a paranoid bleakness to her character which fits in really well with the atmosphere of the film. She mostly treats Officer K as an equal, even helping him escape from scrutiny at one point. But, she’s also something of a complex character since, during one drunken conversation, she almost seems to view Officer K as a novelty or a machine when asking about his memories.

A more interesting parallel between the old and the new film is how the film’s artificial memory designer seems to be a lot like J.F. Sebastian. The memory designer is ridiculously talented but, due to an auto-immune disease, she cannot leave Earth and also has to live in a futuristic glass bubble that is reminscent of the holodeck from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. As a character, she’s really interesting (and I’d love to talk about her more), but she really doesn’t get enough screen time.

As you would expect, the film has a lot of rather interesting themes and motifs that can’t be fully deciphered on a first viewing. For example, there’s probably some significance to the fact that one character is called Joi and another is called Luv.

Joi is shown to be a companion hologram who is designed to please her owner (and she goes from being a 1950s-style housewife who makes holographic food for Officer K near the beginning of the film to being the kind of brave co-investigator/companion that Officer K needs during later parts of the film).

Luv is shown to be a coldly cruel and sociopathic replicant who seems to be completely devoid of all love or emotion (other than perhaps anger or fanatical loyalty to Wallace). On a side note, she’s also something of an “evil detective” character, who contrasts perfectly with Officer K in this regard.

There are lots of interesting comparisons to make between Joi and Luv, but one is that they both represent opposite extremes of the concept of obedience (which links in to the themes of slavery, exploitation etc.. in the film). Joi is willing to risk her life for Officer K, and Luv is willing to kill if it furthers Wallace’s objectives.

There’s probably a lot more parallels and thematic stuff going on in this film but, again, I’ve only seen the film once. Hence the limited number of examples here.

Musically, the film is interesting – containing things as diverse as loud dramatic music, Elvis music and even a rather dramatic use of the “tears in rain” music from the original film. However, although the music fits the film reasonably well, it doesn’t quite have the consistency of Vangelis’ soundtrack to the original “Blade Runner”.

All in all, I’m still forming my opinions about this film. It’s a very good film. It’s a work of art. But it is also very different to the original “Blade Runner” in terms of characters, themes, atmosphere, visual design, pacing etc.. too.

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The Joy Of… Shorter Stories

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A day or two before writing this article, I ended up reading two short comedy novels from the 19th century online. This wasn’t something that I’d planned to do, but after reading something online which pointed out that John Kendrick Bangs’ “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” featured the ghost of Sherlock Holmes trying to catch a gang of pirates, I just had to read it. Since it’s out of copyright, it was very easy to find online.

And, despite the fact I don’t usually read e-books and the fact that I’d only planned to read the first part, I ended up reading the whole thing within the space of a single evening. Then I ended up reading the short novel that was written before it, mostly because I’d realised that – although I’m interested in the concept of “Bangsian Fantasy” – I’ve never actually read all of “A House-Boat On The Styx” before. Surprisingly, I actually preferred “Pursuit Of The House-Boat” though, because the humour was better, the narrative was more focused and it featured Sherlock Holmes too.

But, even though I could spend a while talking about the ways that these books were ahead of their time (and the ways they weren’t), one thing that really delighted me about both books was their length. They’re more like novellas than full-length novels. And, best of all, it doesn’t feel like there’s any unnecessary padding whatsoever. They’re short, sweet and they leave you wanting to read more.

Despite the 19th century’s reputation for “Doorstopper” novels, it was also the heyday of the short story, the segmented story and the novella too. Back then, short stories were the “television series” of the day. Whether it was monthly Sherlock Holmes stories in the Strand Magazine, or longer continuous stories released in thrillingly short instalments via Penny Dreadfuls, people back then understood the importance of shorter stories.

Shorter stories were designed to be entertaining, in the way that TV shows are designed to be entertaining these days. Despite their age, a lot of shorter stories from the 19th century and early 20th century are still very “readable” today for the simple reason that they were either designed to be compelling (with lots of drama, horror, action, comedy etc..) or because they didn’t have room for lots of bloated descriptions, extensive character histories, long irrelevant tangents etc…

Back then, literature was the main form of popular entertainment. TV, computers, the internet and videogames didn’t exist. So, shorter stories had to fill that role. They also had to fulfil the most basic purpose of literature, which is to entertain. Yes, literature (and even graphic novels too) can teach us more about humanity, they can make us think deeply etc…. But, above all, they can only truly do this if they’re entertaining enough for people to want to start reading them and keep reading them.

