In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous and beautiful creatures, portrayed as femme fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Roman poets placed them on some small islands called Sirenum scopuli. In some later, rationalized traditions, the literal geography of the “flowery” island of Anthemoessa, or Anthemusa, is fixed: sometimes on Cape Pelorum and at others in the islands known as the Sirenuse, near Paestum, or in Capreae. All such locations were surrounded by cliffs and rocks.
When the Sirens were given a name of their own they were considered the daughters of the river god Achelous, fathered upon Terpsichore, Melpomene, Sterope, or Chthon. Although they lured mariners, for the Greeks the Sirens in their “meadow starred with flowers” were not sea deities. Roman writers linked the Sirens more closely to the sea, as daughters of Phorcys. Sirens are found in many Greek stories, particularly in Homer’s Odyssey.
According to Ovid, the Sirens were the companions of young Persephone and were given wings by Demeter to search for Persephone when she was abducted. However, the Fabulae of Hyginus has Demeter cursing the Sirens for failing to intervene in the abduction of Persephone.
The Sirens might be called the Muses of the lower world, Walter Copland Perry observed: “Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.” Their song is continually calling on Persephone. The term “siren song” refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad conclusion. Later writers have implied that the Sirens were anthropophagous, based on Circe’s description of them “lolling there in their meadow, round them heaps of corpses rotting away, rags of skin shriveling on their bones.” As Jane Ellen Harrison notes of “The Ker as siren:” “It is strange and beautiful that Homer should make the Sirens appeal to the spirit, not to the flesh.”
“They are mantic creatures like the Sphinx with whom they have much in common, knowing both the past and the future,” Harrison observed. “Their song takes effect at midday, in a windless calm. The end of that song is death.” That the sailors’ flesh is rotting away, though, would suggest it has not been eaten. It has been suggested that, with their feathers stolen, their divine nature kept them alive, but unable to feed for their visitors, who starved to death by refusing to leave.
According to Hyginus, sirens were fated to live only until the mortals who heard their songs were able to pass by them.
“Oh Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia — what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better? Nothing. What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee? Nothing. Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last. No longer can a fool point to a ridiculous accident of good luck and say, ‘Somebody up there likes me.’ And no longer can a tyrant say, ‘God wants this or that to happen, and anyone who doesn’t help this or that to happen is against God.’ O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!” -The prayer of the Reverend C. Horner Redwine”
― Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan
Cube is a 1997 Canadian science fiction psychological horror film, directed by Vincenzo Natali. The film was a successful product of the Canadian Film Centre’s First Feature Project.
The movie received a cult status for its surreal, Kafkaesque settings; it is set in identical cube-like rooms (hence the name) with each room being a different color (white, blue, green, amber and red), and no background story is revealed for the characters or the reason they were left in the Cube. The film also doesn’t demonstrate any clear plot regarding the Cube’s background, creation, purpose and its location. The timeframe of the story is also left unknown.
HAL 9000 is a character in Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction Space Odyssey saga. The primary antagonist in 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) is an artificial intelligence that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and interacts with the ship’s astronaut crew. Being a computer, HAL has no distinct physical form, though is visually represented as a red television-camera eye located on equipment panels throughout the ship. HAL is voiced by Douglas Rain in the two film adaptations of the Space Odyssey saga, and speaks in a soft, calm voice and a conversational manner, in contrast to the crewmen, David Bowman and Frank Poole, who speak tersely and with little emotional inflection. HAL became operational on 12 January 1992, at the HAL Laboratories in Urbana, Illinois, as production number 3; in the film 2001 the activation year was 1992, and 1991 in earlier screenplays. In addition to maintaining the Discovery One spacecraft systems during the interplanetary mission to Jupiter, HAL is capable of speech, speech recognition, facial recognition, natural language processing, lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting and reproducing emotional behaviours, reasoning, and playing chess.
BioShock is set during 1960, in Rapture, a fictional underwater dystopian city; its history is revealed to the player through in-game audio recordings scattered throughout the game.
Rapture was envisioned by the Objectivist business magnate Andrew Ryan as a laissez-faire utopia for society’s cultural and scientific elite to avoid the oppression of government and religion. He secretly funded its construction on the mid-Atlantic, utilizing submarine volcanoes to provide geothermal power, and Rapture was completed by 1946. Despite Ryan’s attempts, a seedier side of Rapture formed, led by businessman and gangster Frank Fontaine, who secretly managed to maintain a black market for goods to and from the surface. Scientific progress flourished within Rapture after the discovery of a new form of sea slug by Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum; stem cells from the slugs could be used to create “ADAM”, a plasmid that altered its user’s DNA and would grant him super-human powers like telekinesis and pyrokinesis. An industry for plasmids was created by Tenenbaum and Fontaine. To meet the growing demand, Tenenbaum devised a means for the sea slugs to be embedded in the stomachs of young girls from Fontaine’s orphanages, named Little Sisters, producing large quantities of ADAM.
