Tag Archives: sci-fi

Being a robot would be awesome

In most science fiction stories, if there’s ever a character who suddenly finds out that he’s a robot, it’s always this huge letdown, for the readers, for the other characters definitely. But the robot always takes it the hardest. Taken to extreme, the robot finds out that he’s a robot, and then he short-circuits and powers down, as if the truth is too unbearable to live with.


But I don’t know. If I were to discover that I was in fact a robot, I’d be more relieved than anything else. Maybe I’d be a little sad. But actually, no, I don’t think I’d be sad at all. And upon further reflection, I’d probably be happy about it, excited even. Everyone knows that robots are superior to humans. Finally, I’d have some concrete evidence that I’m superior to everyone else.

I wouldn’t have to worry about getting sick or developing any sort of chronic illness. Sure, computer viruses would pose more of an existential threat than they did before, but I’d never have to go running through the park and worry that I’m breathing in too much polluted air, or eat an ice cream cone and ponder the potential danger of too much antibiotics in consumer dairy products.

And what about all of the time wasted, wondering if I’m doing a good job fitting in, or being accepted by everyone else? If I’m a robot, I don’t care. I’d throw my robotic hands in the air and say, well, I am different, I’m a highly sophisticated sentient machine. Of course I’m never going to be able to fully relate with the humans. I might as well enjoy my uniqueness.

There’d have to be some extra abilities that I’d possess as a robot. Like if I’m doing some endurance exercise, does it really make sense that I’d be tired? No. That’s probably some restrictive programming at work to make me feel weak, like a human. Just knowing that those barriers are artificial has got to be enough to overcome my predefined limitations.

And why settle for just basic programming? What good is it to be a robot if you can’t opt in for some upgrades? Of course I’m talking hardware modifications, like some rocket boots that pop out of the bottom of my feet. I’ve always dreamed about exiting a boring conversation mid-sentence by just blasting out of there. Because what would the other person even say? It’s not like they’d be mad at me. It would be more cool than anything else.

But hardware upgrades would be so much more than just rocket boots. I could get like titanium-reinforced hands, for breaking things with an effortless punch. Or a new set of advanced eyes with telescopic vision. It could be anything. Ice-skates that pop out of my feet, or an extra set of arms that extend from my torso.

Which by themselves wouldn’t really make me any better than just a knockoff Inspector Gadget. So I’d have to work on software upgrades, you know, increased intelligence, instant knowledge of complex subjects as of now beyond my grasp. I’d be able to do anything.

So yeah, I guess I’m thinking about the last Terminator movie, about how the guy finds out that he’s a robot and he’s all like, “Noooo!”

But I’m not buying it. I’d be like, “Yes!”

Job Assigner

“Listen Rob,” the Job Assigner broke the news to me, “these algorithms don’t lie. All right? So it says here that you’re qualified to go down on this two year deep sea study, I mean, what are you going to do?”


“Come on man,” I tried to beg. I never thought I’d have to beg. Robot Assistant, Human User Interface Relations, even Food Advertiser Specialist … seriously, even if I’d been assigned Food Advertiser Specialist, I wasn’t going to beg. Because I get, all right, not everybody gets assigned a cushy job. We can’t all be assigned Job Assigner. But this? Deep Sea Study Participant?

“You know how it goes. Everything’s optimized.”

“But I don’t even like the beach. I don’t want to live in the ocean.”

“Yeah, well, the computer says you’re a match, so you’re a match. You can’t argue with these things.”

“There’s nobody else that wants to go?” I mean, yeah, I’d heard about people being sent away on studies. But I never knew anybody that actually got shipped away. It was always like tall tales and stuff. I think one of my great uncles told a story about one of his old friends getting shipped out.

“It’s not a matter of want. Do you think I wanted to be Job Assigner?”

“You don’t want to be Job Assigner?”

“Well, I didn’t say that. But do you think that I really saw myself as Job Assigner? Everybody wants to be Job Assigner. But then once you get it … don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful to be here. But I’d be lying if there weren’t that old feeling, like, what’s next? I know what’s next. More jobs. More assigning.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No, I’m for real. Person comes in, computer spits out a job, I tell the person the job. Person comes in, person gets a job. Everybody’s getting jobs. Everybody except for me. Obviously I’m only dealing with my point of view here. But just think man, you’re going on an adventure. The deep sea!”

“But what are they going to be doing, testing me? Seeing how I’ll react to different states of pressure and environment and … and they’re probably going to give me one of those controlled diets, probably the same ones they give to the Deep Space Study Participants.”

