Category Archives: Review

The Windup Girl

23rd century Bangkok as imagined in the Windup Girl

Every sci-fi nerd dreams at some point about owning a gorgeous, Japanese, android sex toy that is genetically engineered to satisfy their every whim. No!? Must be just me then. No wonder I enjoyed  Paolo Bacigalupi’s biopunk, sci-fi thriller, The Windup Girl.

Paulo constructs a vividly real Bangkok in which biological power is king again. Post peak-oil, ‘expansion’ cities lie like vast graveyards to the carbon intensive industries that created them; methane lamps provide the light, cycle rickshaws run the streets and the twisted Dung Lord has a monopoly on the decomposing half of the economy. Nature has been massively contorted by the pressures of humankind and the species sits perched on the edge of an evolutionary precipice braced for famine, resource wars and worse.

Corporations have become more powerful and the world is now run by giant ‘Calorie Companies’ (AgriGen, PurCal and RedStar) who have seized control of most of the global energy flows used by humans and use aggressively engineered diseases to wipe out competing crop varieties (and people’s).

Thailand has somehow managed to hoard a reserve of genetic material out of the reach of the Calorie Companies who now come  in sail boats, with shock troops, armed and ready to take this fresh slice of the global market. The Environment Ministry is ready to fight back but with Trade  in ascendency political intrigue prevails and a showdown is inevitable.

Against this cataclysmic backdrop our central characters wrestle with each other as well as will the terrible unfolding disaster of human technology unleashed on an unsuspecting natural world. But as a sinister and powerful genehacker asserts; they are life, so what is unnatural about them taking control of evolution?Perhaps the engineered Blister Rust that’s eating away at his legs?

The Windup Girl (Emiko) is avoiding ‘mulching’ by providing a disturbingly humiliating sex routine in a Bangkok sex club with a vile tormentress who, like others, believes ‘new people’ are sub-human scum. As far as Emiko is concerned, she is as natural as everyone else, and she desperately longs for some kind of niche.

The Windup Girl is genetically engineered to get your rocks of but as the tension cranks up to the epic showdown she discovers her enhanced body is capable of much more. It seems artificially created life will cling to existence too, and at some point we all have to choose what side we are on. Environment or trade? Natural or artificial? Life or death?

Whether these engineered creations are natural or not, might they be they our evolutionary descendents? The way the Military Windups kick ass it certainly could be possible and they seem to be resistant to the swirling plagues that ravage the human population, but can they overcome their coded urge to obey?

I wouldn’t recommend this book to the idle armchair environmentalist but if you are a proper Eco Freako and like your armageddon rich in technical details unsettlingly, accurately extrapolated from today’s mega trends, then this one is for you. Savour the exploration of our biology as humans unravel their own composition at an imminent evolutionary cross roads.

The Windup Girl on Amazon

Hugh Masekela “Stimela” ( Jazzanova Remix )

LOVE this tune:

Appetite for Armageddon Porn a Sign of the Times

There is a disturbing proliferation of ‘armageddon porn’ coming out of Hollywood which may reach a grim, apocalyptic climax with 2012.

The Terminator; he needs your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle.

Hollywood has dealt with human extinction for some time. The angle most commonly explored has been the Icarian possibility of humankinds’ technological evolution going out of control leading to death by angry computer or machine (2001, Terminator, The Matrix). This doomsday scenario seems preferable to the new breed of fables in which humanity dies out, by the billions, at their own hands (Watchmen, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012).

The stories we tell ourselves reveal the dominant themes of our cultural psyche. It is clear that our perception of human extinction is no longer science fiction, but what effect does seeing this on the big screen have on us?

Psychologists who have explored whether or not fear leads to behaviour change tell us that typically, people feel debilitated and disempowered by fear when they feel that they lack agency to change their circumstances i.e. there is a perceived disconnect between their actions and the outcome. This is suspected to be the reason that the danger posed by global warming has failed to elicit an appropriate response. It is like the fear of the sky falling on our heads, overwhelming yet intangible.

The problem with these films is that aside from a leading male character leaping from a helicopter there isn’t much anyone can do to avoid obliteration. This is, of course, in stark contrast to reality in which the population of Earth is fully empowered to save itself… should we so desire.

Unfortunately, in America the apocalypse isn’t considered a bad thing by everyone. Indeed for many fundamentalist Christians the 4 horsemen will lay waste the earth just before the second coming. They have even developed the rapture indexto measure how close to midnight we are getting on the doomsday clock. For them increasing nuclear weapons, climate change and anti religious misunderstandings are all healthy signs that Jesus is on his way back. As we saw from the huge, unexpected success of the Passion of the Christ, in which churches in the US blocked booked cinemas for their congregations… Christians love a bit of torment on the big screen. No doubt the producers of 2012 are getting ready to rake in the doomsday dollar.

