Unwritten

Things I would totally write posts about if I weren’t spending all my time either playing Final Fantasy XII or keeping up with commitments elsewhere, a partial list:

1. Survivors. Watched the final episode last night; I’ve seen the odd post about the series, but did anyone else watch it through to the end? I was much more impressed than not, I have to say. I’m not keen on the Secret Conspiracy, which makes me wary of the second series, since it looks set to play a greater part in the story than it has done so far; and sometimes the plots are a mite predictable. But sometimes they’re not, and I think all the central characters are well-realised. And I’m a sucker for community- and society-building stories, anyway.

2. The return of Battlestar Galactica. While I empathize with reactions like Abigail’s, in that I invariably find that reading what the people making Galactica have to say about it diminishes my enjoyment, if I ignore what they’re saying I can still find much to appreciate. In the first episode of season four round two, for instance, I didn’t much care for the manner in which the reval that ended the episode was handled — clumsy, I thought — but I do like the reveal itself. I like that, this time, it has a greater weight for the previously-revealed cylons than for the humans; I like that the the relationship it references becomes a model for the whole human-cylon relationship (particularly given what we appeared to learn elsewhere in the episode about the relationship between the populations of the twelve colonies and the skinjob cylons). I’m glad that it doesn’t invalidate major character development. And I also find it satisfying, in a perverse way, that I found it initially disappointing, and only found things to appreciate on reflection, because it seems to me that disappointment was an effective way of mirroring the series characters’ disappointment at the end of the previous episode in the audience. I don’t believe for a second that the makers intended that effect — I can’t have that much faith in TV showrunners — but I think it’s there nonetheless.

3. Further adventures in Theory. I’ve still got comments on the previous threads I should respond to, and indeed it’s not like I’ve read much more of the book yet (see above re: Final Fantasy and other commitments). But at the moment I am wrestling with Structuralism. As related, I am not convinced by some of the arguments for the creational power of language (I don’t think we divide the spectrum into individual colours entirely arbitrarily, purely as a matter of language; I think we divide it up the way we do because certain physical phenomena filters light into particular bands of wavelengths, and it is useful to have words for those bands), and I find some of the examples of structralist criticism given to get a bit, er, abstract. But at the same time I am sympathetic to the idea of a mode of criticism that is about relating texts to larger structures — not surprisingly, since I buy into Damien Broderick’s concept of the sf megatext (at least as I understand it from reading discussions of the concept), even if it does take me away from the text I start with.

4. Reading, and particularly reading of shortlists, as social behaviour; although on this one I’m not sure I have anything to add, so much as I want to point it out as a concise statement of something I am often conscious of. The urge to write reviews, in this model, is something of a totalitarian impulse, an urge to make, or at least persuade, people to talk about what you’re interested in talking about. (So is there an extent to which I approve of the BSFA novel shortlist because it consists largely of things I’ve already read? Maybe.)

21 Responses to “Unwritten”

  1. Jonathan M Says:

    Regarding Survivors I didn’t watch it but I did see Charlie Brooker pour scorn on it and I was struck by two facts :

    a) if 90% of the population died we’d probably be around the levels of medieval Britain. So it would hardly be post-apocalyptic. There would still be plenty of room for a complex society in which loads of people were not farmers.

    b) regarding the woman constantly searching for her son – this sub-plot would doubtless be more enjoyable once you realised that ‘peter’ is a euphemism for penis. So a woman’s rather tiresome-looking quest for her son then becomes a harrowing portrayal of post-apocalyptic nymphomania. “I have to find Peter!” “I’m looking for Peter!”

  2. Graham Says:

    I don’t think we divide the spectrum into individual colours entirely arbitrarily, purely as a matter of language; I think we divide it up the way we do because certain physical phenomena filters light into particular bands of wavelengths, and it is useful to have words for those bands.

    At the risk of you appending a “pred” tag to this comment, try John M Ford’s “Chromatic Aberration”…

  3. Adam Roberts Says:

    I second Graham. Which is to say: “I don’t think we divide the spectrum into individual colours entirely arbitrarily, purely as a matter of language…

    Yeah, we can all totally see indigo. There’s a word for indigo because there’s a colour indigo actually out there in the world, and not because Newton believed there should be seven colours for mystic reasons unconnected with the way the universe actually is.

