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Suspend Me, Part Deux

You wanna make the 7-month “hop” to Mars? We’ve determined ‘tis a far better thing to sleep through the trip than to look out the window. So let’s get practical.

There you are, ready for the Long Dream (hope it’s a good one), looking fine in your futuristic metrosexual undies, trusting your space-mates to take good care. Now what? 

Here’s the latest thinking (for real):

First, you get taped up for heart rhythm, blood pressure, oxygen levels, etc.
Next, you get a sedative to knock you out, followed by a lowering of your body temperature to below hyporthermia levels.
Now an intravenous anticoagulant line is inserted, that helps prevent things like blood clots, so you don’t like, die, in your sleep.
You eat via a feeding tube shoved down your throat. Sexy, right? About a thousand calories of slurry per day.
A suite of waste collection tubes and inserts whisks all your unmentionables away (Wait, WHO inserts and adjusts those…?)
And finally -- and this is the surprising part – a helpful crew member or robot wakes you up, Three Weeks Later

Eh? I thought the trip was seven months! Oh, it is. There’s just no technology currently on the horizon to enable that kind of stasis. Wake up, sleepy head! Time to move around, exercise, help steer the ship and take care of your co-sleepers for a 3-day stint. There’s no free rides, here.

After 72 hours, it’s time to uh, lather and repeat. Strip down, tubes in, drug up, cool and dose another 21 days. For the Mars jump, figure on doing this about eight times. “But I don’t LIKE that tubing going up my…” “Shut up and hold still. You know the drill, ensign!”

Oh, the romance. The adventure. The anticipation. The slurry!

I am so in.

Suspend Me

Remember the movie “Passengers” from a year or two back? It’s a couple hundred years in the future and big space-liners are ferrying hundreds of humans to a new Eden-like planet that takes, I dunno, a hundred years in Earth time to get to, so everyone mounts their hibernation pods for a big sleep, so they can wake up relaxed and refreshed when they arrive.

Nice concept.

Meanwhile, back here in Earth-bound labs, there’s serious science at a furious pace getting done on this persuasion, simply in preparation for our coming shuttles to Mars, a mere 34 million miles out. Both scientists and shrinks are concerned about how we’ll deal with 7 months of pitch-black window views in a tin can livingroom, twiddling collective thumbs whilst we hurdle towards the red orb at a mere 18K mph.

And rightly so. Look no farther than the panic in people’s eyes when they wander into an earth-bound space with no cell reception: Wait: whaaaaat? Now multiply that by seven months and throw in doses of exponentially rising anxiety, depression and, gulp, animosity. It’s a recipe for disaster, no matter how chill you start out, and one we’ve seen dramatized in a dozen other on-screen space operas.

So what’s a body to do? Sleep! They zip you up in one o’ them pod thingies, turn a valve and a switch and you’re cool (like, REALLY cool) for the duration. We’ve seen how this goes: A trusted crew member wakes you up prior to landing and all’s well.  Easy, right?

Sure it is. Easy as sprouting wings-easy. More next time…

Star Trek, the Last Voyage

In 1976, just at the end of their first season, the cast did an extended Star Trek skit which few people will remember. It’s remarkable in multiple ways. First, of course, it features John Belushi as Captain Kirk, with Chevy Chase as Spock and Dan Aykroyd playing McCoy. Given that, we know we’ve got great talent on the stage.
The first thing that’s so striking is the combination of their age and weight. Both Aykroyd and Belushi were relatively svelte in contrast to the way they both overindulged over the ensuing seasons. And the audience is appreciative but hardly wild about their entrances on set. It’s just the first season, after all.

Then comes the skit itself, clocking in at 12 minutes in length – wonderfully over-written! And evocative of a different era when long dialog and single camera shots were the norm. This whole thing would’ve been a tight 5:30 had it run even ten years ago.

What we get, though, is a very apparent set of building blocks that become the bones of those SNL years. Belushi has somehow rallied himself into clear enough consciousness to do a bang-up job impersonating William Shatner, complete with the intensity, over-enunciation and attitude, blowing through a hugely wordy script in a single, fluid take with nary a flub.