Entertaining... but would Christ watch it?

Aside from the wonga there seem to be 2 explanations for why we are making films like this now:

  1. The films are projections of profound fears gripping society. This fear and its artistic manifestation will spur concerted global action leading to the avoidance of calamity.
  2. These films are echoes of a future calamitous event. We are going to go extinct. We know this in our collective unconscious and these are the bedtime stories our species tells itself before it finally signs out.

Those of us who hope to see humanity get out of the diaper stage of social evolution and begin to work on more exciting collective projects then war and mass consumption are rooting for the former. We should know fairly soon which option it is. Current scientific projections are clear that human society needs to completely change course in a very short space of time to avoid annihilation by dangerous, runaway climate change. In other words, the only generation that can save humanity is ours and we can only do it in a window of a few years. Our film hasn’t finished being written yet and we are the authors; a low throughput, ecological society or oblivion… the choice is ours.

Dying by Alex Grey

Oil on the Brain, review of There Will be Blood

Oil on the Brain

Oil on the Brain

This visceral, poignant, haunting behemoth of a movie takes no prisoners. It is simultaneously an unrelenting portrait of an evil man and the documenting of a period of history in which the world changed forever.

Drilling for oil is an inherently violent business. Man build’s giant machines to invade the earth and draw out the fossilized remains of organisms that existed millennia ago. The violence of their resurrection is matched by the fearful depths the prospectors will sink to within themselves to reach the black gold. The dark, seemingly limitless wealth in the belly of the earth is like the limitless evil we can draw on should we be so motivated.

Our antihero, Plainview, is tormented and evil yet presents himself as an honest family man, an `oil man’. This draws an unbroken connection between the dark insanity of the early days of oil and the republican oil men today who also are steeped in blood whilst professing Christian family values. More than this, that these wild, violent times are the immediate foundation of our culture throws our `civilization’ into sharp relief.

Finding this cheap almost limitless source of energy under our feet propelled humanity on an expansive projection that would subjugate much of the living world. We have changed our planet using oil powered technologies. If we ever needed reminding that this happened without a master plan this film is it. It is in a frenzied state that we have transformed our society into raging fire, fuelled by fossil fuel that is consuming the rest of the biosphere.

Emerging from the misery of oil exploration, with the greed and avarice, danger and death, presented with the back drop of a changing planet, with oil wars raging, we have this starkly beautiful film. This honest work of art allows us to see not just our own story but the interior workings of the mind of the species that sits atop the apex of life on this planet. At worst, we are stupid, bald monkeys on a collision course with extinction. But there is beauty on the road to oblivion; the dark horror the film describes is juxtaposed with the creative genius of the making of the film. It is humanities creative abilities that make existence worthwhile. Maybe there is hope.

Book Review: Find Your Power

Find Your Power

Find Your Power

I was at a wedding this summer and the groom said something brilliantly honest that stuck with me. He said that proposing to his girlfriend was the only real choice he had ever made in his life. I know what he means. For many of us, our lives just happen. We may think we are making choices but in fact we are following predictable paths through the social, cultural and economic webs around us.

This book provides a detailed guide to creating change. Power in this case is not power over other people but power over our lives and our destinies. Sometimes the motivation for change may be dealing with problems like smoking. In other cases we may want to change because we realize we could do more with our lives. Whether the decision is to retrain, change job, take up a musical instrument or find love; this book is an excellent source of inspiration, guidance and support.

A pervading myth of our liberal, individualist times is that we are independent sovereign entities living our lives how we choose to. This ideal surely ignores the reality of our evolved tribal mentalities. We are part of complex cultural networks. Largely, we do as those around us do. So who is steering the ship? This may be an adequate way to live if things are going well. The trouble is what happens when things go wrong?

Chris broadens the scope to also include how individuals can find the power to respond effectively to global problems such as climate change. He expertly uses his wealth of knowledge in positive psychology and addictions therapy to show how we can move from denial to action.

It has been said that the road to Auschwitz was paved with indifference. It is possible that the road to run-away climate change will be paved with apathy. This important book helps us to see how we can become more then passive participants in the flow of life. By finding our power we can realize our potential as key players in the unfolding story of life on this planet. In doing so we may live happier and more fulfilling lives.

You can buy the book here

You can find out more about Dr Chris Johnstone here.