Raised by Wolves. Written by Idiots.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS.

You have been warned.

Ridley does the Brady Bunch.

8.5 on IMDB. 77% from the critics aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes (“Bristling with imagination and otherworldly imagery, Raised by Wolves is a bloody exploration of artificial intelligence and religious belief that will stimulate the eye and mind”). An 81% audience rating at the same site. Even the traditionally grouchier Metacritic admits to “generally favorable reviews”. Individual episode reviews over at The AV Club never drop below B- and commonly hit A territory. The Wall Street Journal favorably compares the female lead with Alien‘s Ripley. The New Yorker raves about the “virtuoso performances” of the leads.

Even my flesh-and-blood friends are jizzing themselves over on Facebook. “The best thing I’ve seen in a really long time”, enthuses my token female-Nazi-punching friend.

All of these reactions have led me, doubtful and uncertain, to a question: Are there maybe two shows about androids out there, both called “Raised by Wolves”? Because the one I’ve just endured is unadulterated garbage.

It makes me feel bad for criticizing the latest season of Westworld. It makes me feel guilty for not having gotten around to reviewing “Devs” (it’s just so much easier to review “Wolves”, because there’s so much less substance to unpack), and for putting my annual rant about identity politics on the back burner yet again. It even makes me wonder if I might have been unnecessarily harsh to the execrable “Humans” a few years back.

If a hallmark of Art is that it can change the Human Mind, cause us to question our own beliefs, then “Raised by Wolves” may be the most artistic work Ridley Scott has ever produced.

*

Let’s start with the premise.

The Earth is a wasteland. Not because of climate change, or grey goo, or Skynet: because of a global war between atheists and religious fanatics. And not just any religious fanatics. Literally not any: the usual suspects are nowhere to be seen. Sometime between between now and 2145, Christianity just—went away. So did Islam. Judaism and all the Dharmic religions too, as far as we can tell. Sometime over the next century or so, Mithraism— a long-extinct sun-worshipping cult with its roots in the Roman Empire— somehow re-emerges on the scene, rises to global dominance, and goes to war with the atheists (who apparently have also grown exponentially in number from the insignificant minority they are today to a faction powerful enough to fight rearguard against the fundies in a fullscale war.)

Coincidence? I think not…

Granted, the Mithrainites seem a lot like Christians— their authority figures have a propensity for child rape, their chest insignia bear more than a passing resemblance to those on King Arthur’s duds in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s tempting to speculate that the show’s creators used them as a stand-in because they were afraid of pissing off the Bible Belt. But in a time where “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been racking up accolades and ratings for going on four seasons now, that sort of cowardice seems needlessly craven.

Anyway, by 2145, the atheists are on the ropes. But all is not lost. One of them has a cunning plan that cannot fail: freeze six embryos, stick ’em in a spaceship, and launch ’em to a new world a la Kal El’s parents from Krypton. Send along a couple of androids, “Mother” and “Father”, to serve as parents—but better parents than the usual kind. Atheist parents, to guide the development of a whole new civilization founded on rigor and rationality. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, this isn’t an especially cunning plan after all. It fails.

*

It’s not a terrible premise, I’ll grant you. I can see the elevator pitch in my head: It’s a great vehicle for social commentary, man. We can show that rationality isn’t all those pointy-headed elitists say it is, that atheist societies can be just as evil as Christian ones because—what? Oh, right. Well, um, let’s use some other religion then, something just as stupid but with a different name so nobody comes after us on Twitter…

I mean, sure. SF has long been used as a platform for social commentary. I happen to think you’re wasting the potential of the genre if that’s all you use it for, but there’s no denying that classics have emerged from that agenda. So while the premise of “Raised By Wolves” is nothing new or radical, I’m not gonna condemn it out of the gate on principle.

It’s the execution that sucks.

The androids, for example. The titular Wolves, the central characters of the whole epic. You’ve seen androids before. Last century they were easy to spot: they had pasty complexions and an allergy to contractions (any form of casual speech, for that matter); they frequently expressed puzzlement over “this hu-man thing called Love.” They got better over time; the T-101 wasn’t a sparkling conversationalist, but at least it learned to say “Fuck off, asshole” in an appropriate context. The Hosts in “Westworld” ended up running program loops more complex than those of their Human creators.

Only now—in 2020—have androids regressed back to a point that would have caused even pasty-faced Data to flush with embarrassment. They wear silver body suits stolen from the cover of a forties-era Hugo Gernsback magazine. Their cute little hat-helmets appear to have been scavenged from the set of a low-budget fifties epic about Atlantis. Their body language is stiff and jerky. Their dialog is, too: “My programming is telling me that your well-being is a priority for me”, Father exposits to Mother shortly after their spaceship crash-lands onto the edge of a bottomless pit. Shortly thereafter, when one of the six fetuses appears to be stillborn: “Our programming dictates that we need to break it down and feed him to the others.” (Mother, of course—being a female android—insists on cuddling the fetus first, and crying over it; her tears magically bring it back to life.)

These are crudely-hewn woodcuts straight from the fifties, served up by writers who— while poor at writing human characters— are utterly inept at writing any other kind. They have no clue how a truly nonhuman intelligence might behave, so they have their androids spout clumsy dialog to hammer home that We Are Not Humans. We’re really, really not. See how we keep making lame jokes to show that we really don’t get this Hoo-Man thing called ‘humor’? See how we keep talking about ‘Our Programming’?

