Archive | November, 2012

HER GHOST: remixing Marker’s SF classic

30 Nov

A trio of contemporary artists have found a new perspective on Chris Marker’s time-travel film La jetée. By Tim Maughan

Brunel and Banksy both have works on show within a few minutes’ walk of Bristol’s Arnolfini arts centre. It’s a pretty place. Well: prettified. The Victorian harbour is a damned sight better maintained than the brutalist tower blocks that lie a few minutes’ drive behind them: structures that have come to symbolise troubled British inner city life. Put this lot under a dark shroud of perma-drizzle (Bristol’s most science-fictional asset) – and you have the perfect setting for a performance of Her Ghost, a homage-slash-remix-slash-retelling of Chris Marker’s 1962 science fiction short La jetée

La jetée, for the uninitiated, is an time travel film unlike any other you’re likely to have seen. It’s a 28-minute succession of monochrome photographs, punctuated only by a single brief moment of motion. A lone, unseen narrator describes the fate of its central character over a hauntingly minimal soundtrack. It’s an uncompromising but laser-precise piece of storytelling that uses its stark form to create both an ultra-tight narrative and an ambiguous, emotionally-laden memory collage.

Fifty years after its release, Marker’s film remains effective and still feels vital, having become a key reference work for generations of filmmakers. It was remade, Hollywood-style, as the Bruce Willis/Brad Pitt vehicle Twelve Monkeys, and its influence is evident in more arty takes such as Shane Carruth’s Primer (analysed in Arc 1.1). Even deciding how to approach the reimagining of such a monumental work must have been formidable.

“Initially the idea was to do a new soundtrack to the film, which from my point of view was a very exciting prospect,” says Steve Goodman, who, under the alias Kode9, is one of modern electronic music’s most respected producers. (He’s also the author of a book on sonic weaponry.) “It soon became clear that the film didn’t need a new soundtrack. In its original state it was just perfect.”

Rather, Goodman worked with German filmmaking duo MFO and vocalist/writer Ms Haptic to reassemble the film from scratch. The result is meant to be performed live rather than played. Goodman manipulates the sound and MFO the imagery, while Haptic delivers her new and enigmatic narrative track over the top.

Kode9’s thunderous soundscape and MFO’s glitchy visuals both build predominately from the original source, with the original’s petrified imagery distorted and manipulated in real time throughout the performance.

But it’s Ms Haptic’s narration that wreaks the most radical changes. While Marker’s film was centred on a post-apocalyptic time traveller, falling in love with a woman he meets in the past, Her Ghost turns it around, showing the same events from the woman’s perspective. The result is a radically different experience. The woman has only vague, fleeting memories of the time traveller – “her ghost”, in the words of the original film. That makes the viewer question the original’s depiction of events, and indeed whether what it portrayed can even be described as a real relationship.

For devotees of La jetée, it’s a slightly jarring departure at first, with the original’s tight narrative being replaced by a vaguer and more liquid exploration of emotion and memory. But on reflection, it’s arguably the only direction Her Ghost could really have taken. Any attempt to better or re-write Marker’s storytelling would have been foolish. The team’s decision to make a more emotional, abstract work out of the events described in La Jetée is a triumph of multimedia performance.

It’s one that especially fits well with Goodman’s Kode 9 alter ego, and the back catalogue of his influential record label, Hyperdub. Their works lack obvious narrative structure, but they nonetheless very much qualify as intelligent, emotional science fiction – in fact, some of the most important science fiction of the last decade, gloriously capturing urban environments and atmospheres and looking to the future while referencing the past.

Her Ghost sits under this umbrella perfectly: a work of SF that retains La jetée’s timeless emotional resonance, and embraces technology and remix culture without getting lost in the gimmicks of either.

Her Ghost will next be performed at London’s BFI Southbank on Friday 7th December. For more information, and details of future performances, visit https://herghost.wordpress.com/

Read Tim Maughan’s short story “Limited edition” in Afterparty Overdrive, out now for iPads and iPhones
for Android devices, Windows and Mac computers
as a collectible print edition
and for Kindle

Announcing Arc’s new competition winner Romie Stott

26 Nov

“A Robot Walks Into A Bar and Says…” wins our third Arc/Tomorrow Project short story competition. It is a hard story to precis: a tale of robot love, teledildonic sex, Turing tests and the maddening wobbliness of human desire.  In the telling, it is anything but predictable: a wholly convincing account of an impossible, nonsensical, utterly genuine love affair.

Our winner, Romie Stott, is currently the poetry editor of SF and fantasy magazine Strange Horizons. She has had short stories published by Superficial Flesh, Toasted Cake, and in the anthology She Nailed a Stake Through His Head. As filmmaker she has shown work at the Dallas Museum of Art, ICA London, the British National Gallery, and various festivals.

