Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Caretakers

The Iconoclast dropped out of Patch-Space at the very edge of the system’s gravity well, rippling serenely back into corporeal existence as its drive wound fully down and relativistic physics took hold of it again. It hung there silently in the darkness for a few moments, an iridescent starfish against the cold black background, before smoothly rotating on its axis and initiating a course that would take it on a trajectory towards the inner system.

Alana Dshae stared intently at the field screens as they flashed a torrent of information and images, her nano-net seamlessly integrated so that she was able to navigate through the diagnostic displays by thought alone. This planet, tucked away in a small corner at the edge of Gathered Space, was set to be her first awakening since her training and she was damned if she wasn’t going to impress them with how well she did.

“You’re taking this all rather seriously, aren’t you?” said the Construct, which for reasons known only to itself had recently taken on the form of a small bear.

“Just being thorough.”

“I was thorough, once.” mulled the Construct. “But I found it got dull after scarcely a few centuries.”

She flicked the displays away with a thought and swivelled in her chair to look to where it sat in the corner, wiggling the stubby toes at the end of its hind paws. “You can stop right now if you’re going to try and give me another one of your life lessons.”

“Fine,” it said, its face contorting into a reasonably passable ursine expression of sadness, big black eyes glistening wet. “Don’t take the benefit of my more than extensive experiences.”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re a total attention whore?”

“It may been said once or twice before.”

“Now, are you going to let me get back to completing the diagnostics?”

“Oh really,” it yawned, “you’re wasting your time. I ran through all of those diagnostics and 37 more in the several nanoseconds that followed our displacement.”

“And you couldn’t tell me that?”

“But it was so much fun watching you all serious and busy and thorough.” It said with a grin that exposed a set of sharp little bear teeth. “How could I pass up the opportunity?”

“You are such an asshole.”

“Also been said before.”


“And what?”

“And did you find anything wrong with the sensor array? Because I am getting absolutely nothing here.”

“Not a thing,” it said. “Which means that we may well have another Sygma 5 type incident on our hands…”

“Fuck,” said Alana under her breath.  Every effort was made to ensure systems with caretaker planets were suitably neutered; asteroid and comet orbits played out in simulations and any potential rogues farmed out, and Patch-Space beacons broadcasting the system’s existence and status. But, even with all that in place, accidents sometimes happened. Sygma 5 was a case in point; the system had been swept and the planet was heading happily towards the final period prior to awakening. Then came a gamma-ray burst, origin unknown but possibly some Unfettered tech; but by the time an awakening vessel arrived it had found the planet with its atmosphere boiled off and utterly devoid of life.

“That’s curious,” said the Construct. “I’m picking up emissions.”

“So there is a signal?”

“No,” said the Construct, clambering slowly to its feet and padding on all fours to the other side of the environment blisters. “That’s what curious. No signal, but there are a variety of EM emissions coming from the planet.”

“But that doesn’t make sense,” said Alana, shaking her head. “If they’re at that tech level then they should have put out the signal by now.  Can you dispatch a probe? We can get it do an exploratory sweep and see if there are any systems it can connect to...”

“Done,” said the Construct, one paw idly scratching behind its ear. “I should have an uplink available shortly.”

“Can I see visuals?”

“Of course,” said the Construct and a new field screen washed over the near wall, displaying a planet of blue, white and green. It grew rapidly before steadying as the probe dropped out of impulse mode and prepared to enter a low orbit.

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing,” said Alana as something glinted silver and white at the edge of the screen.

“Yes, even though I don’t believe it. I’m picking up just over 10,000 individual objects in orbit of the planet; the majority are small – pieces of debris – but there are numerous artificial satellites and I’m also detecting two separate inhabited space constructs. Multiple life signs and it’s definitely the caretaker species.”

“How the fuck could this happen?”

“I really don’t know,” said the Construct, “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve already searched historical records but there’s never been a case like this before.”

“What’s the probe telling us? Do we have a connection to their systems?”

“We do,” said the Construct, its little voice quivering slightly, “and I suggest you take a look at this. The problem is much bigger than we thought.”

Alana began wading through screen after screen of information; it took a few minutes to decipher the material since – the second big surprise of the day – the caretaker species spoke a myriad of languages. After the first hour, she found that she had to walk away from the screen and be physically sick.

