Welcome To The Waiting Room: Twin Peaks 2016

Twin Peaks trended worldwide yesterday when Showtime announced that a third season of the show will air in 2016. The event will be a 9-episode miniseries, written by original creators David Lynch and Mark Frost with Lynch directing every coffee-soaked episode.

Rumors of a reboot have piled up for years, at one point prompting Lynch to flatly deny there would ever be a continuation of the show. But on October 3rd, Lynch and Frost simultaneously tweeted THIS:

If you’re like me, you know that when two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry, we must always pay strict attention. Fans of the show have been waiting for something to happen for 25 years, and Monday morning, they saw THIS:

It was fun to wheel through the timeline and see everyone lighting up. Social media has already brought us Twin Peaks blogs and podcasts, artwork and custom coffee cups, spoofs and mash-ups, and more content than any fan could absorb. But the online craze is its own event.

Social media is hard proof that Twin Peaks fans are a serious market force; they’re fiercely addicted and loyal to the show and Amazon knows it. But I’ve consciously tried to avoid the Packard Rumor Mill to keep my expectations realistic.

Twin Peaks was the first great piece of art I ever ‘got’. It became my benchmark for genius on television (and elsewhere). And the best part of the show, and its creators, was their ability to deliver the unexpected. So I’m confident in the reboot. Lynch and Frost had something then, and they’ve both grown as artists.

I’ve had over 20 years to re-watch, ponder and mythologize (I saw it first in 1994), and the show has a very personal meaning for me. If I try to keep up with all the speculation on Twitter my head will probably explode. Ignoring it is nearly impossible, but ideally I’d like to sit down in 2016 to new content without thinking about any of the speculation, like a babe in the woods, if you will.

2016 is a long way off, so welcome to The Waiting Room. Fortunately I have my gorgeous Blu-ray box set to keep me company until then. And when the reboot does finally arrive…well, one day my blog will have something to say about that.

 

Coherence

My 9000-word short story “Coherence” has been published in a new anthology from Dreamscape Press®. Nuclear Town U.S.A. is an anthology of post-apocalyptic speculative fiction now available at Amazon.com.

Nuclear Town USA - CoverThis short story is currently my longest, just slightly longer than many publishers’ maximum allowable word count, so I’m glad it found a home. “Coherence” is a story about a scientist who tries to prevent the apocalypse using time travel. Guess what, things don’t work out for him the way he expects. (#conflict)

Shortly after I finished writing the story I read Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke and I found it really strange because all these little, weirdly specific details from my story were in his story. Is it possible that all the books and movies I’ve seen that were inspired by Childhood’s End somehow implied those details to me through context?

How am I supposed to know?

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Memetic Evolution

Most of us have a general sense of how biological evolution works. Simple organisms differentiate, mutate, and replicate. Some new traits prove to be good coping mechanisms and help organisms outlive and proliferate further than those organisms with traits ill fit for the environment. Over millions of years the biological changes that take place are increasingly complex. The survivors win. Their reward is life.

But evolution can explain more than biology. Memetic evolution, for example, happens upon almost identical lines. Simple ideas, the kind that represented simple objects or situations to our unintelligent ancestors, were encoded in spoken and pictorial languages (dubbed “memes” by Richard Dawkins). These ideas are sent from one mind to another, and just like genes, they differentiate, mutate, and replicate into other minds.

Some ideas take hold because they provide a benefit to the organism using them.  An early human who learns how to use a club has an advantage over one who hasn’t learned to use a club. A man who knows how to fashion a sword will do well in a fight against that club-wielding guy. Someone who learns how to string a bow and fire an arrow can stand back in the trees and kill the man with the sword with little risk. And the man who communicates all this information proficiently can show up with a gang of hundreds, each with a homemade bow, and so on, and so on. Now we have nuclear weapons.

As our human powers of rational thinking developed, we had an increasing ability to think abstractly, which had far-reaching benefits. Humanity went from understanding individual problems to understanding types of problems. When we figured out how to handle one type of problem, the individual problems of this type no longer required as much investment in thought. As our knowledge outgrew its abstractions, our memetic evolution accelerated exponentially. In relatively no time, our memetic, semantic, cultural reality was infinitely more complex than our biological reality.

Humanity seems like the only species with the ability to continue abstracting beyond the first few levels. Even when we teach lower primates sign language, we can prove that they think, but they tend not to read Bertrand Russell or discuss the plot of a good sitcom.

Memes replicate as aggressively as possible, just like genes. Particular genes can pass around the entire world, but it takes generations, decades of effort and luck. Ain’t nobody got time for that! By contrast, how many people know about the Sweet Brown meme since it appeared in the world?

