Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Inception and Time's Silent Daughter

I saw Inception today and believe it or not, it's not bad.  All the reviews say it sucks.  But that's just because the reviewers are baffled by it.  Plus it has a lame title.  Why on earth didn't they call it The Dream Thief or some variant thereof?

I won't do a movie review.  But I will observe that there were five levels of reality revealed onscreen, and there was never any doubt as to which one the viewer was watching.  Well done, moviemaking people.

As to what's going on (other than the obvious "surprise" revelation at the end, I mean) . . . the best I can do is to refer you to Gary Westfahl's review on Locus Online.  No computers, no cell phones, no televisions, no product placement.  Is Nolan saying that only in our dreams are we free?

It's not The Matrix.  But it's well worth seeing.

And today's story is . . .

Silent Daughter of Time
Michael Swanwick

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on
            -- John Keats

Her given name was Madison. Her friends all called her Maddie, because she was unpretentious.  Her father called her Madizon the Amazon, because she was athletic.  All of which went to prove the insuffiency of names, however, for she was also good at science and had been given no variant name for that, and she also threw pots under no particular name whatsoever.

One day she saw an episode of Mythbusters examining the notion that recordings could be pulled from ancient pottery.  The idea was that vases thrown on a potting wheel and inscribed with a fine wire would preserve vibrations picked up by the wire on the clay itself.  So that millennia later the vases might be put on a turntable and played back with a phonograph needle – or more likely a laser beam and some fancy software.  Great idea.  But after repeated attempts to make such a thing the best the crew were able to come up with was a squeak.  “Busted,” they concluded.

The show got her to thinking.  Perhaps you couldn’t record on pottery made by traditional methods.  But what if you chose the materials and methods specifically for that purpose?  She went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Art & Design and after talking to the people in their industrial design department, was granted use of a 3-D printer.  Then she took a scan of a Greek amphora and mathematically erased its handles to free up more area.

The trickiest part of the project was finding a program that would convert an audio file to the three-dimensional groove of a traditional vinyl record and then writing the necessary code to wrap that groove around and around the surface of her urn.  That was a lot of work.  But at last it was done.

She put a great deal of thought into what she would say and leave behind for some future civilization to discover or, as it might be, not.  Then she set the printer to work.

In short order she had her urn.  Very delicately, she centered it on a turntable, slapped on a laser stylus, and listened.  “Hello,” her own voice said, “my name is . . .”

She cut the sound.

The urn placed third in a local arts competition.  It would easily have taken first place if anybody had known about the recording hidden on its surface.  But she never told a soul.  Not then and not for the rest of her life.

Young women have their secrets, and their right to keep them private must be respected.



David Stone said...

I don't know, the reviews I have seen have been generally favorable. And they improve as you move away from professional reviewers to ratings by the general audience. Let's face it though, almost any SF-themed film gets curved down for no other reason than the fact that reviewers feel compelled to pick at the plot and try to expose holes in it. With [i]Batman:The Dark Knight[/i] I didn't see any reviewers complain about how the Joker was able to magically plant bombs everywhere in the city no problem, they just swooned over how much "fun" it all was. Now, when they review this film they demand super-tight plotting and an explanation for why all of the non-existent SF elements work the way they do. Anyway, regardless of whether the Matrix was a more enjoyable film subjectively, I feel like the writers of this script accomplished a lot more- they did a great job of explaining some pretty far-fetched ideas without windy exposition slowing down a rather quickly advancing plot. With [i]The Matrix[/i] lots of things that didn't make sense were just swept under the rug.

Matthew Brandi said...

I forget, didn't we used to look down on skiffy films?

Ah, ... the good old days!

Michael Swanwick said...

They used to suck pretty bad. Let's not forget that. Who can forget Buck Rogers teaching his robot how to disco dance? Not me, and I've tried very hard.