The sad irony of all this is that everything about Mother and Father is profoundly, if ham-fistedly, human. Mother cries over her dead baby and flies into fits of rage. Father gets jealous and insecure. They have typical Hoo-Man reactions and Hoo-man behaviors—albeit with the token caveat that they feel these things “for reasons I do not understand” pasted into the script like a piece of toilet paper stuck to a rhetorical butt crack. “Raised by Wolves” is not unique in this regard: productions from “Humans” to AI to Blade Runner 2049 have all gone down the lazy path of Just Like Us, turned what could have been fascinating explorations of machine intelligence into yet another tired parable about slavery. But it’s been decades since I’ve seen such extreme laziness and such extreme clumsiness packed so efficiently into the same package.

(The BUG, as usual, distils all my rambling ragey observations into two words. After listening to me rant about how Mother and Father are just repressed humans with stiff dialog and rigor-mortis body language, she shook her head: “They’re not androids,” she said. “They’re British.” God I love that woman.)

You could reasonably argue that our androids have to be emotional, because raising emotionally healthy children involves exposing them to healthy emotions. I’m going to tactfully ignore the whole question of whether the “emotions” on display can in any way be construed as a template for healthy development, because there’s a larger point I want to address: and it is, Yes. Mother and Father should show emotions, proper emotions, in the proper context.

You want a nifty portrayal of machine-as-parent? Mother and Father never talk to each other, not in words, not when they’re alone. They communicate with each other wirelessly, digitally, instantaneously: building the camp, gestating the kids, functioning essentially as a two-node hive mind. They move fast, with no wasted motion, no body language at all. Only when in the presence of humans do they slow down and become “Human”; the verbal speech, the lame jokes, the facial expressions and body language. It’s like flipping a switch. One moment they are machines; the next, warm and loving parents, indistinguishable from flesh and blood. The spookiness is in the contrast.

I’m telling you, this Guzikowski dude should have hired me as a consultant.

*

The two faces of Mommie Dearest.

Mother isn’t just an android, mind you. She’s a “Necromancer”: a flying Mithraic cornrow-sporting killbot who has been reprogrammed for good instead of evil. (Add Terminator 2 to the list of predecessors RbW “borrows” from). Back on Earth, Necromancers floated vertically through the air with their arms outstretched cruciform-style, incinerating unbelievers with their laser-beam eyes. Here on Kepler-22b (an actual planet in an actual habitable zone—treasure this isolated moment of real science, folks), Mother stalks through the corridors of a Mithraic spaceship and literally explodes the heads of anyone who gets in her way. She is one fierce, unstoppable Mama Bear when it comes to protecting her children.

A shame, then, that she can only use those devastating powers when she’s wearing a specific set of eyeballs. Also, once those eyeballs are installed she apparently can’t not kill things unless they’re not looking at her—at least, this is what I gleaned from her instructions to the children to look away because she was “weaponized”. (In this way, she shares much with the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”: a creature so incredibly stupid that it believes if you can’t see it, it can’t see you.)

At any rate, these Achilles’ Eyeballs— the secret source of the Necromancer’s devastating powers, without which she’s just another mannequin in a plastic skin— can be popped from her head as easily as squeezing a couple of zits. And since no unstoppable killing machine is complete without a big obvious DISARM switch on its face (or, when not in use, stored in a little cloth sack like a bag of marbles)—well, suffice to say we get treated to a series of vignettes in which children and adults alike play enjoyable rounds of “the Eyes Have It”, while Mother flails eyelessly in their wake.

I suppose, given the ham-fisted religious elements of the series, this might have been intended as some kind of metaphor for Blind Faith. Admittedly it’s no more ridiculous than presenting a killer android who can wipe out a heavily-armed regiment and crash a giant starship without breaking a sweat, but who somehow weakens and needs to “recharge” after a hard day of weeding.

*

Captain, wis is the garden spot of Ceti Alpha 6!

Kepler-22b is a stark and unforgiving place. Everything from sand to sky is painted in shades of gray and brown. The ground is littered with the bleached bones of giant predators. (We haven’t seen any live ones so far, although a bunch of smaller Gollumesque creatures do inexplicably appear— twelve years after Mother and Father first set up shop— to scuttle and bite and otherwise harass the colonists.) Virtually all the indigenous life is poisonous; the crop the androids cultivate to feed the children turns out to be lethally radioactive, which is really odd given that the one good thing you can say about the rest of 22b is that it isn’t. Giant bottomless pits scar the landscape, always threatening to swallow the unwary.

But we’re well into the story before we learn that not all of Kepler-22b is so inhospitable. There’s a “tropical zone”. It’s much nicer than wherever they are now, so much nicer that they all plan to move there as soon as they can. One obvious question that springs to mind is: if the Tropical Zone is so much better than this poisonous boneyard, why the fuck didn’t you land there in the first place? One obvious explanation—that the lander experienced some kind of malfunction and came down off-target—doesn’t really hold up. Nobody mentions even the possibility of a navigation error throughout the entire season. There’s not so much as a hint that this wasn’t the intended landing site.

The only other explanation that comes to mind is that—despite knowing about the “tropical zone”— apparently our colonists never bothered to do an orbital survey prior to planetfall. How else to explain the fact that they chose to land in a neighborhood full of bottomless pits, one of which—sure enough— swallows the landing craft thirty seconds after touchdown, leaving just enough time for our heroes to make it to safety?

As explanations go, I admit that sounds pretty stupid. But this is not the first Ridley Scott production in which this sort of thing happens. Prometheus—another monochromatic train wreck of a move—also features a spaceship that discovers its Alien Artefact by entering atmosphere at some random location and just, well, looking out the window.

