“You Tried So Hard”, The Toilet of Poking, and Other Tales of Adrenaline Week.

Three days in Warsaw.  Three in Poznań. Four days in Berlin. Fifteen hours travel time stapled to either end.

It rained the whole time.

I’m typing this 15000 meters over the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Behind us, Europe is turning bright and sunny after its long deluge. Ahead of us, Toronto braces to evacuate waterfront homes in anticipation of extreme flooding. After that, they say there will be snow. As I recall, the same thing happened a few years back when we returned from Helsinki.

Almost an hour in the cold and wind and rain to get there. Almost an hour in the cold and wind and rain to get back. Totally worth it.

Almost an hour in the cold and wind and rain to get there. Almost an hour in the cold and wind and rain to get back.

Totally worth it.

I don’t even care. It was great.  It was all great.

I cannot tell you what I was doing in Warsaw— contractually, what happens in Warsaw stays there— beyond the fact that while I was doing it the BUG found this great little café where you could eat strudel and drink coffee and be swarmed by resident cats. It was hard, though, to avoid a certain sullen sense of resentment: Cat Cafes were one of two sure-fire get-rich-quick schemes I had back in the eighties, and everybody told me it would never fly because you’d have to bribe too many health inspectors.

*

OK, now rthat I look at it more closely, it was a pretty dumb mistake.

OK, now that I look at it more closely, it was a pretty dumb mistake.

I can tell you about Poznań. Poznań blew my mind.

Of course, Pyrkon’s organizers had told me that this was one of the largest cons in Europe when they first extended the invite. I guess I never really internalized that. I’d been to Polish cons before. They were cool. I was happy to go back. When they sent me a map of the venue I thought, huh: big building, a lot of odd-shaped rooms. Typical convention center.

I was wrong.

The Map showed a big campus. Each room was a convention-center-sized building. This motherfucker weighed in at somewhere between forty and fifty thousand attendees.

fish mortality

The audience for the “Fish Mortality” panel. Or maybe it was “False Morality”; it’s hard to keep them straight sometimes. This was pretty typical.

That’s a big con. I thought Utopiales over in France was huge, and that only weighed in at a tenth the size. Next to Pyrkon, Worldcon is a bake sale at Altadore Baptist Church.

The merch room. On a slow day.

The merch room. On a slow day.

There were the usual cheesy home-built contraptions...

There were the usual cheesy home-built contraptions (this is in a completely different building than the quaint little merch room portrayed above, by the way…)

...and the usual obsessively-perfect costumes. This guy had his arm surgically removed for added verisimilitude; he kept it in the bathtub of his hotel room, buried in crushed ice, for post-con reattachment.

…and the usual obsessively-perfect costumes. This guy had his arm surgically removed for added verisimilitude; he kept it in the bathtub of his hotel room, buried in crushed ice, for post-con reattachment.

This thing, which was apparently around 3m tall, had moss on its back and filled Caitlin with an unnerving sense of disquiet.

This thing, which was apparently around 3m tall, had moss on its back and filled Caitlin with an unnerving sense of disquiet.

While these things, whatever the hell they were, scared the living shit out of me.

While these things, whatever the hell they were, scared the living shit out of me.

When a con is this big, it doesn’t matter if the vast majority of the attendees don’t even know who the hell you are; even with the infinitesimal fraction who do, you sign a lot of books.

IMG_3316

This session went a half hour overtime, and by the end the line wasn’t any shorter than it was at the beginning.  I ended up having to do additional signings; I figure somewhere between 5-6 hours all told. The up side is that it did wonders for my ego.

The down side is, I didn’t eat on Saturday.