“It’s a tad concerning, isn’t it?” said the Construct.

“Bit of an understatement,” said Alana, swigging on a water bottle. “They have gone so far outside the parameters I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Did you notice that they are actually killing each through the means of organised nation states?”

“How is any of this possible? I thought the Flood Protocol was designed to steer caretaker species in their primary phase?”

“That’s the idea, but it clearly hasn’t worked.” replied the Construct. “It seems they’ve become advanced enough to complete rudimentary genetic analysis of their species so I’ve pulled that data and am running an in-depth analysis. I may be slightly distracted for the next four seconds while I complete that.”

“So many problems,” breathed Alana as she scrolled through more screens of data.

“Data error,” said the Construct finally. “How it got missed, I don’t know. Sequences A376-Delta and A-912 Proxy are misconfigured slightly. Only a small error, but over time it’s a problem that will have only be exacerbated.”

“In words I can understand.”

“As you know we fast-track evolution of the caretaker species but make them capable of growing in their own direction; we don’t guide them with a strong hand, we give them the chance to develop in culturally unique ways so that they can eventually add to us, to the greater good of Gathered Space.”

“Get to the bit that’s news.”

“Well, apart from the Flood Protocol – genetic hardwiring to believe in a prior catastrophic event that wiped out the world due to unacceptable moral behaviour – we instil caretaker species with the capacity evolve in a cooperative fashion.”


“Well, that’s what went wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“The misalignment of the sequences means we have a caretaker species here that’s wired instead for competition.”

“But, that’s insane.”

“Absolutely,” nodded the Construct. “But it explains everything and it also explains why they’ve not built a signal – they don’t have the normal caretaker species complusions. They compete so there’s not one language, there are thousands. They compete so they strive to be better than each other; they compete so they are greedy and selfish and weak and angry. From what I can see, they even seem to have taken the Flood Protocol and twisted it into hundreds of different contrary ideologies .”

“But surely there’s no winning end game outcome from all this? They’re expanding their population at an unsustainable rate and they’re burning through natural resources at a speed their technological progress can’t keep up with. They’re poisoning the environment, altering the atmospheric composition and they’re not even close to interstellar travel. Their only end game seems to be a losing one.”

“I concur. The planet is heading to an environmental catastrophe that will alter sea levels; the nature of the species will then inevitably lead to physical confrontations. Models forecast this will lead to the 74% likelihood of a conflict occurring between nation states involving fusion devices within the next thirty years.”

“So what do we do here? We can’t awaken them.”

“That would be pointless, they simply aren’t compatible. Unfortunately, we’ve never had a case like this so we have no rules to guide us.”

“So we’re on our own,” mulled Alana.

The screen showed a montage of images; an infant with a distended belly with a fly crawling across its face, primitive flying machines launching missile strikes on a populated area, a nuclear power station leaking radioactive waste into the ocean, forests being levelled and burnt.

“They can’t be redeemed,” she said finally. “They are utterly lost. It’s hard to comprehend them even as sentient.”

“It is sentience, but it’s a totally different way of thinking. It has influenced every aspect of their civilisation; their religions, their social structures, their technological expansion, their economies…”

“They can’t be allowed to escape this system. If they ever obtained the technology to leave this system, they would devastate everything. Is it possible to build a two way suppression sphere around the system?”

“Possible,” said the Construct. “It would prevent signals from getting into them and alerting them to the existence of other life in the Universe, and it would prevent any of their emissions leaking out into the galaxy and encouraging someone to come along and investigate. There’s a slight danger that they might notice it eventually; the suppression sphere will create a frothy magnetic field at the edge of the system and if they ever send a probe out that far then they could detect it.”

“Do you think there’s any chance they could develop superluminal capacities on their own?”

“Normally I would say no, but this species is highly unpredictable. Some of their technologies are far more advanced than we would anticipate in this time frame; their conflicts seem to have encouraged accelerated bursts of innovation. Although their nature makes it more likely they would weaponise the technology before using it for the purposes of exploration.”

“It’s not a risk I’m prepared to take,” said Alana after a few moments of silence. “They represent a cancer that could spread and infect the entirety of Gathered Space.”

“So what do you suggest? A full purge?”