*

There’s so much more. Atheists posing as Chr—as Mithraics, one of whom— driven mad with power— becomes a religious zealot for real. Mother interfacing with a piece of tech “not intended for android use”, which nonetheless works well enough to get in touch with her inner child. Voices and visions and mysterious artefacts; a flying space lamprey; an indestructible white mouse. A Messiah prophecy. An irritating android doctor who channels C-3P0 so brazenly that Disney could sue for trademark infringement. A rapist gussied up like the result of a one-night stand between the Statue of Liberty and Monty Python’s Black Knight.

Tell me I’m wrong.
This pretty much sums up the plot twist about the kids.

The surprising revelation that the children the androids thought they were raising to be the founders of a Brave New World were really just practice runs, to get them warmed up for the real baby that Mother has somehow begun gestating in her own chassis. (Given that all but one of those kids were dead halfway through the first episode, Mom and Dad admittedly needed the practice). The anticlimactic follow-up revelation that Never mind, that first revelation was wrong after all. All wrapped up in storytelling so incoherent that the plot actually makes more sense if you zone in and out while watching, allowing your own half-waking dreams to fill in the gaps.

By the time the final episode aired we were so punch-drunk on inanity that we actually started to enjoy the show for its unrepentant batshittedness. The finale was visually striking, at least: a kind of masterpiece of free-associative visual choreography. It made no fucking sense, of course, but we’d long since stopped hoping for any. We just hung around for the pretty colors. It was almost as though “Raised by Wolves” had somehow regressed us, as if those ten interminable episodes had smoothed down the grooves in our brains like water polishing a stone, leaving us as pliable and vacuous as newborn infants. You could call it a triumph of meta.

*

The obvious rejoinder to all this is that I should just lighten up— that “Raised by Wolves” isn’t intended as science fiction but as Allegory with SF trappings. And yeah, I can see the thematic tension between the characters and their arcs. Marcus is a former warrior trying to become a parent; so is his archnemesis Mother. Whoa. The Mithraists tell myths about Gods to guide the behavior of their flock; Atheist Mother tells stories about The Three Little Pigs to guide the behavior of hers. Deep, man. Both Atheists and Religious Nutbars can be evil; bet you never thought of that, huh? These kind of parallels and yin-yangisms permeate the whole series, as though some undergrad Humanities student had paid a little too much attention to Prof. McLaughlin’s insistence that Everything Shakespeare Ever Wrote Was A Metaphor And So Can You.

Maybe it wouldn’t bother me so much if these ideas hadn’t been explored so much better by the very sources that RbW rips off. Facebook friends marvel at the novel brilliance of a killer robot with maternal instincts— as if Thandie Newton hadn’t handled the exact same premise with infinitely greater subtlety and nuance in “Westworld”. The endless in-your-face comparisons between humans and robots—”I have human empathy; you are just a machine!” one of the meat sacks opines with characteristic subtlety— obviously works for Arielle Bernstein (“Asks Big Questions About Identity“, she gushes over at The AV Club. “Explores whether People (or Androids) Can Change.”). Personally, I was far more impressed back on Judgment Day, when Sarah Conner grew more Terminator-like while the Terminator grew more Human: opposite transformations converging in pursuit of the same goal.

Those other shows had their own flaws, of course. I shat upon the latest season of “Westworld“, felt betrayed by the finale of BSG, expressed doubts about Bladerunner 2049. But “Raised by Wolves” is in a sad, sorry league of its own. Watching the way it handles Deep Existential Questions in the wake of those other, superior shows is a bit like starting off with the memory of Ron Moore’s Galactica reboot fresh in my mind, only to come face-to-face with the Disco-Planet tawdriness of the Glen Larsen seventies original.

Of course, it’s already been renewed for a second season. You may be surprised to learn that this gives me hope.

From this point forward, there’s nowhere to go but up.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday October 06 2020at 04:10 pm , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

49 Responses to “Raised by Wolves. Written by Idiots.”

  1. Peter, what hope do you think that science fiction film/live-action TV series has? I’m thinking of the Foundation TV show coming up, and I hope it’s great, but I’m prepared for a steaming pile of crap.

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  2. The sad thing is, I actually like the premise quite a lot – meybe not the religious war because fuck that, but the whole machines raising human children thing is right up my alley.

    Many shows created during the last couple of years seem to suffer from the same affliction: “we need a sayfai show, so popular right now”. And they make one – becausethat’s so easy, right? It’s just them robots and lazors, and basic plots 50 years old, because that’s the last time that sci-fi was culturally relevant enough to inject its tropes into the mainstream imagination.

    Or maybe I’m just still narky about Maeve and her katana-swinging phase.

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  3. I must admit, this review kind of reads like a hard SF author upset at soft SF being a Thing. Most modern audiences have had zero exposure to Golden Age era SF and how effective it is at generating allegory.

    I love your gritty hard SF even though it has forever spoilt my enjoyment of trying-to-be-hard-but-falling-on-its-nose SF. After Rorschach I just haven’t been able to appreciate almost any other alien as anything but lazy low budget Star Trek screenwriting.

    But I enjoyed this, because it’s not trying to be realistic, it’s retelling Genesis through an SF lens. I needed this show.

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  4. > From this point forward, there’s nowhere to go but up.

    Every time I think that, someone manages to beat my expectations…

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  5. “They’re not androids,” she said. “They’re British.”

    Perhaps the greatest summary ever written in the english language.

    TV is in general pretty ham fisted since characters have to have their personalities sketched out almost within the first 30 seconds of their first appearance. Any character arcs have to be explained in 10 second flashbacks. It’s a problem of the medium.