  4. Adam Roberts Says:

    Also: “The urge to write reviews, in this model, is something of a totalitarian impulse, an urge to make, or at least persuade, people to talk about what you’re interested in talking about.

    That’s some enormous empty chasm there, don’t you think, between ‘make’ and ‘perusade’? The former, yeah, that’s totalitarian. The latter, though, is the very currency and lifeblood of democracy. No?

  5. Adam Roberts Says:

    Ach, that’s ‘persuade‘, there. I have no comment to make on people’s urge to perusade, whatever it may be.

  6. David Moles Says:

    Somebody needs to redo Berlin & Kay.

  7. Niall Says:

    Jonathan:

    I did see Charlie Brooker pour scorn on it

    Is this something that can be linked? Because (a) doesn’t seem relevant to what I watched, at least.

    Graham:

    try John M Ford’s “Chromatic Aberration”…

    I’ve read it, I don’t find it convincing as a literal perceptual change. As a metaphor, sure.

    Adam:

    On Indigo, yes, that’s what I’m saying, isn’t it? We have words for these colours because they exist in the world, not because our culture has constructed them.

    I have no comment to make on people’s urge to perusade, whatever it may be.

    On the upside, I’ve learned a new word today…

  8. Adam Roberts Says:

    …We have words for these colours because they exist in the world…

    Or we might say: an enormous variety of wavelengths of light exist in the world; colours exist in our brains, at that place where raw perception meets preconception. There’s no ‘indigo’. I say ‘we’. I perhaps mean I. But I say that’s not a scholastic distinction to make.

    David: “Somebody needs to redo Berlin & Kay.” [In the voice of the ‘Previously on 24’ voiceover guy]: Previously, on Torque Control …

  9. Graham Says:

    Re colours, I do love how we’re fixing on one of the most minor points in Niall’s post and worrying at it like an excessively caffeinated dog. But I was just reminded of another version of Kuhnian paradigm shifts as applied to colour, from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

    Belize: Look at that heavy sky out there.
    Louis: Purple.
    Belize: Purple? What kind of a homosexual are you anyway? That’s not purple, Mary, that color out there… is mauve.

  10. Niall Says:

    There’s no ‘indigo’

    This sort of statement depends what you mean when you say that a colour “exists”. Yes, we have created words to describe our perceptions; what I’m rejecting is the idea that that act of creation was essentially arbitrary, and that it could just as easily have come out another way. I’m suggesting that, say, given the wavelengths of light that photosynthetic organisms evolved to absorb, and given the construction of our own eyes, it is not at all surprising or arbitrary that we have a word for the wavelengths that are left over. In that sense green “exists in the world”, and our language for it is a response to that existence. I can imagine languages that don’t have that word, and modes of visual perception to which the concept of green is unimportant; but it still seems to me that for us green is a stable and logical construction, not an example of an imposition of an arbitrary system on a continuous and fluid reality.

    (I found the “train” example much more convincing as an argument for the instability of language, by the way …)

  11. Adam Roberts Says:

    I say: sip slurp! Growl growl!

  12. Alison Says:

    Although wavelength is an unbroken continuum, the way the nervous system processes light favours some wavelengths over others.

    This is why languages adopt colour terms in a particular order. By that I mean that if a language only has three colour terms, these are always ‘dark/black’, ‘light/white’ and ‘red’, and there is a regular ordered progression from this point, but I forget the details right now.

    ‘Indigo’ is a very late term, found in very few languages. I assume that where a language has more colour terms it is easier to distinguish the named colours. However, the interaction between language and unmediated experience is not simple.

  13. Abigail Says:

    Surely there are physical reasons for the order in which languages develop words for colors? Naturally occurring colors would get names first, and as pigment and dying techniques developed so would awareness of the differences between shades and the need for names to distinguish between them.

  14. Dale Says:

    After Abigail…

    so the argument is that the colours for which we have words reflect the historical development of a society, thereby the words of a book equally reflect the historical development of a society, thus the book exists in the structure of a society’s history, thus society’s history is the structure within which all books can be compared; but this is exactly what structuralism is _not_! You’ve just proved that 1=2, congratulations!