There were the usual author-fan selfies, which degraded over time from the usual arm-drape down to a series of pics on Saturday night in which I was stabbing supplicants in the eye with my Tuff-Write Tactical Pen (“We think our pens are cooler than sharks with lasers”). I wanted to build a collage documenting that progression. Strangely, though— while I had no trouble scraping up arm-drapey pics online— I couldn’t find any eye-stabby ones.  The closest I got was that shot down near the lower-right corner, where— having regressed to the emotional age of ten— I rabbit-eared the guy with the beard:

sellage

I had to settle for symbolism, grabbing a graphic from Tuff-Write’s website— which sells, I shit you not, instructional DVDs on How To Stab Someone In The Eye With A Tactical Pen.

 There was at least one person, however, who I asked for a photo. Frequent visitors to the Rifters gallery may recognize Karolina Cisowska, who so awesomely cosplayed Lenie Clarke for photographer Allan Rotter a couple of years back. This was an honor; the BUG and I wanted to hang out with Karolina and her partner post-con, but we couldn’t make it work. Next time.

 

18216661_1460750303964399_4675997626050237558_oThis is “Q&A with Peter Watts”. I’m not exactly sure what I was finding so hilarious at this point, but it may have had something to do with my interrogator’s claim that Blindsight has been a bestseller in Poland. I was not fooled. I’ve seen my royalty statements. 18216736_1461873520518744_3944883674424680453_o“Harnessing the Power of Ignorance: Worst-case Neuroscenarios from the Peanut Gallery” was one of my few events that didn’t run late— ironically, since people in orange shirts kept waving signs at me telling me to wrap it up.  One of them even came up on stage and interrupted my climax; I told her in the nicest possible way to go away, and finished exactly on time. (It was, admittedly, a bit awkward when she returned as the moderator of my next panel.)

 

IMG_3342 18318970_1463223950383701_8169029958238905780_o
This was weird. These “Free hugs” signs were everywhere at Pyrkon— generally carried by women, and almost always in English (although there were exceptions). I never did figure out what was going on.
IMG_3349
Whatever it was, it had obviously been going on long enough for the inevitable backlash to kick in…
IMG_3347
I’m pretty sure this was just blatant entrapment, though. (And count on the BUG to remind me of the pass phrase one must utter to get into the Mines of Moria.)

 

Occasionally Caitlin would lead me off-site to take in the sights of Poznań— such as the famous Museum of Croissants, home to evocative dioramas memorializing "Croissant-themed Hats of the Victorian Era" and "The Great Croissant Massacre of 1587". Sadly, we missed the English-language tour by a mere ten minutes and had to spend the afternoon drinking instead.

Occasionally Caitlin would lead me off-site to take in the sights of Poznań— such as the famous Museum of Croissants, home to evocative dioramas memorializing “Croissant-themed Hats of the Victorian Era” and “The Great Croissant Massacre of 1587”.

Sadly, we missed the English-language tour by a mere ten minutes and had to spend the afternoon drinking instead.

Yeah, right.

Yeah, right.

Did I say I didn’t eat on Saturday?  Not quite true. I had breakfast at 8a.m., and then supper at 11pm.

Supper consisted entirely of beer. This was Poland, after all.

 

IMG_3332Nowa Fantaskyka. Interviewer and translator. I first met these guys in Zielona Gora, back in 2011. They haven’t changed much.
My non-Nowa Fantastique translator, whose shirt struck a chord with me because I studied these guys for my doctorate. (Not Navy seals specifically, just the regular harbor kind.)

My non-Nowa Fantastique translator, whose shirt struck a chord with me because I studied these guys for my doctorate. (Not Navy seals specifically, just the regular harbor kind.)

*

Somehow we woke up in Berlin.

*

The BUG and I had a dual reading, a little place called “Otherland“: Berlin’s premiere SF store. (To give you a sense of how premiere, Ty Franck— half of James S. A. Corey, the duo behind The Expanse— read there just a couple of days after we did.) The reading served as an anchor for a couple of evenings’ drinks, dins, and socializing with the local genre crowd— and as is usual at such paired appearances, it was all oooh, Peter Watts (and wife) when we arrived, and all OMG Caitlin is so awesome along numerous orthogonal axes by the time we left.

In between, though, we had a great time.