    That aside, I’ve always wondered why such super smart machines are always so stilted in their speech. Why not speak with perfect rhythm, flow and intonation but with perfect diction and grammar and an insanely broad and precise vocabulary?
    More work for the screen writers and you’d need a human to stand in for the audience occasionaly (“Why did you call him/her ‘bilious’ instead of ‘an asshole’?) though I think audiences are generally smarter than writers and producers give them credit for.

    When the ‘kids’ come up with a new slang term (as kids do) the androids treat this new word as a science specimen that needs to be dissected and categorized properly..Then only used in that sense from then on, so when it’s used in a different sense later in the series it leads to a massive misunderstanding…

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  6. Peter, I couldn’t agree more. I pushed through until the end on the strength of the reviews, thinking the *next* episode might validate the whole experience. Instead I’m left bewildered, wondering if i was even watching the same show.

    Daniel, to me at least, this was not a hard sci if / soft sci fi issue – I found the whole thing to be a derivative mess.

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  7. I was caught up in the hype of “Raised By Wolves”, same as everyone else, and eagerly watched the first three episodes. Since then, watching each episode became a chore – something to be put off if there was anything better to do.

    I agree with your assessment of the series, Peter. You’ve been able to voice the frustrations about Mother and Father that have been bugging me since episode 1. They’re written with such a generic and clumsy assumption of AI that it became painful to sit through.

    To be honest, I haven’t watched the entire series. I quit mid-way through episode 7, deciding instead to continue watching ALONE on the History channel. At least that show taught me how to build a fire from scratch or not to eat an animal with a spotted liver.

    Anyway, I look forward to cleansing my palette of this shit-show (and the dumpster fire that has become the United States) with any and all content you choose to throw our way.

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  8. Are we absolutely sure that J.J Abrams did not have anything to do with this show? This show introduced like 3 new mysteries each episode, valiantly resisting even the most basic questions. It took me until the last episode to finally accept that it’s going down the route of Lost. Mystery-boxes are not *just* bad writing, they’re writing poison.

    All characters have bad-writer-titus. Picture this: you’re on an alien world, suddenly you start hearing voices or see a dead person in broad daylight. What do you do? I live on planet Earth and I would immediately call for help and subject myself to a full medical examination. Do the writers of those shows just experience constant hallucinations that they don’t mention to anyone? That would explain a couple things…

    Also, how the hell do they expect to seed a planet with 6 people? I am not a biologist, but I am pretty sure the gene pool would be too shallow for the colonist to survive, even if they were extremely rigorous about who slept with who.

    I think the success of this show comes down to three factors:
    1. The premise is really out there, at least for a high budget show.
    2. The weekly release schedule ensures that most people watching it will only remember the previous episodes in passing, thus making it less likely for viewers to realize that the show is pulling a Ponzi scheme, except with mysteries instead of money.
    3. Astroturfing. A LOT of astroturfing. Every subreddit even vaguely related to television or scifi was constantly spammed with high-upvoted posts praising it, probably holds for every other social media platform.

    Overall it’s just full of wasted potential. All of the actors were really good (yes, even the kid playing Campion, kids are just annoying monsters), the visuals were pretty stellar too, but that’s about it.

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  9. Hugo Gernsback retro scifi? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that…

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  10. ramjet_oddity:
    Peter, what hope do you think that science fiction film/live-action TV series has? I’m thinking of the Foundation TV show coming up, and I hope it’s great, but I’m prepared for a steaming pile of crap.

    I have more hope for productions based on actual respectable SF novels— good source material at least presents a decent path to inspire the producers. But of course that’s no guarantee. Look at Lynch’s “Dune”. (Hell, look at Jodorowsky’s Dune, if it had ever got made.)

    MJK: Or maybe I’m just still narky about Maeve and her katana-swinging phase.

    For which you can be completely forgiven.

    Daniel Brooks: I must admit, this review kind of reads like a hard SF author upset at soft SF being a Thing. Most modern audiences have had zero exposure to Golden Age era SF and how effective it is at generating allegory … I needed this show.

    I’ve got nothing against soft-sf. I thought The Lathe of Heaven was fine. Big fan of Ellison back in the day. Hell, we should probably describe Dune as soft-sf once you factor in the genetic-memory and shroom-tripping-through-the-cosmos stuff, and I love that book almost as much as you do.

    What I object to in this case is the narrative inconsistency, the clumsy characterizations, the complete lack of subtlety. The way themes that have already been better handled elsewhere get served up in bleeding pieces and presented proudly as though they were shiny and new.

    My complaints are genre-independent, in other words. They’re about basic storytelling.

    Greggles: That aside, I’ve always wondered why such super smart machines are always so stilted in their speech. Why not speak with perfect rhythm, flow and intonation but with perfect diction and grammar and an insanely broad and precise vocabulary?

    It was more forgivable back in the eighties. These days, though, GPT-3 is all over the news; feed in a few paragraphs of Watts prose and it’ll generate a wall of text that sounds more like me than I do. I find it absolutely astonishing that the writers are apparently unaware of how far beyond Father natural language routines are already. It’s like writing a story set in the future in which all the characters drive Model Ts.

    TotallyNotACylon: Are we absolutely sure that J.J Abrams did not have anything to do with this show?