“A Robot Walks Into A Bar and Says…” appears in Arc 1.4 #foreveralonedrone. You can also read the story in full here, or scroll down for a short extract.

When I met David, I was working as a bouncer at a trance club downtown – a high-end place where before the muscle manhandles them to the curb, big spenders get a polite request from a smiling girl who wonders if they’d rather move to a private room. Unlike the bar staff, I don’t get tips, and like the rest of the bouncers, I spend most of the evening scanning the crowd for trouble. I just do it in a slinky dress while holding a shirley temple. It’s not a great job, but it lets me double dip – at the same time as I watch for assholes, I keep a lookout for new trends, which I report to another boss. Remember the headbands that were popular last year, the ones with shapes cut out of them? I’m one of the people who spotted that back when a few college kids were hand-making theirs.

Meanwhile, I’m doing a third job as a shill making small talk about the product of the week, whether it’s berry-flavored vodka or an “underground” new single. On a good day, I feel like a double agent, like the membrane through which cool percolates. Other times, I think it’s pretty sick. But by stacking jobs, I only have to work fifteen hours a week, which leaves me time for my music. Not that I use my free time to work on my music. I mostly watch movies. And spend most of my paycheck on drinks and clothes. Keeps the bosses happy.

The first thing I noticed about David was his hands, the way he handled objects. It’s obvious, really – hands, sex – it’s like saying he had beautiful eyes (which he did, though I didn’t look at them until later). Most people, when they approach the bar, do one of two things. Either they push to the front, cat-call the bartender, and wave a lot of cash around, or they hesitate, meek and uncomfortable, talk too softy for their order to be made out, and wait until the last minute to fumble through a stack of credit cards. David, by contrast, was still, but still in a way that had weight behind it. He waited like a man who was completely aware of the crowds and flashing lights, but completely separate from them. When he pulled out his wallet, his movements were economical. Deliberate. As though he knew precisely where every bill rested – its unique texture and particular history, its level of appropriateness to the task, and the exact amount of force required to tease it free of its brothers.

The way I describe it, it sounds fussy. It wasn’t. There is something thrilling and frightening about a man who knows exactly what he’s doing. It should make him seem safe. It does the opposite. I was seized with a strong compulsion to knit a stiff yarn dress and let him unravel it from around me – thread popping as knots pull loose line after line; a reverse dot matrix printer; a laser un-writing a green and black computer screen; a cartoon character gnawing a cob of corn. I watched him back to his table, or what became his table, in a small dark corner with a good vantage – the kind of spot appreciated by regulars, but rarely noticed by newcomers. He didn’t look like he was waiting for anyone, but who would know? Over the next half hour, he made brief small talk with a few sorority girls on the prowl, his expression indicating an interest that was polite but not eager. Between conversations, which he never instigated, he sipped his drink at a leisurely rate, posture comfortable and alert. When someone at the next table had trouble with a disposable lighter, he fixed it.

He was perfect. That’s when it clicked. I sat down across from him.

“You’re a robot, aren’t you,” I said.

Read all our winning entries here.

Click here for details of our new competition!

Arc’s winning stories: Give and Take by Conor Powers-Smith

23 Nov

We all want to be better than we are. But people are so diverse, the bell-curve of “normal” so maddeningly wide and shallow — it’s hardly any wonder that our individual attempts at betterment are doomed to rather farcical failure.

Meanwhile, hardly a week goes by without an announcement that some ordinary human foible – distractability, shyness, lust – has been given a psychiatric label and its “victims” put on a pharmaceutical treatment. 

Take these two ideas, bang them together and, if you are as good a writer as Conor Powers-Smith, you end up with “Give and Take”, a runner-up in our recent competition, and a sharp, satirical take on suburban living ten, maybe twenty years hence.

Conor Powers-Smith grew up in New Jersey and Ireland, and currently lives on Cape Cod, where he’s a reporter. His stories have appeared in Abyss & Apex, Scifia, Fantastic Frontiers, Daily Science Fiction and Stupefying Stories.

You can read Give and Take in its entirety here. There’s also a short extract below.

“Where’d you…” It was impossible to mistake the hesitation for anything but what it was: the consequence of Gil having begun the question without knowing what he was going to ask. He finished in a rush: “…get your shirt?”

Greg looked down at his simple blue-and-white-striped polo, by no means new. “Uh, I don’t know. I think I—”

“How bout your shoes? Where’d you get those? Oh, what size?”

Greg looked at Gavin, who said, “Gil went in last weekend. Can you guess what for?”

“Greg,” said Gil, very seriously. “Where’d…you get…your shoes?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Fine. But answer the question, you know? So what size?”

“Thirty.”

“Yeah right. You still have your car?”

“Yeah.”

“What year? Oh, and how many miles?”