Shorter stories are the kind of thing that can be read “on impulse” because they promise an interesting story without too much time investment. Likewise, the shorter format also means that the narratives have to be more focused, which makes them more compelling. Plus, the experience of reading a short story collection is a lot like watching a DVD boxset.

When I was seventeen, and had first discovered “Sherlock Holmes”, I actually had to ration myself to just three or four stories a day. On reflection, this wasn’t too different to what I do when I’m watching a DVD boxset of a really good TV show these days. Yet, all or most of these Sherlock Holmes stories were written before television was invented!

If prose fiction is ever to become a truly popular thing again, then length should be the first thing to change. Looking at a related subject, there’s been a lot of controversy online about the length of modern computer and video games. One of the main arguments I’ve heard in favour of shorter modern games is that people don’t have the time to play games that they used to. Well, the same is true for fiction too. But, fiction has so many advantages that games don’t.

You don’t need to spend hundeds of pounds upgrading your computer or buying an expensive games console to read a piece of modern fiction from this year. Likewise, traditional books are the original form of portable entertainment. Even modern e-book readers are very portable (not to mention that e-books can be read on smartphones, tablets etc.. too) . Books are also significantly cheaper than computer/video games are too (both new and second-hand).

If we lived in a world where novellas and short story collections sat alongside novels on the “bestsellers” shelves, then prose fiction would probably be a lot more popular than it is now. I mean, we live in a world where films and TV shows co-exist in roughly equal numbers and with an equal amount of prestige. So, why should this be any different for longer and shorter pieces of fiction?

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Learning From A Failed Project – The 1990s Stories

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When you write or make art, then you’re going to make mistakes and fail sometimes. It happens to everyone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Not only does it mean that you’ve tried something a bit different, it also means that you’ll be able to learn from your failures too.

So, in that spirit, I thought that I’d give an example of learning from a failed project. If you aren’t interested in reading about the many ways I failed at a writing project, then just skip to the final paragraph for some general conclusions.

Earlier this year, I posted a series of short stories set in the 1990s here. In contrast to the previous two short story collections that I’d written (which can be found in the “2016” section of this page), this one only lasted a mere five stories before it ran out of steam.

The first sign that it was something of a mistake came from the fact that it took me a few days to work up the enthusiasm to start the project after I’d had my initial idea for it. Usually, when I have an idea for a project that is going to go well, it’s the sort of thing that I have to start working on right now. But, this was different. It was a cool idea and I wanted to make it, but it didn’t really have the impetus that these kinds of projects usually have.

At the time, I didn’t think to refine the idea until it provoked these hyper-enthusiastic feelings in me. Instead, I mistook my mild enthusiasm for technical problems. After all, I was writing historical fiction – a genre that I haven’t really written in before. So, I thought that I’d have to spend some time working out how to write these stories. For some writers, this sort of thing leads to good stories. But, for me, too much slowness tends to drain the life from a project.

Another problem was the fact that I’d tried to write relatively ordinary stories about ordinary life. This is a genre that I usually consider to be “extremely boring”. But, I’d thought that the historical nostalgia elements would help to keep it interesting. They didn’t. Yes, ordinary life was slightly different in the 1990s, but it was still fairly.. ordinary.

This, of course, made coming up with interesting story ideas surprisingly difficult. One of the main advantages of genres like science fiction and horror, and stories that are set in stylised versions of the real world, is that you can use your imagination to come up with all sorts of strange things to add to the story. You can create entirely fictitious settings that are more imaginative than realistic. You can add futuristic technology, unrealistic events etc… and see how your characters will react to them.

I’d always known that there was a reason why I preferred to write in “unrealistic” genres and this failed project reminded me about this. It gave me an actual physical example of what happens when I try to write the kinds of stories that don’t often interest me as a reader.

The other problem was probably the research. As fascinated as I am with the 1990s, I quickly realised that most of what I knew about the decade came from second-hand sources. After all, I was only a young child in the 1990s. So, whilst struggling to come up with story ideas, I ended up focusing more on things that are related to the media than anything else.

After all, since my preferred writing style tends to be fast and regular, I pushed myself to write one story per day. This didn’t leave a huge amount of time for research. So, I ended up setting many of my stories in fairly generic locations, with only a few subtle details that implied that they were set during the 1990s. So, again, this reminded me of how much easier it is to write stories that are set in entirely fictional locations.

Likewise, it reminded me of the difference between writing and other forms of creativity. Whenever I’d made art or comics that were set in the 1990s (like this one), I’d always gone for a stylised version of early-mid 1990s America, because it looks cool. Of course, fiction is a non-visual medium that relies a lot more on descriptions.