    Absolutely. Just look at the cinematography: no lens flares.

    gnz:
    Hugo Gernsback retro scifi? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that…

    Maybe not if you don’t mind your science fiction looking back. I mean, I agree with Dan’s earlier point that Golden-Age SF is a fine vehicle for allegory— but that’s a function of the inherent potential of the genre, not its level of prose style or character development back in mid TwenCen. The capacity for allegory continues throughout SF’s history; the sophistication of plot and characters and writing have, for the most part anyway, improved significantly over time. I see no reason why the genre would function better by shedding its lungs and limbs and climbing back down into the ocean.

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  11. I watched the whole series after seeing Jeff Vander Meer’s Facebook post about it. He used the words “batshit magnificent” which I figured meant it was full of crazy nonsense but in a fun way. It IS hot garbage, revolting at times but for some reason I just couldnt stop watching.

    Sort of obvious it wasnt actually aiming for realistic when the ship crash-landed straight into a hole in the first few minutes — I was like, don’t NASA landers usually try to plan years in advance where exactly on a frickin planet they will land their robot landers just to make sure the things dont actually hit a big bunch of rocks or something? Yet here is this ship carrying humanity’s last hope or something, just flying helter skelter onto holey territory.
    About your question, why didn’t they land in the tropical zone in the first place: the Mithraic dudes mentioned something like a very strong magnetic field that prevented them from landing the Ark there.

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  12. Anxious: About your question, why didn’t they land in the tropical zone in the first place: the Mithraic dudes mentioned something like a very strong magnetic field that prevented them from landing the Ark there.

    Yeah, but Mother and Father didn’t have an ark; they had a little two-seater that looked like an oversized Birkenstock. And in the final episode, if I parse the Wikipedia summary correctly, said Birkenstock brought them into the tropical zone just fine.

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  13. I honestly don’t know why I kept watching it, as it was constantly just getting worse and worse. Maybe the high production values? Desperate for anything sci-fi on TV? I don’t know, but I know I won’t be coming back for season 2. That last episode was maddening, I can’t even remember the last time I was this mad at a TV show…

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  14. Hello from Norway. I almost punched the screen during the scene where they were gathering firewood just outside the door of their multi-year camp.

    I have a question if this is not inapproriate? I really love your novels, especially Blindsight. Or maybe I should say I hate your novels, they make me depressed in a profound way. A part of the Rifters trilogy really stand out to me. You describe how algorithms evolve and dominate the net, to the point where the net becomes useless really. The book was published in 1999, how were you able to predict what the internet is turning into? Could you recommend some sources that inspired you in that regards? Or is it all you?

    Edit: Will you review The Boys?

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  15. Not Hoo-mans. “Hyoo-mahns.”

    I’m glad I don’t watch TV. It sounds awful.

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  16. >>Sometime between between now and 2145, Christianity just—went away
    It’s obviously a fictional world though, it’s a ‘what if back in ancient Rome somehow things had went a bit different’. Even though it’s pretty similar to the Abrahamic religions and is obviously supposed to represent them I find it a welcome change.

    I’ll agree that the androids are written hamfisted, but then again androids/”””AI””” usually are. I couldn’t stand more than 1 episode of Westworld for this very reason and I will never ever watch Ex Machina. I liked the way Blindsight handled machine intelligence (in the scene where the computer writes something like ‘don’t like taking orders from machines’ after Sarasti is killed), I think that’s much more realistic.

    >>Voices and visions and mysterious artefacts; a flying space lamprey; an indestructible white mouse.
    Isn’t this good though? I wasn’t to keen on the first couple of episodes but I’m hooked now that apparently there are neanderthals on the planet too or something. I’m curious to finding out what’s making the voices/false memories.

    >>All wrapped up in storytelling so incoherent that the plot actually makes more sense if you zone in and out while watching
    I mean it’s not really that incoherent. Some entity manipulated Mother into being the vessel for the space lamprey during the simulation.

    >>we actually started to enjoy the show for its unrepentant batshittedness
    Good.

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  17. Strange that this show has blown completely over my head and I haven’t even seen a single teaser of it. Maybe it was so much out of scope of my interest that even YT smart search did not bother to disturb me by toting promotional materials into my face. I may consider trying it out later.

    There was an apocryphal suggestion about machines handling at Turing’s test better not only because the machines will become smarter, but also because people participating in such test will become more stupid. But turns out this is a wrong Idea, if you scratch it just a little – just as the wisdom of people has brought me this gem: “Stupidity is not a absence of a mind, it is such a mind of it’s own”. So, machines are not stupid, they’re, like, autistic in the most basic sense of the word. First they will have to become smart enough to handle the stupidity.

    Incidentally, on my last trip (in the gap between COVID waves) I have chosen to watch Star Trek Picard show, and, surprise, it is also about androids – well, most of it, anyway. I am not old enough to be a fan of original series, and more so, not a fan of casual/soft sci-fi for broader audience and all, but the show handles itself well for TV format. It is well-versed in the timeline, the plot progression is a straight line of [spoiler] conspiracy and then a revelation and happy end. I did not get enough insight of famed “Romulan society” subplot because a lot of the time was spent on action scenes and gun-toting, but most of the main characters stories are done well. And, of course, the technical side is very impressive for the format (if one just stops asking questions about giant flying flowers and other moments like that).

    Okay, here’s the solid point about the show that I really liked: despite the fact that it did not raise many points too high about nature of the “androids” (or rather, “synthetic lifeforms”) and stayed flat in the area of “Just Like Us”, it was rather concentrating on the issue of coexisting. Then, the ending itself has a conclusion that, on the first glance, doesn’t make much sense. We always assume that since AI programs are not alive in the first place, the intelligence built out these programs has to be not-alive also, essentially immortal. But to be truly life-like, machines have to become mortal as well, putting the factor of inevitability of death in their existence. Perhaps, it is not a bad solution, even though it spawns a myriad other questions instead.