Gavin said, “Gil. See that guy over there?” He pointed into the crowd, seemingly at random. “He used to play pro baseball.”

“What? Bullshit.”

“No, seriously. I think he made it to double-A. Go ask him.”

Gil stared at Gavin. “It didn’t make me stupid, you know.”

Gavin’s smile grew sad. “I know. But you’re dying to ask him. Aren’t you?”

Gil stared for another second or two, something like real resentment in his eyes. He repeated, softly, “It didn’t make me stupid,” then moved away, toward wherever he’d decided Gavin had been pointing.

Read all our winning entries here.

Click here for details of our new competition!

Arc’s winning stories: The Delights of Gardenearth by Peter Dennis

22 Nov

If you’ve been following Arc from the outset, you’ll recognise Peter Dennis as a runner-up from our first competition. A Private Party was a delirious story about online identities creating havoc in the world of the living. “The Delights of Gardenearth” explores similar territory from a more philosophical angle. It imagines a technological marriage between 3D printing, DIY-bio and God games.

Nature itself, by now thoroughly hacked, has become a giant sandbox, a playground, an infinitely fertile game-of-games.  But for its elite players, creation turns out to be a not very playful business. There is, after all, a moral burden to be shouldered, if one wants to play God.

Read Peter’s story in full here. There’s also a short extract below.

‘Come on, play fair now. You’ve been missing for days. What did you expect me to do? Leave you to wander in the wilderness?’

No answer.

Still no answer. I raise my eyebrows, corrugating my brow, and lean forward.

‘It’s my wilderness,’ is the final petulant response. He is playing with something – a ball of grey green mist that spins in the palm of his hand. I try to classify the delicate weave in the turning cloud: it’s a prelich – the code-state of a Gardenearth lichen. Or at least that’s what it looks like to me. It is already starting to take on greater definition.

‘Oh yes. Yes it is. Of course. It’s your wilderness. But you work for me. So it’s my wilderness.’

The lichen is now formed and sits like a spider moss in Gassile’s hand. It is intertwined in his long fingers and he lets it settle in the shallow bowl of his hand and rotates it, as though it was something that might crawl off if he didn’t move in just such a way.

‘Look, could you stop playing for a second?’

Gassile starts to ignore me then looks me straight in the face ‘Nope,’ he replies. ‘Isn’t that my job? To never stop playing?’ There’s a small, china finger-bowl hidden in amongst the empties and half empties that I had assumed to have been an ashtray. Gassile reaches into it and, making a fist, eats a parade line of nuts. ‘Good nuts,’ he says conversationally. He smiles again – all teeth and half-masticated peanut. ‘You know, I think they’re from Greece.’

I sigh. I’m regretting my ‘but you work for me’ line and pass my attention from the face grinning at me as it chews to the lichen in his hand. It’s beautiful: shimmering with oily rainbows that spiral back and forth along the structure’s delicate grey tendrils. While what I’m seeing is obviously only a previsualisation of the product that could be finally engineered in the real world, I get the feeling that, out there in reality, this lichen would shimmer too.

Read all our winning entries here

Click here for details of our new competition!

Arc’s winning stories: Polenth Blake’s Through the Hoops

21 Nov

Polenth Blake (@Polenth) has had work published in Nature, ChiZine and Penumbra. Her story “Through the Hoops” – a runner-up in our recent short story competition – was one of the few entries we received that addressed the theme, “the future of pleasure” by cooking up a wholly new pastime. Polenth’s strange, AR-enhanced breed of parkour catches in the memory as much for what is not explained as for its fine detail. It also captures the moment when a commercial sport becomes something else, with its own, much fuzzier rules.  

Click here to read the story. There’s also a short extract below.

We stood together at the base of the steps. There were no hoops or messages. Just a series of cracked stones and weeds. There could be anything up those steps. They might give way any moment. I could take falling, but I always knew when it would happen. Here, there were no rules.

Rita took the first step. We went up slowly, watching for any signs of danger, but the steps turned out to be solid enough. At the top, a stone arch led onto the building’s roof. We bundled through the arch and into paradise.

Once, this must have been a rooftop swimming pool. Walls surrounded the roof, to give some privacy. The pool was laid out in the centre. But with no one caring for it, plants had taken over. A few small trees had grown up in the cracks. Grass and flowers covered most of the rest of the surface. The pool was murky green, with clumps of pond weed.

Animals had also colonised the roof. Birds called from the trees and other things scurried in the undergrowth.

Rita peered up at one of the trees. “This is so cool.”

I tried to think of a snarky response, but nothing came. It was a different kind of tracing, going to places people had walked by for years, yet never seen. “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

Read all our winning entries here

Click here for details of our new competition!

Arc’s winning stories: Child’s Play by JP Heeley

20 Nov

In the 1920s, the Soviet film pioneer Dziga Vertov began cooking up extraordinary claims for the new medium of cinema. It would, he said, dissolve the boundaries between Space, Time, and the human body.