So, I actually ended up relying on my childhood memories of mid-late 1990s Britain (and things from that time and place that I’d watched or read) quite a bit. This led to the project having a totally different style and tone to what I had expected. Most of the stories were set in 1996-9, which didn’t really seem as fascinatingly “historical” as I’d originally expected. If I’d paid more attention to the differences between visual art and the written word, I could have come up with a better idea for this project.

The common thread in all of this is that you tend to produce your best work when you know yourself well and know where your strengths lie. But, on the other hand, you’ll only learn about this if you fail a few times. So, don’t be afraid to fail!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Random Thoughts About Comic Cover Design

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Well, since I’m busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk briefly about cover design in comics. This was mostly because the cover for the Halloween comic was somewhat hit and miss. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size cover artwork will appear here on the 20th October.

The full-size cover artwork will appear here on the 20th October.

This was probably the first time I’d tried to draw a comic cover in landscape, rather than portrait. So, it was something of an experiment as much as anything else. Still, like all creative experiments, I’ve learnt a couple of things from it.

1) Colours: This was one of the first times where I tried to use a consistent colour scheme for the cover of one of my comics. Unless you are trying to make more “realistic” cover art, it can often be a good idea to use a complementary colour scheme of some kind for your cover.

Limiting the number of colours you use and combining them in the right way can really make your cover artwork stand out. Likewise, try to choose colour combinations which suit the mood that you are trying to create.

For example, the preview image I showed you earlier mostly uses a red/green/blue colour scheme. This is intended to be reminiscent of old CRT television screens and, by extension, the 1980s too. If I wanted to emphasise the horror elements of the comic, then I’d have probably used more of a red/black colour scheme. If I wanted to give it more of a sci-fi horror atmosphere, I’d have used a red/blue/black colour scheme etc…

The best way to learn which colour schemes are appropriate for different moods, genres etc… is simply to look at as many comic covers, DVD covers, album covers etc… as you can (the “image search” feature in many search engines can be useful for this) and take careful note of the colour combinations that are used. Once you’ve done this, see which ones tend to be the most common.

2) Layout and composition: This is probably the most important part of any comic cover, and it’s probably the thing that I messed up in my cover. This is probably because I’m more used to making comic covers in portrait than in landscape but, since the comic itself will be in landscape, it made sense for the cover to be in landscape too.

Likewise, I used a fairly boring composition for this cover and just drew the four characters standing in a line. This was mostly done for time reasons, and as a reference to the cover of last year’s Halloween comic. Whilst this composition shows the audience all of the main characters, there isn’t really much happening in it.

In retrospect, I should have probably spent longer planning the cover. I probably should have added more action and/or less detail to it.

So, yes, planning is important when it comes to cover design. Whilst this was probably more of an issue with print comics (where the cover is always the first, and possibly only, thing people will see), it still matters in comics posted online (even though people are just as likely to see a random page from your comic before they see the cover).

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Sorry for the short and rambling article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

The Joy Of… Magazines

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[Note: I prepare these articles quite far in advance and, in the time between preparing this article and posting it here, Metal Hammer magazine was saved. Still, I’ll post the original draft article for the sake of posterity.]
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Magazines are one of those things that sit in the background of everyday life and aren’t really noticeable until they start disappearing. This happened late last year when I read, to my horror, that “Metal Hammer” magazine was shutting down. Luckily, I was able to get a copy of the final issue, but the whole thing made me think about magazines and how awesome they are.

Although I’ve only been a semi-regular magazine reader at most within the past few years (mostly for financial reasons), it’s surprising how important magazines have been to me over the years. I mean, I was first introduced to the zombie genre thanks to having a subscription to CVG magazine for a few years during my childhood. Back in the mid-late 1990s, they constantly ran previews of “Resident Evil 2” and it looked like the coolest thing in the world (even though I wouldn’t get to actually play it until the early 2000s).

Likewise, when I was a teenager, I had a subscription to “Official Playstation 2” magazine. This was during one of the very few times in my life that I was actually up-to-date with current gaming. Actually having a slick, shiny physical magazine (with a monthly demo disc, no less) just made the whole thing feel a lot more modern. Even though I only ended up getting a fraction of the games featured on the discs, actually being able to play parts of current games was amazingly cool.

Hell, one of the many reasons why I’m still so interested in retro gaming is the fact that, thanks to modern digital sales, I can actually play many of the cool computer games that I read about and/or saw on demo discs in the gaming magazines I read when I was a lot younger.

Then there were all of the various lifestyle magazines. Yes, these actually used to be a lot more popular (during the 2000s at least), and they were one of the coolest things in the world back then. Plus, whether it was “Attitude”, “Loaded”, “Bizarre”, “Diva”, “Hello” etc.. there was something for everyone too.