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  18. Mother and Father act British, but it appears to me that only Father and the kid speak with British accents. I don’t know if this is an oblique comment on parenting, or if it’ll have some later significance (I’ve only watched to episode 5), but I’m sensing I may ultimately be as disappointed in the show as I was with “Lost”. I’m willing to give it a chance – I come from a humanities background – but my wife, whose background is in math, has dismissed it for its inconsistencies and general, as she sees it, idiocy.

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  19. Damn, i was looking forward to finally watching this. Guess i dont have to bother now.

    Then again i loved Interstellar and i enjoyed Ad Astra despite you hating both, even if the former was much too optimistic (and had that stupid love angle) and the latter wasnt a Sci-Fi flick at all.

    I will also defend Blade Runner 2049 to my dying breath, i like that one much more than the old one.

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  20. Blade Runner 2049 was visually stunning, but man, I wish they’d done something actually interesting with the overall storyline instead of as Peter said “yet another tired parable about slavery”. Jared Leto’s character was completely wasted.

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  21. “You want a nifty portrayal of machine-as-parent?”

    Well, I do. Your description sounds thrilling, something akin to what I was expecting from Westworld’s S2 and never got. Any chance of an android or robot-themed story after Omniscience is released?

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  22. Oh, gods, Peter. For your own sanity at least, you should watch The Expanse. At least the sci fi is hard and the ecological catastrophes coming down the pipe are a significant part of the world building, even if you’re going to have some complaints to register about the AI and the Singularity somehow just never happening over the next 300 years.

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  23. My problem was that atheists only call themselves this in relation to perceived irrational belief systems. Something like “rationalist” would probably make a lot more sense in a future like this. It’s what they DO believe, rather than what they don’t.

    And wouldn’t it have allowed a great reveal at some point?

    Or a better reveal: Mother or Father secretly becomes a believer after the humans are easily destroyed. Then it becomes AI vs. AI for the future of the kids, which might be a better allegory for what will soon happen on Earth.

    Ridley probably wanted ratings, though.

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  24. The K: I will also defend Blade Runner 2049 to my dying breath, i like that one much more than the old one.

    Agreed. I thought the original was a decent action movie, very basic pew-pew plotline elevated by great scenography and some memorable acting. 2049 was all that, but better.

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  25. You’re SO good on SF digital content criticism, Dr Watts. Can you not get a paid side hustle doing this?

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  26. I watched the entire season of Raised By Wolves, hoping for an entertaining and engaging tale. I won’t bother with future episodes; too much it was shot with a blue ‘night’ filter, the story didn’t develop in any logical way and the last few episodes were simply stupid.
    This garbage gets a second season renewal while older human/android series like Mann & Machine or Almost Human were quickly cancelled. They at least had engaging storylines.
    Interstellar was merely OK, Ad Astra was a waste of my time and BL 2049 was annoying.

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  27. Erling Schrøder: how were you able to predict what the internet is turning into? Could you recommend some sources that inspired you in that regards? Or is it all you?

    There was no great insight there. Just one trick: apply basic Darwinian principles to online systems.

    Back in the eighties Dawkins described life as “information shaped by natural selection”. I liked that, both because it was an actual definition (most attempts to characterize “life” just run through a list of attributes) and because it was platform-independent; it made no presupposition that life had to be meaty. Software could qualify, as long as it met the Darwinian criteria (which most still don’t, here in 2020). So I ported biological principles into electronic systems and wrote about what happened.

    Edit: Will you review The Boys?

    I don’t have much to say about it, beyond that it’s fucking brilliant. Not an episode goes by where the BUG and I don’t grab each other at least once and exclaim I can’t believe they went there. It’s a 21st century “Watchmen” with more grit and political relevance.

    Speaking of which, the recent “Watchmen” TV series was also— against all my expectations— a 21st century Watchmen with more grit and political relevance. And the current “Lovecraft Country” is also blowing me away. These End Days really do contain within them a Golden Age of groundbreaking television. Which makes travesties like “Raised by Wolves” all the more disappointing.

    Troutwaxer: Not Hoo-mans. “Hyoo-mahns.”

    Noted.

    Tran Script: It’s obviously a fictional world though, it’s a ‘what if back in ancient Rome somehow things had went a bit different’.

    Except that whatever timeline this is, Christianity was obviously a Thing. How else to explain those occasions where one character or another takes Jesus’ name in vain?

    Tran Script: I mean it’s not really that incoherent. Some entity manipulated Mother into being the vessel for the space lamprey during the simulation.

    Oh I got that part. I think I got all the “parts”. But to me, that’s all they were: a bunch of disconnected elements spun together in a blender and thrown at the wall. There was no setup, no Chekov’s Lamprey sitting on the mantelpiece. I can deal with unresolved mysteries (why did the gollums wait for twelve years before making an appearance?); but surely, Mother and Father should be wondering about that themselves. The fact that so many weird discrepancies go unremarked-upon says to me that these are not all mysteries to be resolved in the fullness of time; they’re just examples of sloppy plotting (“Scene 4 is a little slow on the pacing—I know! Let’s bring in some creatures!”).

    listedproxyname: Incidentally, on my last trip (in the gap between COVID waves) I have chosen to watch Star Trek Picard show, and, surprise, it is also about androids

    I had such high hopes for that show. It started off so damn well, and it weaved together so many elements from Trek canon in such new and interesting ways. But man, they really pooched the back end.