Chevy is truly funny as Spock and Aykroyd struts his deadpan attitude with doctoral style. And it’s wonderful watching them work together, with our advance knowledge of their future careers arcs. Chase will leave for big screen shenanigans. Akyroyd will partner with Belushi for the Blues Brothers and the HOUSE of Blues and Belushi will, sadly and shockingly, go out in a drug overdose his cohorts must have feared, at the peak of his short career.

As to the skit, no story spoilers here. Just an appreciation of some of the earliest iterations of the extraordinary SNL juggernaut. Enjoy!

War of the Worlds

No, not red vs blue, think bigger! In 1898 HG Wells, one of the founding fathers of the Sci-Fi genre “gifted” us with some incredibly imaginative thinking about an alien invasion, bringing a whole new (ahem) alien concept into sharp focus and leaving us howling at whatever planet suited our fancy.

It took the genius of Orson Wells to turn that story into a radio drama in 1939, when his troop of players, the Mercury Theater, performed a live version of it on the air. This time, it was far more realistic. Using cutting edge tech – radio broadcast – and cutting edge techniques – sound effects, live orchestra, inspired performances – he simulated an invasion of Earth by wicked, up-to-no-good Martian invaders, whose advanced weaponry promptly flattened our puny defenses, dispatching with great swaths of humanity, as on-scene reporters, bystanders and military brass helplessly intoned the bad news in real time. 
One of the coolest concepts that gave the show a more believable bent was to use a small live orchestra, whose job was to play insipid dance music, simulating a normal evening radio broadcast, only to be repeatedly interrupted with breathless reports uttering “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this special bulletin” or even more convincing: “We now return to our program of evening music…” at which point the (really awful) dance music midst would be cut back into.

The effect was electrifying, so much so that it caused actual panic in the streets, with people spilling out of their homes, armed with guns and pitchforks. Heady stuff.

Now comes the latest iteration of the show (which was redone as  2005 Spielberg feature with Tom Cruise), a War of the Worlds OPERA (!) staged by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, based on the Mercury Theater broadcast, based on the book. The company has gone so far as to schedule not only the premier performance at Disney Hall in downtown LA, but a simulcast at three additional yet-to-be-announced outdoor public spaces, where a live actor will take to a makeshift stage and perform along with the live show. This will be done via loudspeakers mounted on poles built to hold the original 50-year old air raid sirens that were installed back in the days of the Red Scare. Quaint!

Just bought tickets (including the $14 per ticket convenience charge) and can’t wait to go next week. Stay tuned for broadcast interruptions.

Film Commentary: Logan and Bladerunner -- Bleak vs Bleak

 OK, we all know that the future is loaded with tons and tons of dark, somber grays and blacks and midnight blues with smoke and fog and haze wafting through, to cover the sheer devastation of a shiny future turned dystopic because, well, it’s inevitable, right? Right – so let us entertain you! 

Two films exemplify dissimilar shades of that bleak spectrum: “Logan” and “Blade Runner". United in their agreement on the coming Bleakness, they diverge immediately in execution. But first, their similarities. 

Both films present beat-down protagonists, exhausted from their physical and mental battles, questioning their worth, their effectiveness and the meaning of their pathetic lives. Logan, the exhausted X-Man, must summon the strength to triumph over a seemingly endless variety of bad-to-the-bone dudes. And Bladerunner’s “K” must risk the enmity of his superiors in wrestling his conscience into doing what’s right, outside of party lines. 

 Both men find themselves in thoroughly unpleasant surroundings. The Blade Runner earthscape is particularly onerous, given to its barrenness in the face of a complete sociological collapse, with the seemingly same hapless city-droids from the original feature lurching past those urban noodle parlors, 35 years later.  And Logan’s world staggers from stinking desert hideaways to murderous highway stretches filled with soulless mercenaries and endless carnage. 

The glue that holds both stories together? Kids. Innocent children, lord love ‘em. Without them, live is a meaningless miasma of murder and mayhem. Save the children by all that’s holy! 

The difference, however, is stark. One film is just plain violent and the other is artistically, exquisitely cold. Director Denis Villeneuve and DP Richard Deakins present a stunning depiction of a serenely coiffed Bladescape that beckons via a series of details and shadows that are museum quality photos of the pride and privilege of a near future ruling class. Cold, cunning, exasperating, beautiful. Each setup is an airbrushed magazine ad for a $500 perfume. Logan’s setting is low-budget Mad Max. Sputtering killers, heads rolling in the sand, road kill. While somehow, Bladerunner couples its murderous violence with design and lighting brilliance. 