Names— at least, real names— will be thin upon the ground here, as we’ve been requested to keep them off the record for “the usual paranoid privacy reasons” which I, for one, don’t find especially paranoid at all these days.

But first: before we get to the nameless community itself— remember how, some odd few-dozen pictures ago, I complained about how Cat Cafes were one of my two doomed get-rich-quick schemes of the eighties?  The other was a franchise of space-themed restaurants: places you could go where the windows open up on low-orbit planetscapes or glorious nebulae, where you ordered your food on a touchpad set into the table and had it delivered by robot arms running along rooftop rails. Where the food was crap but it was supposed to be crap, because you’re on a space station, goddamnit, and everything’s recycled.  That was my idea.

Guess what we came across while heading to Otherland:

I'm going to assume that nobody here needs the name explained to you.

I’m going to assume that nobody here needs the name explained to you.

We didn’t patronize the place, since we were already on our way elsewhere.  Just stuck our faces up against the glass long enough to get really pissed off, then grabbed these interior shots off the web.

But all was forgotten and forgiven when we finally arrived at Otherland, to discover this in the back room:

The Grail.

The Grail.

I’ve been searching for this toilet since before my very first trip to Germany: the one they described in the Germany for Dummies guidebook, the one that has the little flat dry platform for shit to land in, the better for these proud Teutonic people to poke and prod their feces for parasites and abnormalities before finally— after intensive examination— flushing it away into the mighty Havel. For years I searched in vain. I was beginning to think it was the stuff of myth. But here it was, in the back of a humble genre bookstore.

After that, the evening would have been a success even if no one had showed up for the reading.

 

IMG_20170503_234715We approach the shop like timid nervous animals in the night.

Otherland-Crew-NamesThese are the guys who run the store.

 

DSCN1759This is Luke Burrage, World-Class Juggler and book-review podcaster. I’ve been waiting to meet this guy for years.

 

C-7mIUBXoAQLiJh.jpg largeThis is me reading and the BUG looking skeptical before she blows me out of the water.

IMG_20170503_234351This is me barely winning a back-t0-back height contest with Saruman’s evil twin.

 

wattsupSaruman and I, discussing the things we would do with sexbots. (This is actually a moving gif, but I think you have to click on it or something.)

We totally avoid this shop like our lives depend on it.

 

DSCN1758This is Birgit, my awesome German translator. She said it took her two tries to see what I was getting at in Echopraxia, how finally everything clicked and she could see how everything fit together.  “You tried so hard,” she said.

I want that carved on my tombstone.

Also she didn’t know that BUG stood for Beloved Unicorn Girl— she thought I meant some kind of microbe— so German editions of Echopraxia are dedicated “To the BAZILLUS. Who saved my life.”

Which, if anything, is better than the original.

 

IMG_3378This is the napkin upon which the cognitive neuroscientist in the crowd (there always is at least one) jotted down his contact info (blurred to protect the educated) and his areas of specialization. I will be calling on him by and by. Oh yes I will.

 

DSCN1746The crowd enters a place to drink, and talk about the ethics of sexbots.

 

DSCN1750I converse with a woman who has an advanced degree in Mathematics, on the ethical implications of sexbots.

After the Otherland Affair, we gave ourselves a day to relax before heading back home. My ambitions were modest; I wanted to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2”. Caitlin set her sights a bit higher; she wanted to finish writing a novel.

18238814_10155134324361420_8536602859584184717_o

She’s not in this picture because she took it. That’s Henry, her life-long friend and the dude we stayed with, to the left. Those are our glasses of celebratory champagne there in the middle.

So we both accomplished what we wanted to on that last day. I guess that makes us even.

And now I have less than a month before I have to turn around, go back to Bulgaria, and do the whole damn thing all over again.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday May 10 2017at 02:05 pm , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

32 Responses to ““You Tried So Hard”, The Toilet of Poking, and Other Tales of Adrenaline Week.”

  1. I’d try to guess what happens in Warsaw, but there are 2077 things it could be.

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  2. The only previous reference to the faecal platform toilet that I’ve ever seen was in Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. After that, nothing, nothing for decades. I’d thought that she’d made it up.