“No. We install the suppression shield but we also move a Cobalt Class Frigate to the edge of the system. If anything ever physically leaves the system then we make damn sure it doesn’t get any further. And if we get a hint that they’ve crossed the technological plateau to faster-than-light travel, we need to have it ready to conduct a purge of the planet surface at short notice. This becomes an Embargo Class 1 System.”

“I’ll make the appropriate preparations.”

“And then let’s get out of here. If I spend any more time in their vicinity I worry I’m going to be sick again.”

“Understood,” said the Construct and began plotting a path that would take them a safe enough distance to initiate a jump to Patch-Space.

“Humans,” said Alana, rolling the word that they called themselves across her tongue.  She hoped that she would be able to forget them but she was certain that they would live on in her memories and haunt her dreams.  And, as they finally made the jump and faded out of physical existence, she wondered if she would come to regret her decision to let them live…

Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla (2014) Movie Review

The Golden Gate bridge rarely last long in monster movies...

I think it is only fair to be upfront with you, dear reader, and tell you that I have been looking forward to seeing this movie ever since they first leaked details of its existence all the way back in 2010. I got even more excited in 2011 when it was announced that Gareth Edwards, who had previously brought us Monsters, would be the director; after all, in his interview he stated that "our biggest concern is making sure we get it right for the fans because we know their concerns. It must be brilliant in every category because I'm a fan as well".

By the time the first teaser trailers hit I was desperately hoping for a Godzilla movie that would scrub away the horrible memories of the 1998 version; a Godzilla movie that would drag the radioactive lizard's franchise firmly into the 21st Century and build upon Pacific Rim's excellent work in making giant monsters cool again. Hopes that were fuelled by the official trailer that was filled with a smorgasbord of destruction and emotions, alongside hints of conspiracy and Godzilla himself...

So, how did it turn out? Well, it's very much a tale of two parts...

The first part is contained within the first 30 minutes of the movie in which Bryan Cranston - he of Breaking Bad fame - puts in a star turn as a grief stricken father who is certain that the government knows far more than it is willing to admit about the destruction of the Japanese nuclear reactor that he and his wife worked at. And, frankly, as I was sitting through the first 30 minutes I was thinking to myself  'wow - if it keeps going like this, they are going to have not just made a great Godzilla movie but they'll have made a genuinely great movie - full stop."

So maybe it was my fault. Maybe I jinxed it. But, you see - for reasons known only to the film makers - they decided not to make Bryan Cranston the main protagonist but, instead, passed that mantle onto his son (the wonderfully named, Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who just so happens to be an American-as-apple-pie marine cut from the same nondescript cloth as a thousand other action movie heroes (with an equally nondescript wife in the shape of Elizabeth Olson waiting for him at home). And, from that point on, the second part begins and things descend into a world of contrivance and illogic as Ford somehow manages to find himself in every single place in the world that the monsters happen to pop up...

And yes, I did say monsters - plural (although, that's not too much of a spoiler if you caught any of the later trailers) - but, unfortunately, we spend the majority of our time having to make do with two generic monsters that look like they were the unwanted love children of the monster from Cloverfield and the bugs from Starship Troopers. Indeed, considering the title of the film is Godzilla, you may well end up surprised by how little Godzilla you actually get to see...

I really wanted to be blown away by this movie. I wanted something utterly bombastic, a testament to all that is good about monster movies but instead I got a generic 'action hero must save the world single handedly' character arc and not enough Godzilla. And maybe I shouldn't have wanted more than I got, but you see the first 30 minutes of the film served as an advert for how good this movie could have been - a big, fat what if that only highlighted how insipid and uninspired the remainder of the movie ended up being.

Yes there is destruction on a glorious scale, yes there are monsters fighting and yes Godzilla looks like he should and is a whole lot bigger than the puny version seen in the 1998 version. But, this could have been so much more, could have been so much better. It's not so much that Godzilla is a bad film, it's just that it's an unsatisfying one. I wanted to love it but, as you probably guess by now, I didn't...

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Printed version of the Eurovision 2014 drinking game rules...

Due to overwhelming demand (well, ok, there was one person who left a comment on the blog - but you take what you can get, eh?), I have created a printed version of the rules....

I know, I'm too nice.

Why, if you don't have a need to be conscious tomorrow, feel free to try it out on tonight's second semi-final!