Plus, to some extent or another, these magazines elegantly straddled the line between “respectable informal journalism” and “daringly risque” well enough to actually appear on the main shelves of a fair number of newsagents during the 2000s.

In the simultaneously more liberal and more puritanical world of the internet, there doesn’t really seem to be an exact equivalent of this fascinatingly rebellious intelligent middle ground any more.

Anyway, going back to “Metal Hammer” – when I got the last issue of this magazine, I thought that it would make me feel nostalgic. After all, I’ve probably discovered at least a third of my favourite metal bands via this magazine. I have a lot of good memories associated with this magazine, even though it had been a while since I last read it.

But, when I actually read the final issue, there was nothing “nostalgic” about it. They were still reporting in depth about the current metal scene and interviewing all sorts of current bands that I either had or hadn’t heard of. It felt like I’d barely been away from the magazine at all. Although it came in a format that is “obsolete”, it felt more vivid and alive than most websites do. The quality of the writing was significantly better too.

And, yes, that’s one thing I miss about magazines. Magazine journalism. There’s something about the space limitations of a physcial format that promotes good writing. There’s something about the authority of words printed on paper that leads to better writing. There’s something about the monthly format that eliminates the need for gossipy “clickbait” articles. Likewise, curated letters pages in magazines often tend to be far more enjoyable to read than online comments are (especially if, like in CVG magazine, the editor would sometimes write politely sarcastic replies to the more opinionated letters).

Because of this, the tone of magazine journalism somehow manages to be both formal and informal at the same time in a seamless way. This is something that you don’t really see that often online (I mean, “Cracked” is the only online example of this I can think of).

Yes, I love blogging and I wouldn’t give up the freedom of the internet for the world. But it’s kind of sad that both online writing and magazine journalism don’t seem to co-exist as much as they used to. Both are good in different ways, and there should be a place for both in the world.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Present Day And The Cyberpunk Genre -A Ramble

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Well, since I was still busy with writing this old collection of cyberpunk stories at the time of writing these articles, I thought that I’d take a very brief look at how the present day can affect any cyberpunk fiction that you might write.

After all, the central attraction of the cyberpunk genre isn’t really as “futuristic” as it used to be in the heyday of the genre. We live in a world where the internet is a mundane thing, where many people carry smartphones, where virtual reality is an actual thing and where, far from being “futuristic rebel anti-heroes”, computer hackers are rightly seen as being just another type of common criminal.

Even some of the other relatively recent parts of the cyberpunk genre, like nefarious government conspiracies, aren’t really as “dystopian” or “futuristic” as they once were. I mean, after Edward Snowden’s revelations, the idea that everyone could be spied on for no justifiable reason has almost become normal. Likewise, the 2016 US election was riddled with fake news articles on social media, alleged interference from Russia etc… and the election result was upheld anyway.

Likewise, the whole “mega corporation” thing that is a huge part of the genre is almost an everyday part of life. A few major tech companies already wield gigantic amounts of influence these days (eg: just look at all of the squabbling about Facebook’s news algorithms over the past few years. If Facebook wasn’t extremely influential, no-one would care about it’s algorithms), so it doesn’t seem quite like the “futuristic” thing that it might have been in the 1980s.

So, what is a modern cyberpunk writer to do?

Simply put, all of the “classic” elements of the genre are just too interesting to get rid of entirely. These things add flavour and drama to the genre, even if they can’t be relied upon entirely these days.

So, in addition to this, you need to look at either current concerns about technology and/or your own concerns about technology. For example, the cyberpunk stories that I posted online last year mostly revolve around almost everyone spending Christmas inside a virtual reality world called “Winter Wonderland”. This allowed me to look at a few current issues.

The first was the proliferation of things like smartphones and other portable technologies. The idea that people can be on the internet literally anywhere is a relatively recent one and you only have to look at things like the “Pokemon Go” craze from last year to see that the idea of people living large parts of their lives in constructed virtual worlds isn’t exactly an impossible thing. It might be a good thing, it might be a bad thing, but it’s a thing nonetheless.

The second issue was, of course, freedom of speech. Although the internet was touted as something that could give a voice to everyone, speech on the internet has become an ever more contentious subject over the past decade.

So, setting a couple of stories in a virtual world run by a large company seemed like an interesting thing to include. Because, on many websites, people only have as many free speech rights as the website decides to give them. As the internet becomes more prominent, so will this kind of thing.