As memes mutate and grow more complex, they push the boundaries of the semantic world outward into various specialized niches. This is obvious in our internet-soaked world culture. Nobody can keep up with all the facts of our world. Nobody can even keep track of all the relevant facts to their particular field of specialization at our current rate of memetic growth.

New insights gained from trial and error continue to expand all fields of knowledge. If you can combine ideas into something novel, you have pushed the boundary of our semantic world. Notice how ideas normally don’t just appear out of nowhere? Ideas are almost always build upon the foundations of previous ideas.

So wouldn’t it be great if there were a tool that organized memes into easily understandable fragments, and we could each curate our own stream of information so that the knowledge relevant to our interests could be scanned easily as well as studied for detail? Welcome to the world of Twitter.

Twitter acts as an exploder button for memetic evolution. Think of all the Sweet Brown remixes! But seriously, I want a genetic scientist to have all the specialized knowledge available from around the world so progress can continue. I curate my own feed and my knowledge of worthwhile writing and music and film has increased in a dramatic way. Plus it allows us to stay current, so our cultural developments remain on the cutting edge.

The internet has brought us together in unexpected ways. It’s easy to see how much time is wasted on sites like Twitter and Facebook. But it isn’t like that for everyone. Most of the gene swarm on planet Earth died off before our ancestors replicated successfully. Think of how much of Earth’s matter has been incorporated into our 7 billion neighbours. We give our particular genes a great success rate, so it’s a good thing for them that they made us. As for Twitter, could memetic evolution ask for a better medium of proliferation through human minds?

Memes, like genes, want nothing more than to replicate, and they do so in a very chaotic way until they find a best-fit pattern for the environment. We invented Twitter to share information. But our inventions are always on the shoulders of past ideas. So our semantic, memetic world has guided us to invent Twitter, the ultimate replicator (so far) for memes. Are we in the driver’s seat here, willfully directing memes for further progress, or are we being directed by our memes? And anyway, what’s the difference?

Imagine THAT

I tend to think of Art abstractly, as an idealized magical process. New things are created where before there was nothing. It generally starts with an idea or intuition out of which grows the impetus to create. Usually that first idea or an intertwining between two ideas comes with a great spark of enthusiasm that represents some sort of ecstatic truth. People would ‘get it’ perfectly if they could only feel exactly THAT.

But at the end of the day, art is something we perceive. I play a linguistic joke on myself when I talk about art without relating it to something in the world that someone is looking at, listening to, contemplating, or experiencing in some fashion. Creating something real that can bring others to that same ecstatic truth is Art. Artists attempt to elicit an experience or a process in their audience. But creating a worldly artifact that can be used by someone to achieve THAT is a process of its own.

Different art forms work differently this way. Some forms of art translate well into our everyday reality. For instance, if I think of a great idea for a book all I have to do is write the book (put words on page), publish the book (print/digital), and I’m done. On the other hand, if I come up with a great idea for a movie, I’ve got a lot more work cut out for me.

Literature, music, painting, and maybe dance are some of the most direct translations of an ecstatic idea, or THAT. In these art forms there is less process or activity for the idea to be lost or degraded. Each activity an artist takes to realize their ecstatic vision of truth takes the artist further from the world of ideas and closer to something that can be perceived by an observer. Even writing can dull the creative spark. Putting an idea into words is a challenge. A greater challenge is finding the right words and putting them into the right structure to guide a reader to a specific intuition.

This is the reason many serious artists don’t like to speak about their work. The ecstatic vision of truth doesn’t come neatly packaged in a few words, an image, or a soundbite. Usually it’s something numinous and mysterious, and the act of creating is the artist’s attempt to make that idea into something intelligible.

When a filmmaker is asked “What is your film about?” they better not have a snappy answer ready. If David Lynch could tell us what Lost Highway is about in one sentence, he shouldn’t have made it. Also, if it was that simple, we shouldn’t have spent 2 hours 25 minutes ingesting it. Fortunately the film exists as a process and a complete whole apart from any explanation. It opens up worlds of intuition for each observer to explore.

With film there are many distinct stages of creation, so the idea can get very far from THAT, the original creative spark. This can be a good thing because each stage demands its own creative treatment and different artists contribute their vision and talent to the final product. At the same time this can be a terrible thing because the successive stages of creation can dilute the power of the original idea. By the time the script is written, the crew and cast hired, the film shot, edited, blended with sound that’s been recorded, foleyed and mixed, and finally presented, the director might look at the screen and think, “This has absolutely nothing to do with my original idea.” The movie Bad Timing by Nicholas Roeg began with a straightforward script and was shot in a straightforward manner. Fortunately in the editing process they discovered a strange take on the material and the film became a beautiful example of non-linear storytelling. The finished product was surely closer to the original creative spark than Roeg expected from his linear script.