    The fabled German toilet you should have been looking for was the one containing the Eisenkröte. Makes a hard man humble. Or so Pynchon tells us.

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  3. It’s “Zielona Gora”, you beautiful human being ; (

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  4. Good to meet you! And yes, everyone became a fan of Caitlin.

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  5. Dammit Petey, come to the UK some time. I have yet to find another damn Bong who’s read your work but I personally will make up the entire crowd.

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  6. As a child, I encountered toilets like that in the Netherlands while visiting relatives, and have also wished to have one of my own.
    My dad is with me on the whole examining your own shit front, whilst my mum (who is the Dutch connection for me) and my wife are both very anti-examining-your-own-shit.

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  7. These “platform toilets” used to be quite popular in Poland too and are still relatively easy to find in older, not-recently-redecorated houses/flats.

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  8. Yeah, I’ve heard about these shit-examining platform toilets. While I might be able understand an individual’s morbid fascination with the quality, volume and consistency of their own leavings, I wonder why it’s necessary.

    Is it a cultural thing, wherein certain aspects of diet or genetics leave a majority of the population susceptible to parasites, or is it a holdover from an earlier time when Europe was riddled with disease?

    What does one do when/if fecal matter exhibits infection or abnormalities? Does the toilet provide a secondary system for the packaging and subsequent shipment of said dookie to your neighborhood doctor? Further, is the average citizen properly trained in the identification of a non-standard doo-doo?

    I would imagine that instructions and measurement scales would be printed on the inside of the bowl. Bathroom reading must consist of huge biology textbooks with full-color pictures and tiny, 8 point text. I’m willing to bet that there’s a telephone hotline, or in this day and age, a smartphone app. Snap a pic of your crap and we’ll tell you it’s ok. That’ll teach you not to swipe through your buddy’s photo roll.

    So many questions. I’m going to end up spending the whole fucking day researching this thing. I have work to do dammit.

    By the way Peter, great to see you so well received at the cons – your hard work and talent has payed off. Sorry that my comments are limited to the toilet. I promise to do better next time.

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  9. Austro-German here:
    afaict, the toilet was originally developed for the use in hospitals so that it was easier for staff to retrieve samples. At least that’s what I’m told.
    To be honest, I’ve never known that they’re such a special thing before reading English-language people on the internet discussing them.
    I just always assumed that the non-platform toilet was predominantly used in commercial settings (hotels, restaurants and so forth) because they’re easier to clean whereas the platform kind is more used in individual homes because it reduces water-splashing-onto-buttocks. But maybe my assumptions were off?

    Anyway, the commercial vs private thing might explain why tourists seldom encounter them.

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  10. Ben:
    I’d try to guess what happens in Warsaw, but there are 2077 things it could be.

    2078, if you count the Cat Cafe.

    Vith:
    It’s “Zielona Gora”, you beautiful human being ; (

    Okay, fine. Fixed.

    MK: Dammit Petey, come to the UK some time.

    I’d love to, soon as someone else pays the tab. What, you think us midlisters are made of money?

    ken: What does one do when/if fecal matter exhibits infection or abnormalities? Does the toilet provide a secondary system for the packaging and subsequent shipment of said dookie to your neighborhood doctor?

    That would be toilets in Japan. But they’ve also been known to rebel against their human feeders on occasion.

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  11. Good grief Peter, how have you avoided the PowerPuff Girls until now?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mmCMUPCNgE

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  12. That 3m thing that had Caitlin unnerved is a leshan from the The Witcher 3 : The Wild Hunt, a Polish export and a wickedly good video game. Something similar appears in the Awesome that is Terry Gilliams “Time Bandits” too!!!

    Can’t wait to hear about your next con!