The result is a paradox of pleasure derived from the pain of a depicted world, delicious in its arched grind towards conflict and hopeful resolution. And if this is my choice to make, I’ll take the grace of a skyway filled with screaming air cars banking in formation along ruby skies, kissing the sunset with madly disruptive serenity. If the future is gonna be horrifying, let’s do it in style.

Another Kind of Immortality

There's ample evidence and research indicating that it's just a matter of time before virtual entertainment becomes virtual living. How far out are we from being able to step into a world that is so perfectly generated, it becomes real to us and as it does, more and more compelling?

We're already bored with the early mind-blowing attempts that brought this unfolding tech to the forefront. Occulus Rift seems a lightyear ago, with Augmented Reality such a compelling second step. But the case for Fully Virtual is incredibly alluring.

To be able to step into a world designed for your personal use, edification, advancement and pleasure isn't just attractive, it's being madly developed in tech centers from San Francisco to Tel Aviv. And as it moves towards a functional reality, another parallel track will follow. Perhaps sometime later, but with utter certainty. Virtual Life. And with it, virtual immortality.

In Richard Morgan's barn-storming scifi detective novel "Altered Carbon" a central conceit features the ability of its characters -- living somewhere around 500 years in the future -- to store their living brain functions in a tiny implantable capsule that can preserve the essence of someone too sick to live or who has actually died.

Think about it: the sum total of your life experience in a tiny chip that is stored in a super facility, then implanted into another body for you to then be revived and alived all over again. Morgan refers to this process as slipping in to a new sleeve. And if you're determined and wealthy enough, you can pick and choose the kind of body you want -- including changing sex -- and do it repeatedly, netting you lifetimes of hundreds of years, as you wake up inside another casing and figure out what you look like and how it feels to be someone entirely new.

Nuts? Nu-uh. It's logical, possible, predictable and simply a matter of time. Gives the term "be seein' ya" a whole new connotation, eh?

On Auto

So I'm cruising along at 350, enjoying some big puffy cumulous formations and breathing some sweet pistachio synth air, when Boom, the dash starts flashing bright enough to wake you out of a chem dream, the car screams to a mid-air halt and a blue'n'white floats over with a sour-faced cop in the window.

 "Sir, may I see your bios and lightband?"

"Uh, sure, officer, what seems to be the trouble?"

"Sir, were you aware that you were altering your cloud course through that last bank?"

"Alter... Officer, I was just admiring the view when..."

"We have a heat impression of both your hands ON the steering stick."

"Well, I was just resting them for a moment, I mean, it's a beautiful day and..."

"Sir, when was the last time you texted during this flight?"

"Tex... I, I was just in touch with my friend about the party on Rexus9, and HE was saying..."

"Your transmit log indicates that conversation was over 5 minutes ago. Any sub-orbital texts you can produce in the ensuing time frame?"

"Well, I was about to send..."

"May I see your record of cute animal viewing for this period, please."

"Oh! I just finished that one with the kittens running across the meadow with the ducks!"

"Which played on your screen 26 hours ago?"

"Wait, I mean the puppies! The puppies rolling over each other and then falling out of the dresser drawer!"

"Earlier this morning."

"The... the parakeet -- with the Pitbull!"

"Sir, you haven't texted or participated in any form of social media for the past 34 minutes and appear to have been steering your vehicle in a random manner for the past twelve, prior to my pulling you over."

"But I... wait, look! I found these babies eating strained peaches. (laughing) Look at that, they're getting it all over their bibs and faces, isn't that a riot, don'tcha just love watching them carry on, OMG that's so..."

"Sir, please step out of the vehicle and place your hands behind your back."

"But they're... Wait: You want me to step OUT -- we're 150 feet up!"

"On to the jet-plat, sir, let's not make this any more difficult, OK?"

"Officer, I NEVER steer, I was just day-dreaming and, and staring..."

"At nothing. Step out of the vehicle please. Central, this is 34F6, requesting backup..."