    The K: I will also defend Blade Runner 2049 to my dying breath, i like that one much more than the old one.

    I liked both of them a lot (the original Blade Runner— the Director’s cut, at least— was a masterpiece for its time, but times have admittedly changed). 2049 is technically superior, but then, almost four decades later it damned well better be. The problem I had with 2049 was not that it was a bad film by any means, but that it chose to revisit old territory when it could have ventured into new and less-explored realms. It was a beautiful, compelling, missed opportunity.

    S23: Any chance of an android or robot-themed story after Omniscience is released?

    Actually, a robot-themed story of mine came out just this year, in the robot-themed Strahan anthology Made to Order. Admittedly the robot in question was a cephalapoid space probe poking around on Enceladus.

    It Reaches Out: For your own sanity at least, you should watch The Expanse.

    Oh, I have. The first season was— not great (the BUG quit after the pilot), but it definitely improved with time. Somehow, around season 3, I prevailed on her (or perhaps she just heard so many other positive reviews) to give it another shot, so we went back and watched it all over again from the beginning. We both really like it now, and I for one am hard with anticipation for Season 5.

    Best line of the series so far: “I am that guy.”

    Jeff Bobo: Or a better reveal: Mother or Father secretly becomes a believer after the humans are easily destroyed.

    They’ve kinda verged into that territory already. At least, Father has accused Mother of sounding like a Believer.

    Gary James Flood: Can you not get a paid side hustle doing this?

    Define “paid”. I did a monthly column for a Polish magazine for years, which frequently included reviews of everything from scientific papers to big-budget blockbusters. They paid what they could, but given that it frequently takes me days to knock out a properly-researched article, I ended up working for 20-30 bucks a day. The Nowa Fantastyka guys are great, and the Polish SF community has been very good to me, so I did it out of love for a number of years; but when you factored in the other work I was putting off to meet those deadlines, I ended up losing money with each installment. It wasn’t sustainable.

    If someone offered me a few hundred bucks per review, I’d love to take their money. But let’s face it, I’m no Cory Doctorow. I suppose I could explore this Patreon thing, although my understanding is that would come with its own set of deadlines and obligations.

    In the meantime, though, at least you guys get the benefit of my piercing insights for free. Albeit not very often.

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  28. ‘If someone offered me a few hundred bucks per review, I’d love to take their money. But let’s face it, I’m no Cory Doctorow. I suppose I could explore this Patreon thing, although my understanding is that would come with its own set of deadlines and obligations.
    In the meantime, though, at least you guys get the benefit of my piercing insights for free. Albeit not very often.’

    Tell you what (and I’m really looking at this). Do the Substack paid-for newsletter thing. We’d all pay $5 a pop, surely, for this amazing free analysis and thinking you do for us for free. Given you have 20 fans… DO THE MATH 🙂

    You were the guy who used Creative Commons to change up the model. Now, it’s time to change again and get paid for this.

    I’m serious.

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  29. I was reading it as an alternate reality future. They come from an Earth that never had Christianity. The Mithraic religion is real however, sent to Earth by super-intelligent aliens, possibly from the Kepler-22 planet or elsewhere, but they are there. They worship the tooth of Romulus as a relic, which says they really are the ancient Roman religion.

    Of course that hardly makes it less silly. It is the “humans and Jesus came from aliens” plot of Prometheus again.

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  30. I, for one, would be happy to subscribe to some Wattsian Newsletter for 5$ a pop.

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  31. I hadn’t heard about it until I saw this blog post(I avoided spoilers of course), watched the first episode… yeah, I would have preferred to read some forgotten trade paperback from the 50s. In the first five minutes I thought they would harken back to that kind of thing, based on the aesthetics and the bad dialogue, but even just in the course of the first episode shit went off the rails. The scene where Mother walked around popping bodies seemed ridiculous and unnecessary to me. It would have been more interesting if she was just a malfunctioning android and the kid (whose name I never actually learned, somehow) was taken in by the Mithraists, had conflicts based around that, etc.

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  32. Greggles,

    I am officially stealing that, just in case.

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  33. Peter, what about The Expanse has drawn you in?

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  34. Just so people know, and maybe Peter will announce this far more eloquently than I can, the “Blindsight” animated film is going live tomorrow, Oct. 12, 2020.

    http://www.blindsight.space/

    Holy shit!

    Cannot wait to see this.

    (and sorry for co-opting this thread)

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  35. Ah great! Yeah those are reasonable opinions. Season 1 was a good setup for the overall story in retrospect but at the time, if it wasn’t for the space CGI, I’d have quit too.

    Did also seem kinda neat having a character that could have passed for a Rifter showing up and subsequently becoming a fan favorite.

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  36. Scott cares about a) visuals and b) Narrative beats and not a single thing else. A coherent plot isn’t even on the horizon. To be fair, he’s not alone in this (See the latest Star Wars movies for a good example) and in the short window of time afforded by a movie screening sometimes it’s ok to let yourself be carried along by the noise and the lights. But a whole TV show? Hm.

    Regarding Patreon, all the deadlines and deliverables are entirely self-imposed. You could put up a tip jar and have people be charged whenever you update the blog, and do nothing else beyond what you’re already doing, at least for starters.

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  37. I agree, Nestor. Scott used to be an excellent storyteller but has withered to wince-inducing stupidity like “Alien: Covenant.” I find it hard to reconcile his earlier and later work. Maybe he’ll get it back some point.

    And I apologize for my earlier post about a finished “Blindsight” film going up today. It’s actually a 4:47-minute extended trailer with some amazing looking work,

    They’re looking for support to produce a whole movie. Check it out, Tell your friends.