Thirdly, there’s the subject of net neutrality. This is the idea that all websites are equal and that no website should be prioritised over any other. It’s one of the central pillars of what makes the internet what it is. Without net neutrality, ISPs could make certain websites load faster than others. It would effectively put control of the internet firmly in the hands of companies with the money to pay for preferential treatment.

So, naturally, one of the major themes in my short story collection was what a futuristic “cyberpunk” version of the internet would look like without net neutrality (eg: at peak times, a limited number of wealthy sites run quickly, whilst everything else runs at a snail’s pace).

The fourth issue was, of course, the idea of technological exclusion. Thankfully, we haven’t quite reached a point where smartphone ownership is legally mandatory, or where people are issued with a social media profile at birth or anything like that.

But, the world seems to be heading in a direction where you are supposed to have the latest, shiniest technology (even though the older stuff is usually better). This was best summed up by the fact that, last year, Google’s Chrome browser refused to issue updates to anyone who wasn’t running a modern operating system. If it wasn’t for the existence of other, better, browsers then a lot of people would have been left behind. Myself included.

So, by focusing most of my stories on characters who aren’t visiting the virtual reality world that the series revolves around, I was able to look at the other side of the flashy futurism of the cyberpunk genre. Because, as technology becomes more integrated into our lives, people without the latest technology might start becoming obsolete.

So, yes, it’s still possible to write cyberpunk fiction in the modern day – however, you have to find ways to incorporate current concerns about technology and/or your own concerns into your stories.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Random Thoughts About “Unfiltered” Creativity – A Ramble

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A while before I wrote this article, I was watching the special features on the UK DVD edition of season one of “Twin Peaks”. During an interview with someone who worked on the series, a description of the series’ writer/director (David Lynch) really stuck in my mind. The description was about how Lynch didn’t really have a “filter” when expressing himself.

Initially, this reminded me of one of the problems that I’ve noticed since I started posting art, comics etc.. online. Namely that I slowly seem to have developed one of these filters. As regular readers of this blog know, despite being anti-censorship, I often tend to self-censor quite a bit for all sorts of reasons.

But, despite the fact that virtually everything I produce is (to use an American phrase) a lot more “PG-13” than it used to be in the late 2000s/early 2010s, I don’t feel as uninspired as I perhaps should.

Some of this is probably due to my changing attitudes towards telling “serious” stories (in short, “depressing for the sake of depressing” doesn’t really appeal to me as much as it used to). Likewise, the limitations of things like website content policies can sometimes make me think more creatively too. Plus, of course, it has taught me the power of subtle suggestion, implication and more ambiguous visual storytelling.

So, having one of those “filters” doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative -even if it does somewhat reduce the range of creativity available to you.

But, I also miss the days when artists, writers and film-makers were almost expected to be “unfiltered”.

I mean, take the movie “Blade Runner” for example. It is a visual masterpiece. It’s a philosophical treatise on humanity, the meaning of life and the inevitability of death. It’s a morally-ambiguous film that will probably make you sympathise more with the ‘villain’ than the ‘hero’. It’s a film where the characters are both superficial and extremely deep at the same time. It’s a film which will reward you with something new every time you watch it. It’s a film that has inspired many other people and will probably inspire you if you’re an artist or a writer. It is, quite simply one of the best films – if not the best – ever made.

And, yet, by modern standards, it would probably fall foul of the “filter” mentioned at the beginning of this article for a huge variety of subtle reasons.

In a way, I think that the modern expectation for things to be more ‘filtered’ ignores why people watch films, read fiction, play games etc.. It’s for escapism from ‘ordinary life’. It’s to live other lives vicariously. It’s a safe outlet for our more ‘primitive’ instincts. It’s to make ourselves feel a particular emotion (eg: laughter, fear etc..).

It’s to explore all manner of fascinating places without even leaving home. It’s either to make ourselves think or to give ourselves a break from thinking. It’s to learn more about the parts of ourselves (and humanity in general) that the mainstream doesn’t teach us about. It’s to experience life ‘turned up to eleven’. It’s to add new places to the vast worlds of our imaginations.

Usually, these kinds of things are emotionally-intense in pleasant or unpleasant ways. This, of course, goes against the whole idea of a ‘filter’. The idea that everything should be completely bland and inoffensive. The idea that everything should be suitable for everyone, because modern people supposedly don’t have the intelligence to discern whether something is really their sort of thing or not (and to ignore it if it isn’t).

In short, the best creative works often need to be “unfiltered” to some level or another. They need to be free to evoke strong emotions. They need to be free to let us explore ideas, situations etc.. that we may never encounter in everyday life. Creative works need to be able to shock, to amuse, to horrify, to provoke thought etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