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  13. Dear Peter,
    In the photo from the pub are the two interviewers from “Nowa Fantastyka”. Your translator in the Navy Seal T-shirt is missing from the picture (as is only right, as we are supposed to be transparent, after all).

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  14. “(And count on the BUG to remind me of the pass phrase one must utter to get into the Mines of Moria.)”
    Well, it WAS a backdoor…

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  15. Thanks for the fact that you came to sign for the second time in the evening, even though it was not on the program. Thanks to that I managed to get your beautiful autograph. Previously, I was standing in a long queue that was not moving forward.
    I’m sorry you did not eat anything on Saturday. Probably for lack of time. If I knew, I would have brought something or cooked for you, because I live in Poznan. I thought that they better care about such important guests.
    It is great that you visited Poznan Now it is twenty degrees warm, but it probably does not make any difference to you. Every year, people with “free hugs” signs, but I saw only once that someone actually hugged each other.
    Your slides and panel preparation made a big impression. It’s good that you came so professionally prepared. Other writers usually talk nonsense and people leave in half of their speech.

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  16. Mark Dennehy:
    Good grief Peter, how have you avoided the PowerPuff Girls until now?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mmCMUPCNgE

    ARRRGGGHHHHHH! My eyes!

    Marshb: That 3m thing that had Caitlin unnerved is a leshan from the The Witcher 3 : The Wild Hunt

    Ah. Then I shall be encountering it in a month or so, when I take some time to breathe and finally play that damn game everyone’s raving about. I’m getting sick of being slaughtered by Alien: Isolation anyway…

    Your translator: Your translator in the Navy Seal T-shirt is missing from the picture (as is only right, as we are supposed to be transparent, after all).

    Dammit, you’re right. Three days working on that postt and I still didn’t get everything in that I wanted to.

    Fixed now.

    Barbara: It’s good that you came so professionally prepared. Other writers usually talk nonsense and people leave in half of their speech.

    Don’t be too hard on them. They’re probably distracted by the people in orange shirts gesticulating at them to “Wrap It Up” from the back of the room…

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  17. “…it took her two tries to see what I was getting at in Echopraxia…” Dude, I still don’t know what you were getting at in Echopraxia, but everything fits together far too well for it not to be there. So far I’ve resisted asking. If I ever get it, I’ll let you know.

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  18. Thanks for posting the photo :-)

    BTW, Pyrkon has just released info that the number of visitors totalled slightly above 44000.

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  19. “Harnessing the Power of Ignorance: Worst-case Neuroscenarios from the Peanut Gallery” was really interesting and, as Barbara already mentioned, well prepared. Any chance for the upload of slides and notes?

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  20. Apropos of nothing, I’m watching octonoughts and the adventure to the hydrothermal vents with my sick spawn. Makes me think of all those cartoon characters getting Behemoth.

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  21. > Neuroscenarios …. slides and notes?

    Yes please that.

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  22. That type of the toilet You posted from Berlin is quiet common in europe and since my childhood i was wondering, whether it was for people who are more inquisitive, or sentimental in nature :) Your explanation, gave me a new light, which was triggering.. at least for a shit plate. Greetings anyway

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  23. I thought I “got” Echopraxia but now I’m anxious I didn’t.

    So Daniel Brüks is a pawn in a vast conflict/communication/intercourse between intelligences way beyond his own. He frequently understands he’s being directed into specific actions, but he can’t figure out by who or what, because every time he tests a hypothesis about what’s going on, the test is worthless because all his actions have been anticipated. So he remains under control, forced to continually follow direction, as if he suffers from Echopraxia.

    If I’m wildly wrong, I’d appreciate a cryptic hint or something.

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  24. *spoilerage*

    @:-Daniel

    Don’t worry, I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t get a couple important plot points from Echopraxia either on my first read–significantly that Brüks was deliberately infected. The text of that book is more opaque than others by Dr.Watts, which I chalk up to the difficulty in trying to balance the difficulty of rendering so many incomprehensible post-singularity intelligences in believable fashion,with the inevitable synopsis for the audience surrogate every few pages.