    And look for Peter’s announcement soon. Sorry if I stole any thunder.

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  38. Completely offtopic: Mr. Watts, have you seen this https://vimeo.com/467342474? A short visualisation based on Blindsight by russian team.

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  39. Gary Flood: You were the guy who used Creative Commons to change up the model. Now, it’s time to change again and get paid for this.

    Fine. I will look into it.

    Oddly enough, someone from Patreon showed up in my In Box the other day wondering if I wanted to join up. Tried to tempt me by naming all the other, more successful SF writers—Hurley, Sawyer— that were on board.

    It makes me wonder if Patreon is in some kind of trouble…

    Wattsfan#2948:
    Peter, what about The Expanse has drawn you in?

    Initially it was the care in the worldbuilding: the low-g hummingbird that only flapped its wings once a second, water pouring in a curve, the combat scene where the tool locker fell open and wrenches kept slamming around in the hold every time the Rossi fired a thruster. But as the acting and the writing improved, I started digging the characters a lot more. Amos is kinda fascinating. Avasarala has some nice layers.

    And the show overall walks a nice balance between hard-SF and magic (i.e., the protomolecule). Stay too grounded and you end up writing mundane SF, which I personally find antiscientific because of its assumption that there are no more insane discoveries to be made, that we already pretty much know everything. Throw too many Inscrutable Alien Artefacts in our faces and you’ve basically gone mystical. Personally I think there are a lot of aspects of the protomolecule that don’t make sense, but it’s the one crazy-ass element in an otherwise reasonably physics-faithful show— and you get to have one of those, because it is after all science fiction.

    MX:
    Completely offtopic: Mr. Watts, have you seen this https://vimeo.com/467342474? A short visualisation based on Blindsight by russian team.

    I have indeed. I even just blogged about it.

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  40. Ditto, on all counts!

    If you haven’t yet, I whole-heartedly recommend checking out Lovecraft Country. Which is really really good overall, and just keep in mind that it’s playing with Lovecraft’s tropes and some monsters – but the true unfathomable existential horror is definitely meant to be the entire ‘normal American society’ of the 1950s.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good and isn’t afraid to extend itself rather than playing things safe.

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  41. Well, you just have to make Devs review now

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  42. Watched the first episode of Raised by Wolves on YouTube. What a waste of great cinematography and special effects. Goofy plot, goofy dialog, and goofy costumes.

    Not only should the androids have acted and conversed like normal people they should have appeared like normal people with nipples, belly buttons and the appropriate sex organs. Otherwise why bother giving them hair. Both the children and the viewing audience should think mother and father are human until the last 5 minutes of the first episode.

    The embryos are grown in vats that have everything they need to mature into healthy babies. There is no need to hook them up with umbilical cords to an android.

    I could go on and on.

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  43. Thanks Peter – you’ve saved me precious time once again (I already owed you for helping me dodge Interstellar 🙂 )

    For a decent stab at a genuinely convincing AND emotionally compelling android, try Better Than Us (if you haven’t already). It’s a slow burn, but the logic of it is pretty much impeccable, and once it’s got you, it grips like a vice.

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  44. Richard Morgan:
    Thanks Peter – you’ve saved me precious time once again (I already owed you for helping me dodge Interstellar )

    Sadly, Interstellar wasn’t bad enough to swing all the way around and become good again. For that, you nmight want to try “Another Life”, on Netflix. So abysmally terrible you cannot look away. Think Valley Girls in Spaaaace, encountering “dark matter” (you can tell when the ship hits the stuff because it shakes as though it had just run over a piece of road kill).

    For a decent stab at a genuinely convincing AND emotionally compelling android, try Better Than Us (if you haven’t already).It’s a slow burn, but the logic of it is pretty much impeccable, and once it’s got you, it grips like a vice.

    Yeah, we watched that one on your advice. You’re right; obviously low-budget— and I kind of wrinkled my nose in the first episode when the “rebellious android” trope showed up. But they did interesting things with it, and the series is way more rigorous in its execution than the competition.

    Also Paulina Andreeva is perfect. You never forget for a moment that she’s a machine, and she never once relies on Wolves’ beep-boop-speak to make the point.

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  45. I do get the feeling Patreon is slipping by. I still support it for podcasters, I think it’s fine to pay $5 a pop for the entertainment and intellectual stimulation I get from ‘Very Bad Wizards’ or ‘Geeks Guide,’ but I think it’s time has passed. As a very different sort of ‘content creator,’ I am being turned on by the Matt Taibbi idea of being more in charge of my content (see https://www.wired.co.uk/article/newsletters-subscription-substack-journalism). I can’t see why you can’t have a freemium/paid-for model for your stuff, too… publish a first chapter on Substack, you like this, pay me a modest fee for access to more, etc. But as you ONLY do it for the intellectual glory and to satisfy us morbid freaks… you won’t listen! 🙂

    Peter Watts,

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  46. So you didn’t think it was good but you watched the whole thing to the last episode anyway?!

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  47. I considered it a civic duty: I suffered so I could spread the word and others wouldn’t have to.

    That said, I have to admit there was a certain slow-motion-train-wreck fascination in watching this show (surely it can’t get any worse…oh my God, it got worse…) that I haven’t felt since, say, Another Life. Which I also watched to the end.

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  48. thanks for summing up so entertainingly many of my own thoughts about this “show”

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  49. I only watched the first episode. I don’t think Ridley Scott really cares at all about logical consistency in storytelling.

    But, this show would have been great as an animated episode in Heavy Metal.

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