Film may be the most challenging art form because it contains so many types of art. Cinematography, production design, costume and make-up, sound recording, acting and more contribute to the overall essence put forth by the script, and this all must be wrangled by a director (who may or may not have written the script, and may or may not get it). The director ultimately, often unfortunately, answers to the producer. The producer is a business man who may or may not have any artistic talent whatsoever.

But film can be one of the most rewarding art forms because it is so absorbing. Film uses our aesthetic eye (like painting), our aesthetic ear and sense of rhythm (like music), our thinking mind (like writing), and our intuition (our own feelings), concerted to give us a two-hour experience, a process which hopefully will enrich us.

Of course, masterpieces in any art form stay with us forever. Good art shows us a vision of life we couldn’t seen without it. And whether we ever make it to exactly THAT, the process of discovery is the important thing.

 

P.S. Follow me on Twitter @EricRSchiller for my micro-blog book report on each chapter of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. It’s possibly the craziest book I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of crazy books.

 

 

Game of Thrones – Season 2

I’m a recent inductee into a new kind of mania. It’s called Twitter. I signed up on Saturday night and spent all of Sunday checking it like an addict, getting more and more excited for the Game of Thrones season two finale (called Valar Morghulis). The show itself, and the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, are a mania I’ve had for a little while longer.

Forget whether you agree with the politics of the show, or ‘aren’t into’ the fantasy genre – Game of Thrones is one of the most absorbing things on television (HBO, big surprise), on par with Breaking Bad (AMC, also not a surprise). The storytelling is so huge and the world is so rich that Game of Thrones is the best bargain on the air, in that it takes you the furthest per minute of television watched. I’ve done the math.

When adapting literature for the screen, I don’t fault screenwriters for straying from the source because film is not literature. The experience of a book is completely different from the experience of a movie. Literature generally happens in the psychology of the characters, so internal reasoning and decisions can be dramatized within the prose. Film and television are visual and audible media, so the audience must be able to see or hear the dramatic action. Compromises have to be made.

In the first season HBO and the show creators stayed close to the book, and where they deviated from its blueprint, they did so meaningfully. In season two, with a quickly expanding world of characters and locations, new customs and intrigues, a lot was changed for the screen. Some of this was great, some of it was frustrating.

So here is an offering of thoughts on the season. There will be spoilers that go deeper than season two. If you haven’t read the books and don’t want anything spoiled, don’t read on. Instead, read the books.

First, Tyrion’s story was abridged for the season. The Imp is arguably the most complex character in the series, and I was saddened that he didn’t kick as much ass in season two of the show. In the book A Clash of Kings Tyrion is active the entire time, plotting and scheming, defending the city, outdoing his sister, carving out his destiny, and protecting his lover. His discovery of Cersei’s mole was handled by a two-minute sequence. His involvement with the Alchemists was reduced to one or two brief scenes. And the giant chain-trap for Stannis in Blackwater Bay was completely eliminated. Fortunately, he still did kick ass, and Peter Dinklage deserves the praise he’s getting.

Theon’s journey is great in the book. In the show it took my breath away. Some big elements changed, particularly near the end, but I think HBO will reign it back in next season. Alfie Allen brought a great performance to the table and humanized Theon despite the character’s incredibly bad decision-making. Being able to see his face subconsciously second-guessing himself made the character heartbreaking instead of infuriating. It’s interesting that in the series Roose Bolton keeps telling Robb Stark to send the bastard Ramsay Bolton to Winterfell, yet Theon’s involvement with Ramsay was written out of the show. It’s still early in the series, but I was eager to see the Bastard Bolton because by book five he’s such a terror.

Robb Stark’s romantic plot line is completely invented for television. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t and feels a bit sappy. Fortunately for those who know the books, Robb’s scenes, particularly discussing his vow to the Frey’s with Catelyn, falls in the shadow of such dread that it can only be riveting.

Danaerys Targaryen’s narrative was distinctly weaker than last season and her foot-stomping outside of Quarth was the low-point. In A Clash of Kings she starts slowly but ends in such a bizarre and engaging finale that the progression is satisfying. The series finale veered away significantly (have we even seen a red door in the series?). Instead of trippin’ through the House of the Undying she seems to have two very sober visions before being attacked by Pyat Pree. The feeling-tone of her journey in the show isn’t as delicious as the book. But all is forgiven for that glorious dragon fire.

A Storm of Swords might be the best book in the series, so the wait for next season is going to be bittersweet. And with no concrete date for the sixth book there are a lot of what-ifs floating around the collective conscious, and a hell of a lot of time to psyche ourselves up on Twitter.