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  25. :-Daniel,

    Imagine any intricate tale by Melville (e.g., Benito Cereno). Only that the story is told from the viewpoint of the ship’s pet, a Guinea pig that befriended a watchdog and a songbird that the crew kept as well.

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  26. Ah..Berlin..Dr. Watts was so tantalizingly close, and yet so far away…i live in the southernmost part of Germany, sadly, and no way i could make it there this time of the year.

    I hope there will be another chance for me to grovel and worship your exalted presence, and force you to sign all of your books for me…one can dream!

    Also speaking of Warsaw: Having enjoyed Dr. Watts novelization of Crysis enormously, a CP 2077 book would be so awesome!

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  27. Hey Peter, as a scientist and hard sci-fi writer, what’s your take on the whole C-16 thing?

    (I understand if you don’t want to go there though)

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  28. :-Daniel,

    You’re broadly correct, and there are clues throughout the novel.

    Here’s one: At the start of the novel Vallery and her fellow super-intelligent vampires were able to coordinate the optimal strategy and time to break free without having ever communicated. The main actors in the book were the Bicams, vampires and Portia. Did they communicate in advance? Did they each get what they wanted by the end of the novel?

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  29. Tom R: Hey Peter, as a scientist and hard sci-fi writer, what’s your take on the whole C-16 thing?

    I don’t know why my being a “scientist and hard-sci-fi writer” gives me any special expertise in this area. Personally, though, my overall view is that anything that penalizes mindless bigotry is a good thing. I’ve seen some raise concerns that simply using the wrong pronoun might be classified as “hate speech”, which I think would be insane (I’ve done that myself, despite my best efforts— I know a woman whom I always refer to as “she” in the third person, but I keep slipping and calling her “dude” to her face for no better reason than that she transitioned late, has retained a deep voice, and my brain keeps keying on that as “male” after half a century of conditioning). But there’s nothing in the wording of the actual amendment that would support that interpretation that I can see.

    I have one caveat, though. Given that the term “gender identity” has been broadened in some quarters to the point that it’s functionally useless— if you can, in fact, gender-identify as “pizza” or “ice cream”— then I can see how some discrimination might be legitimate. I could certainly understand why an academic search committee might reject an applicant for a high-powered biological research posting because they gender-identified as an “apple”, say. That would raise reasonable doubt about the candidate’s empiricism.

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  30. But I thought we were cantaloupes!!? Oh well…,
    _________________________

    Ah, incidently, FYI;
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Hugs_Campaign

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  31. Offtopic, but the last Alien film deserves a post by our host.

    ‘My name is Ridley, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

    Questions:

    1. Maybe it is not the fault of the writers, but of the producers? Who believe that the audience is so little demanding on elementary logic and science assumptions?

    2. Why the 1979 film made more sense, from a scientific point of view? Maybe the space race and the Apollo program were more present for the public back then?

    3. What do the differences between the 1979 and the 2017 movies say about our evolution as the Western society?

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  32. Michael Carradice: ‘My name is Ridley, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

    I haven’t seen it yet, but is the new Alien really that much worse than the original or the first three sequels? It’s unlikely that the original will go down in the history books as a textbook example of logic and ‘science assumptions’ either. It was a masterfully crafted, dark, claustrophobic slasher film… in spaaaace.

    Prometheus did, admittedly, get a bit derailed with the metaphysical BS and (ultimately unsatisfactory) attempt at explaining the inexplicable. But I kind of liked that one too. Not as good as the first two movies, but a huge improvement over the two that preceded it. Man is curious. Man travels to faraway planet to find answers. Man’s face is eaten by space bug. Roll credits.

    Michael Carradice: 3. What do the differences between the 1979 and the 2017 movies say about our evolution as the Western society?

    We have gotten a bit better about anticipating future developments in technology? Although only time will tell…

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