Much the same claims have been made for every new medium, from VR to Twitter. And, little by little, the dream comes a little closer to reality. 

JP Heeley, a runner-up in our recent short story competition, runs with this idea – and comes to a conclusion very different to those peddled by tech evangelists like Ray Kurzweil. In “Child’s Play”, ordinary domestic frustrations play themselves out at an astronomical scale – a sharp and sad reminder that, no matter how far we run, we cannot outrun our own natures.

Over the past ten years Heeley has been working with scientists from the UKs leading universities, building new businesses based on their inventions. Though surrounded by new technologies, Heeley is nonetheless keen to give the human element its due. He writes: “I believe it is the human response to the context of these inventions that lies at the heart of an interesting story.”

Here’s an extract, and you can click here to read the full piece.

Suzanne sat fixated on her son. He was lying suspended in a glass fluid-filled coffin, enveloped in the wired skin membrane. Diffraction and translucence disguised him, but she could make out the rare serenity on his face. Skin-induced neutrality. She joined their play date using earphones and screens, providing a flat experience, like she was watching one of the old movies. She was just sitting in, invisible, intangible, unannounced. A voyeur. Not the way you should treat your husband, she knew. But once a week. That’s all they had. And a second for their son. A generous perk on the part of the company. She drank in the vicarious company.

The other miners’ widows were jealous, scarcely concealed in coffee mornings and play groups. Twice a week Alexi got. Claire’s Neil only got skin time every other week. And their system was always breaking down. Hadn’t had skin time for over a month she said. Not that Claire minded. She’d moved on.

Paul was a great man. Good for Claire. But she felt sorry for Neil. All those miles away. Working for years. Working for their future. Claire wasn’t going to tell him though. Too cruel she said. Stuck out there on a ten year contract. Working for his future. For little Neil and Kitty’s future.

No getting out of it just because your wife had left you. Not without triggering penalty clauses. Costs of yours and your replacement’s transport. Enough to bankrupt anyone. Lose the house in the compound and take your chances in the shanty. No they all knew they were signing up for the duration.

Neil didn’t know. He was soppy like Alexi. Lived for the skin. So Claire had joined in. Once a fortnight, like clockwork. Except not now. Claire confessed the other day over a bottle of wine. Said it made her feel dirty. Like she was being used. Now that she had moved on. And Paul was jealous, of what they did, that it continued. Had insisted on looking at the logs. Of course Claire would let him. It would kill him to see it. Her cross to bear. She’d tried grafting a Paul avatar onto Neil. But it didn’t work. Felt wrong. Confused. Perverse. She’d not slept with Paul month after that. Nearly finished them. So she was sending her avatar in now. At first stepping out when it got too … intimate. Once he was involved enough he didn’t notice. Then stepping out earlier and earlier, until last time it was just the avatar. She never skinned up. Just checked the logs afterwards.

Read all our winning entries here

Click here for details of our new competition!

Arc’s winning stories: Deborah Walker’s Drink Deep and Long the Circean Poison

19 Nov

Must artists suffer? The novelist and poet Thomas Hardy thought so, quipping that “light writes white”. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World  is a narcotised shopping mall, its zombie denizens, blissed into political quiescence.

Deborah Walker (@deboree), a runner-up in our recent short story competition, broadly agrees – but her story, set in a world where pleasure has been harnessed and commodified, is altogether more mischevious. There is no conspiracy here, no attempt to defraud humankind; only a technology that speaks to some very deep, politically uncorrect (and largely male) assumptions about what greatness is, and how it can be achieved.

It’s also a playful period piece that, in its attention to detail and speech rhythms, knocks all that steampunk malarkey out of the court. 

Read the whole story here, or scroll down for a short extract.

“May I have the honour of reading your work?” I asked

“Here,” Dunstable said, rummaging in his voluminous garments to produce a battered manuscript

“What are the themes?” I leafed through the pages, many closely written with many deletions and underscores, sometimes ripping the page.

“Love, war, wilderness and loss. What it still means to be a man in a world dominated by women.” Dunstable cast a particularly unpleasant and meaningful stare at Circe.

“I am not a woman,” said Circe mildly. “I only wear a shell.”

“Women are concerned with happiness, nurturing, mothering. That’s what you are. You have emasculated the world. You have ripped the balls off a generation.”

“I say, steady on old boy.” I laid a friendly hand on Dunstable’s shoulder.

“Where’s your woman, then?”

I placed my fist to my mouth. “She is gone,” I said.

Dunstable smirked.

“Reginald is very attractive to women,” said Circe. “I’ve no doubt that he will attract another woman when his muse allows.”

He smirked again.

Read all our winning entries here

Click here for details of our new competition!