“Yeah, I doubt it’ll be as bad as you think, but I’m sure it’s going to be a controlled diet.”

“Does it say? Does it mention anything about diet?”

“What are you talking about?”
“That … that screen, whatever it is you’re looking at, the one that told you my job placement. Does it have any sort of details?”

“This screen? Oh jeez, that’s good. No, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to laugh at you. It’s just … here, look at the screen, it’s Internet videos. I’m sorry, I just … the computer just says one thing, for you it said ‘Deep Sea Study Participant’ and that’s it. I just always have Internet videos on in the background. But hey! You’ll have Internet down there. So that’s something. You won’t be completely cut off. Not from the Internet, anyway.”

“And how many people are down there? Is it a big study?”

“Yeah, sorry man, but this is what I’m talking about here. Job Assigner, you’d think there’s more to it than just reading out loud. It’s not even a sentence. ‘Deep Sea Study Participant.’ Who am I kidding? This job’s a joke. I don’t know why everyone thinks it’s so cool. Yes, it’s easy. Yes, I only have to work like two hours a week. But it’s just so … I always thought I would have made a good Quality Control Historical Reenactor.”

“Listen, I would do anything to have your job. Anything. You don’t want to switch?”

“Switch? Ha. Come on man, you’re not dumb, you went through Basic Ed. I get it, I really do. I don’t assign too many Deep Sea Study Participant jobs, but it happens, and everyone’s upset. I get it. But everybody needs a job. You’ve got to have a job, you just have to. But it’s only a two-year gig. You’ll be back! Maybe they’ll give you Job Assigner two years from now!”

“You think?”

“I mean, I have no idea.”

“Well, what did you do before you were a Job Assigner?”

“Me? Nothing. I went through Basic Ed and some Job Assigner assigned me to be Job Assigner, and I was like, all right. And that’s it. I’m here for seventeen more years, and then I think they have me retiring on some moon somewhere.”

“A moon? That’s it?”

“I think it’s a nice moon.”

“Yeah, but still.”

“Yeah well, at least I’m not going to the deep sea.”

And yeah, that’s when it kind of sunk in. The door opened up and a Post-Assigner Assignment Placer came to shuttle me to whichever transport would take me to wherever I’d have to go to get ready for life underwater. I hope at least that it’s like an indoor study, that I’m not just floating around down there, testing out some new long-term oxygen deprivation drug or something. Right as they led me out, I heard the Job Assigner call out to me.

“Hey man, that wasn’t cool, I’m sorry. It won’t be too bad. You’ll be fine!”

I turned around and said, “Really? You think so?”

And he just kind of gave me a thumbs-up and shrugged.

At least it’s warm in here

I’m looking at the life support stats and I can still hear the computer’s voice in my head, even though I disabled it hours ago, it’s right there in red text and my mind automatically fills in the blanks, that gender-neutral voice, the matter-of-fact way in which it would be reading aloud to me, “Oxygen levels, twelve percent. Situation critical. Return to base immediately.” As if I needed a reminder.


It’s one of these situations I’ve only read about in cheap sci-fi, but I can’t even panic anymore. That’s it. I’m like two days from the nearest base, no other craft nearby. I don’t know what to do. I got out the spacesuit, I hooked up the suit’s oxygen to the ship’s air supply. And what did that give me, twenty extra minutes?

I mean, I guess I could hold out hope that the monitor is malfunctioning, that maybe there’s more air in here than the ship’s capable of reading. But I don’t think so, and yeah, I went through emergency protocol, right, I did every step, right? Is there something I’m missing? Because I don’t think so. I think … I turned the oxygen down, OK. That bought me an hour and a half, but I’m definitely feeling it, a little light-headed.

What else? I did the spacesuit, right? Maybe it’s better if I just crank it back up again, I mean, what’s the ideal situation? Would I rather have three and a half hours of regular oxygen levels or six and three quarters hours of what it’s currently set to right now? Either way, I’m dead. And six and three quarters hours, it’s like, I don’t have a headache right now, but I’ll definitely have a headache in an hour or two. I don’t think I want to go out with a headache.

Maybe if I could get it to five hours. I won’t have to start really freaking out for another three. Shit, this is bad. I’m still trying to piece together what happened, autopilot was on, right, it must have been a really, perfectly timed piece of debris or asteroid or whatever. And why didn’t the computer seal the leak right away? I don’t know. I have no idea if there’s any justifying this.