  15. James Says:

    I liked Survivors. I too am “a sucker for community- and society-building stories” but I thought it was pleasantly not-rubbish.

    @Jonathan it’s apocalyptic in the Earth Abides sense, they are living off the ruins of the old society, trying to figure out what to do next. Which is the interesting bit, do they enforce an authoritarian society etc. etc.

  16. Nick H. Says:

    “Is this something that can be linked?”

    I had a quick look through Charlie’s Screen Burn columns and couldn’t see anything about Survivors in there, so it must have been from an episode of Screen Wipe.

    I watched all of Survivors, and I thought the first few episodes were jolly good, but then the quality went downhill, before starting to trend up again near the end. I was left unsure by the ending, though. It could very much go either way.

    In general, most criticism of Survivors that I’ve seen has been more “They didn’t make the show I wanted them to!” rather than anything resembling actual, proper criticism. Mostly along the lines of “It looks cheap compared to American TV”, “They’re all cowards, they should kill everyone who threatens them!”, and “Why aren’t there dead bodies everywhere? That’s SO unrealistic!” Each of those points misses the mark by some margin, I’d say.

    I appreciated the way that the show, largely, was driven by interesting characters. And so I was disappointed when they did stoop to contriving moments where characters acted solely to serve the plot.

    I think one of my favourite moments, character-wise, was when Anya was sitting on the boat and threw away the photograph. It was only a small scene, but it spoke volumes about her.

    I mean to read the book sometime to see how that compares.

  17. Iain Says:

    As I recall, Charlie Brooker said Survivors was half shit and half good; he wasn’t entirely negative, but he was perplexed by the “cosy catastrophe” aspects of a load of middle class people eating breakfast together in a big house before being menaced by uber-chavs. I don’t think he’d seen more than a few episodes at the time, mind you.

    I completely understand that criticism, but I liked it too. It feels refreshingly serious and adult for a prime time SF drama, with a pleasing vein of darkness, and the soap opera hasn’t so far overwhelmed the drama. Like you I’m a bit sceptical of where the conspiracy plot can go, though.

  18. Niall Says:

    Nick:

    I watched all of Survivors, and I thought the first few episodes were jolly good, but then the quality went downhill, before starting to trend up again near the end.

    Insofar as trends in quality over six episodes are meaningful, I agree with this — I think the weakest episode was the travelling-cult one (ep 4?), though even that had some strong character scenes that kept me interested. As you say, it’s the characters that drive it; I like that the cast is large enough, and the pacing steady enough, that they are able to present a lot of pretty well-developed points of view.

    Iain:

    a load of middle class people eating breakfast together in a big house before being menaced by uber-chavs.

    Hmm. I think that if he thinks all of the main characters are middle-class, he has a broader definition of middle-class than I do. I think the main camps quite carefully don’t segregate along class lines, in fact, though as you suggest, that does become clearer in later episodes.

    As sf, I like that it simply takes its sf premise seriously. Which shouldn’t be as rare a thing on British tv as it is.

  19. The Conversation « Follow the Thread Says:

    […] Posted January 28, 2009 Filed under: Books & Magazines, Opinion | Via Torque Control: Adam Roberts discusses awards shortlists and, in part, reading  instrumentally  (e.g. reading […]

  20. Nick Hubble Says:

    (belated response) Yeah, Survivors was pretty good on the whole – and am going to watch it again on DVD.

    Nick, the book isn’t that great but, conversely, quite interesting because Nation is so obviously getting his own back on the show after it was hijacked by the producer, Terence Dudley. ‘Interesting’ things happen to the characters that could be read as perhaps Nation’s commentary on the things that were done to his characters.

    Jonathan, the quest for peter is not nympomania but penis envy – there is a great Freudian/Lacanian reading of both series and the book to be made, which will totally explain everything that needs to be known about contemporary Britain …

  21. Linkshruba « Torque Control Says:

    […] « T… on Restate My AssumptionsNiall on The 2009 Hugo Short Fiction…Unwritten « To… on Restate My AssumptionsNiall on The 2009 Hugo Short Fiction…Nick H. on The 2009 Hugo […]


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