Does Dystopian Science Fiction Actually Change Anything?

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Ever since I discovered the genre when I was a teenager, I’ve been a fan of dystopian science fiction. Hell, I even read “Nineteen Eighty-Four” twice when I was about thirteen or fourteen. If I remember rightly, I was absolutely fascinated by the ominously mysterious, yet creepily fascinating, world that the novel is set in. It was a little bit like the vintage 1970s-90s horror novels I enjoyed reading at the time, but it also contained sci-fi too.

Not only that, the cyberpunk genre has been one of those “dystopian” types of science fiction that I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. In fact, I read my first cyberpunk novel when I was about twelve ( one of the “Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers” books, I can’t remember which one) without even realising that it was cyberpunk.

Since then, I’ve had something of an on and off fascination with the genre. Most recently, I’ve become fascinated with the genre again because it has proven to be an amazing source of artistic inspiration (like in this recent sci-fi comedy comic of mine).

The cyberpunk genre is often labelled as dystopian science fiction and, whilst there are certainly dystopian stories, films, books, games etc.. in the cyberpunk genre, it never really feels “dystopian”. Not only does the cyberpunk genre often feature breathtakingly beautiful neon-lit cities, but it often includes enough intriguing background details and dark humour to offset any depressingly “dystopian” elements of the genre.

The most recent example of this that I’ve seen is in a computer game called “Technobablyon” that I mentioned yesterday. I’d played some more of it and found myself playing a part of the game (that involves solving a grisly murder) that should have been disturbingly horrific. However, thanks to the dialogue from the characters and the sheer weirdness of the solution to the mystery, this part of the game was more of a hilariously farcical dark comedy than a disturbing glimpse at where a technology-filled future could lead:

Talking of dark comedy, a while before I played this part of the game, I was curious about another work of dystopian science fiction – Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” TV series. I’d been vaguely thinking about getting it on DVD since it was something that should have appealed to me – given my cynical sense of humour. Yet, when I read a few plot summaries on Wikipedia, I realised that it was actually serious dystopian science fiction…. and not in a fun way.

The story outlines I’d read seemed depressingly bleak and genuinely frightening. Even a mere description of some of the technology-based storylines in the series filled me with a real sense of paranoid dread. It was probably where technology might lead to in the future, and it terrified me. This is, of course, what dystopian science fiction is supposed to do.

It’s supposed to show the audience where the future could lead, in the hope that the audience will somehow prevent such a terrible future from coming true.

But, it doesn’t work. When I read those descriptions, I realised that there was literally nothing I could do to prevent any kind of dystopian future. I mean, it’s a long-standing joke that governments don’t see “Nineteen-Eighty Four” as a warning, but as a manual. Extending surveillance (and censorship too) seems to be part of the psyche of many major political parties, so it happens regardless of which one wins an election. The left and the right are just as bad as each other in this regard.

Dystopian science fiction is supposed to be like a vaccine – giving people a small dose of something terrible in the hope that it will prevent something even worse from happening in the future. But, this comes with the assumption that people can actually prevent worse things from happening.

In a more optimistic age, when real news mattered more than fake news, when people cared more about things like free speech and privacy, when people debated ideas instead of being lost in filter bubbles and the many left-wing/right-wing echo chambers on the internet etc… this might have been true.

But, in this modern world, dystopian science fiction is just another genre of entertainment. It can be a really cool one, or it can be an extremely depressing one. But, I think that the argument that it can actually change the world for the better has long since been proven wrong.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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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 🙂

Animation Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult

What? Glowing red eyes are cool!

What? Glowing red eyes are cool!

Before I begin, I should probably point out that this article is just some of my random thoughts about very basic types of animation rather than any kind of real animation tutorial.

This is mainly because the program that I use for all of my animations is an absolutely ancient program from 1999 called “Jasc Animation Shop (version 2.00)” which nobody else probably uses these days. Not only that, it’s a pretty basic animation program which probably only does a fraction of what more complex (and incomprehensible) modern animation programs probably do.

Anyway, although I’ve always been fascinated by animation, it wasn’t until a year or two ago that I started making animations on something close to an occasional basis. Of course, this was also when I discovered digital animation – before this , I actually used to draw every frame by hand:

This is from 2006. Wow! My art style looked terrible back then LOL!

This is from 2006. Wow! My art style looked terrible back then LOL!

Of course, the great thing about digital animation is that you can just alter parts of a previous frame and then save it as a new frame rather than drawing each frame from scratch. Not only that, it’s really easy to make basic alterations to an image digitally, so you can produce lots of frames in a relatively short amount of time.

So, although I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to making art, animation is one of those few areas where I think that digital is better.

Yes,

Yes, digital is better

In addition to this, you don’t need as many frames as you might think that you do. Although I occasionally tried to make flick books when I was a kid, I always used to think that all “real” animations had to have something like 24 very slightly different frames for each second of footage.

I think that I’d read this fact in a book about professional animation and, well, the thought of spending ages drawing twenty four pictures for just one second of footage kind of put me off of animation for quite a while.

But, of course, unless you’re producing a major animated film the old fashioned way, you don’t actually need this many frames per second. In fact, you can get away with a shockingly low number of frames every second.

As long as the changes between each frame are slightly larger than they would be in a “traditional” animation (eg: if something moves 1mm per frame in a 24FPS animation, then it should move about 8mm per frame in a 3FPS animation), then your audience’s minds will automatically “fill in the gaps” and you can get away with a much lower framerate. Yes, this will make your animation look slightly “low budget”, but it’ll still be an animation.

For example, the looped animation at the beginning of this article is about four seconds long and it only contains a grand total of six frames, one of which is repeated at the end of the animation. So, the actual number of new frames in the animation is actually only five. Here they are:

Frame 1

Frame 1

Frame 2

Frame 2

Frame 3

Frame 3

Frames 4 & 6

Frames 4 & 6

Frame 5

Frame 5

And, since each of these frames was just a slightly altered version of the previous picture – the whole thing only took me about twenty minutes to make. So, animation doesn’t have to be as difficult as you might think.

Remember, it’s ok to repeat frames later in the animation if you’re showing something happening in reverse (eg: the flames in the background dying down after they’ve flared up).

But, despite what I’ve said earlier, you can get away with even lower framerates than this if you’ve got other interesting stuff in your animation.

For a great example of this, check out an absolutely hilarious (but NOT for the easily-offended!) animated Youtube videogame discussion series called “The CCS Video Podcast“.

The art looks fantastic, the discussions are really interesting and there’s a lot of really twisted humour in the videos – so it’s not really a big issue that the framerate ( in the older CCS videos at least, not so much with the more recent ones) can be anything between about 0.5 to 3 frames per second.

In fact, you probably won’t even really notice it unless you think about it because you’re distracted by all of the other interesting stuff in the videos.

So, if you’re making something really interesting and really great and you’ve got a fairly low budget, then the animation doesn’t have to be “perfect”.

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Sorry that this article was so rambling and so basic, but I hope that it was interesting 🙂