And I sent out the distress, right, but that doesn’t matter, they’re not going to get it until it’s too late. OK, I’ve got to stop freaking out here, I’ll have plenty of time to freak out when there’s no time left. What can I do for five hours? I’m not going to watch a movie. I guess I could watch a movie. Do I really want to zone out though? My last moments of existence? What should I be doing?

Do I want to like reflect on life? I don’t know. I don’t want to get myself bummed out here. You know it’s like whenever this stuff happens in a movie, there’s always one obvious solution that’s never obvious until right when it looks like there’s nothing that’s left to do but give up and die. But this is worse, man, it’s like I almost wish that I could give up here, but I’m still stuck on that idea, like if I just keep looking through this emergency manual, something’s going to pop out at me.

I don’t think it’s going to happen. I wish once in my life I had made an effort to pay attention to one of those artsy movies where nothing winds up working out in the end. But no, just blockbusters for me, and now I can’t turn it off, that never say die voice in my head, always banking on that happy ending. It’s crazy, man, it’s like when I found my old lock from high school, I was positive if I stared at it long enough, the combination would come back to me, and I’d start in with some random numbers, but nothing. Whatever was in there, that’s gone.

I’m fucking dead. I wish I could override the computer and just get it over with, because I don’t know, I’m trying to stay calm here but I can’t do it, I wish it were at least cold in here or something, but it’s just the oxygen that got hit, not the heat, not whatever it is that powers this stupid monitor in front of me. I don’t want to keep staring ahead at the oxygen levels, it’s going down in real time before my eyes, but it’s so slow, I’m conscious of every second and … did I mention how I can’t get the computer’s voice out of my head? And it won’t let me just cut the air, I’ll black out, I can’t believe there’s nothing stronger in this med-kit than ibuprofen and, fuck, am I getting a headache? Or is this just a freak-out headache? Maybe I’ll just pump it up, all the oxygen, whatever, an hour and a half, I’ll put on a movie, I won’t ever have to worry about how it ends, just get me nice and oxygened up here, endings are the worst part anyway, at least I’ll be comfortable, at least it’s warm in here.

Movie Review: Riddick

I remember seeing Pitch Black when I was a sophomore in high school. I had never heard of Vin Diesel before. In fact, I don’t even think I knew what the movie was about when I bought my ticket. But it was amazing, a sci-fi thriller, a prison transport ship goes down on an isolated planet overrun with alien monsters that rule the night.


Diesel starred as Richard Riddick, a convict with special eyes that could see in the dark. His exploits gave way to a sequel, or a prequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, I’m not sure about the specifics, because I never saw the film. But Riddick’s at it again this time in Riddick, which, without ever having seen part two, it feels like almost a direct sequel to Pitch Black.

There’s no f’n around. Right from the beginning we find what appears to be a corpse’s wrist sticking out of the ground. Diesel’s monotone voiceover explains that, “This isn’t the first time I’ve been counted out,” as the hand springs to life, strangling an alien vulture that got a little too bitey with Riddick’s fingers.

And that choke scene, as the lizard/bird thing squirmed and died in Riddick’s blood-caked hand, it was obvious that whoever financed this picture didn’t really care about springing for the premium package with the CGI studio. It’s kind of a thing throughout the film. For a movie that relies so heavily on computer generated effects, I’m surprised that the quality was so shoddy.

It’s a superficial complaint, but it’s the backdrop for most of the movie. At one point Riddick and some other guy are on space motorcycles riding through the desert, and I barely had to use any imagination to picture the green screen taking up a majority of the shot.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. For a while, it’s just Riddick. He’s in bad shape, first unburying himself, then setting his own broken bones. There’s a pack of wild space dogs looking to turn him into a quick lunch, but not only does he successfully fight them off, he then adopts one of their pups and raises it to be his trusty sidekick.

After setting off a beacon at a mercenary supply station, he attracts the attention of two rival space gangs, each looking to cash in on the outstanding reward for Riddick’s head. These dopes are no match for Riddick, but as our protagonist lets everyone know, “It ain’t me you’ve got to worry about.”

No, just like in Pitch Black, this planet has its own alien monsters that only attack during specific conditions, in this case, rain. And guess what? There’s a storm coming. And that’s basically where we get left off at the end of the trailer. It’s a race to get off the planet.

For all of its cheesiness, its lame special effects and two-dimensional plot, I really enjoyed Riddick. The pacing of the action was pretty smooth, and they kept the story simple. They could have riddled the secondary characters with pointless subplots and bad dialogue, but for the most part, everything was strictly business.

I like movies like this, these epic space operas, because there really aren’t too many out there. There were occasional allusions to what must have gone down in the second movie, something about an intergalactic empire, betrayal, some villain with scars on his face whose presence was never explained at all. But that’s what made everything compelling, those little tastes that reminded me that this layover on a hostile planet was but a minor stop along an interstellar epic. This is the type of actual sci-fi that Stephen Colbert pokes fun at with his Tek Jansen cartoons.

I’ve got to say, I always underestimate Vin Diesel. Every time I go to see one of his movies, I walk in the theater expecting to be disappointed. But the Fast and Furious franchise, XXX, and now Riddick, I’m impressed. There’s an unpretentiousness about his acting and his movies. He knows what he’s supposed to give and he delivers.

Riddick will probably be on the SyFy channel in a couple of weeks, so I guess there’s no rush. Still, I really enjoyed it, I loved watching it on a big screen. I hope they keep making Riddick movies, forever, cruising through space, getting stranded on planets, battling mercenaries and leading empires. It’s all so f’n cool.

Movie Review: Elysium

It’s the end of the twenty-first century. All of the big problems that kind of threaten us in a vague maybe-ish someday way today have blossomed into a full-scale dusty global cloud of sepia toned urban smog. There’s overpopulation, pollution, and poverty on a mass scale. It’s an authoritarian state, everything enforced by robot police officers. You can’t even talk sarcastically to the droids or they’ll beat you up and maybe send you to jail.


But if you’re rich, everything’s fine. You live on Elysium, this giant Halo-like space colony orbiting the earth. Not only is the scenery lush and green, the citizens well-dressed and manicured, but health care has reached its apex: the elites lay down on these medical beds where everything from cancer to radiation poisoning can be almost instantly cured.

Elysium, to me, is the reason why we elect Democrats to office. All of the current social and political debates of today are embellished, exaggerated to such effect that the world in which this film takes place is at times totally alien, yet sometimes hauntingly a reflection of the present day. The disdain that the upper class exudes toward everyone else boils the blood, “Don’t breathe on me,” a corporate executive interrupts an underling for talking to his superior without covering his mouth.

The rich relax in the skies with their “I’ve got mine” security separated comfortably by the planet’s own atmosphere. Everyone else on the ground is a means to an end, to higher profits and revenues. I think about all of the fast-food workers holding these one-day strikes for a livable wage and I see the factory workers in Elysium get bossed around, threatened with their jobs, exploited for as much work with as little compensation. Profit, profit, profit.

Everyone’s desperate to get to Elysium, to use the medical beds, to escape what the previous generations – our generation – have left of the earth. We hear the words “illegals” a lot, “security,” “liberty,” it’s all of the same issues that we debate about now, how much to give to what people, do people truly deserve anything in this life?

Matt Damon’s character, Max, grew up in Los Angeles, and due not so much to character defects than the simple fact that the circumstances of his life suck, he’s in and out of jail, getting beat up by robot cops for no reason, working on the line at a factory that manufactures the same robot cops that then patrol the streets looking to beat him up again.

When he’s involved in an accident at work leaving him with just five days to live, his yearning turns to desperation as he agrees to wear a surgically attached robot exoskeleton with orders to fight his way to survival. Fortune winds up turning a simple heist into a political battle for control of Elysium, and Max finds himself being hunted down by Kruger, Sharlto Copley, the same South African guy from District 9 (also written and directed by Neill Blomkamp.) He’s traded in his bureaucratic government shirt and tie for a beard, cloak, and a giant sword. Kruger is a highlight of the film. I don’t know if it was his relentless cannot-be-stopped character or his creepy almost unintelligible accent, but his very presence on the screen made my skin tingle with static-like charge.

Elysium is over the top, but it’s everything that true sci-fi aspires to be. Like Alien, like his previous District 9, Blomkamp has taken all of the negative aspects of modern society and imagined them to run their course for about two hundred more years totally uninhibited. The result is everything that us liberals are afraid of: corporate supremacy, misery, dystopia, the haves and the have-nots on an extreme scale. It made me think about justice, about distribution, about the fact that we currently have the means to feed the world’s population, but we lack the political will to spread the wealth. How is this all going to sort itself out? In which direction are we headed as a species? I certainly hope that our future resembles nothing like the world of Elysium.