As plasmid use grew, a class division arose. Fontaine launched a war against Ryan using an army of plasmid-enhanced soldiers, but was apparently killed in the fight. Ryan seized Fontaine’s assets, including the plasmid industry. Some months later, a new figurehead for the lower class arose, going by the name of Atlas. Atlas’s forces attacked Ryan’s industries to steal the ADAM and Little Sisters. To fight against this, Ryan ordered the creation of “Big Daddies”, plasmid-enhanced humans contained in giant diving suits conditioned to protect the Little Sisters as they scavenged for ADAM.
Ultimately a complete breakdown of Rapture’s society occurred on New Year’s Eve of 1959 (about one year before the player in the game arrives at Rapture). Atlas launched a full-fledged attack on Ryan’s forces; Ryan in turn was forced to create his own plasmid-enhanced soldiers, nicknamed Splicers, controlled by pheromones in Rapture’s atmosphere. The resulting war left few survivors. Those that remained alive barricaded themselves in isolated areas of Rapture, while the remains of the Splicer armies, having become deranged over time due to heavy ADAM use, wander Rapture looking for more ADAM to consume, which the Little Sisters continue to harvest from corpses.
‘Sole Solution’ by Eric Frank Russell. (1956)
He brooded in darkness and there was no one else. Not a voice, not a whisper. Not the touch of a hand. Not the warmth of another heart.
Eternal confinement where all was black and silent and nothing stirred. Imprisonment without prior condemnation. Punishment without sin. The unbearable that had to be borne unless some mode of escape could be devised.
No hope of rescue from elsewhere. No sorrow or sympathy or pity in another soul, another mind. No doors to be opened, no locks to be turned, no bars to be sawn apart. Only the thick, deep sable night in which to fumble and find nothing.
Circle a hand to the right and there is nought. Sweep an arm to the left and discover emptiness utter and complete. Walk forward through the darkness like a blind man lost in a vast, forgotten hall and there is no floor, no echo of footsteps, nothing to bar one’s path.
He could touch and sense one thing only. And that was self.
Therefore the only available resources with which to overcome his predicament were those secreted within himself. He must be the instrument of his own salvation.
No problem is beyond solution. By that thesis science lives. Without it, science dies. He was the ultimate scientist. As such, he could not refuse this challenge to his capabilities.
His torments were those of boredom, loneliness, mental and physical sterility. They were not to be endured. The easiest escape is via the imagination. One hangs in a strait-jacket and flees the corporeal trap by adventuring in a dreamland of one’s own.
But dreams are not enough. They are unreal and all too brief. The freedom to be gained must be genuine and of long duration. That meant he must make a stern reality of dreams, a reality so contrived that it would persist for all time. It must be self-perpetuating. Nothing less would make escape complete.
So he sat in the great dark and battled the problem. There was no clock, no calendar to mark the length of thought. There were no external data upon which to compute. There was nothing, nothing except the workings within his agile mind.
And one thesis: no problem is beyond solution.
He found it eventually. It meant escape from everlasting night. It would provide experience, companionship, adventure, mental exercise, entertainment, warmth, love, the sound of voices, the touch of hands.
The plan was anything but rudimentary. On the contrary it was complicated enough to defy untangling for endless aeons. It had to be like that to have permanence. The unwanted alternative was swift return to silence and the bitter dark.
It took a deal of working out. A million and one aspects had to be considered along with all their diverse effects upon each other. And when that was done he had to cope with the next million. And so on . . . on . . . on.
He created a mighty dream of his own, a place of infinite complexity schemed in every detail to the last dot and comma. Within this he would live anew. But not as himself. He was going to dissipate his person into numberless parts, a great multitude of variegated shapes and forms each of which would have to battle its own peculiar environment.
And he would toughen the struggle to the limit of endurance by unthinking himself, handicapping his parts with appalling ignorance and forcing them to learn afresh. He would seed enmity between them by dictating the basic rules of the game. Those who observed the rules would be called good. Those who did not would be called bad. Thus there would be endless delaying conflicts within the one great conflict.
When all was ready and prepared he intended to disrupt and become no longer one, but an enormous concourse of entities. Then his parts must fight back to unity and himself.
But first he must make reality of the dream. Ah, that was the test!
The time was now. The experiment must begin.
Leaning forward, he gazed into the dark and said, “Let there be light.”
And there was light.
A Clockwork Orange is a 1962 dystopian novella by Anthony Burgess. A satire portraying a future and dystopian Western society with (based on contemporary trends) a culture of extreme youth rebellion and violence: it explores the violent nature of humans, human free will to choose between good or evil, and the desolation of free will as a solution to evil. Teenage gangs, enraged by the docile, clockwork society that they find themselves living in, are constantly on the rampage. The main character, Alex, is a fifteen year old boy who revels in Beethoven as much as he loves his nightly episodes of violence and rape. Burgess experiments with language, writing in a Russian-influenced argot called “Nadsat” used by the younger characters and the anti-hero in his first-person narration. According to Burgess, the novel was a jeu d’esprit written in just three weeks. He bemoaned the fact that the book had been taken as the source material for a 1971 film that was perceived to glorify sex and violence.
The brutality and gang violence of A Clockwork Orange was inspired by a terrible incident during a blackout in London at the height of the Second World War, where Burgess’ pregnant wife Lynne (Llewela Jones), was assaulted, raped and robbed by a group of American soldiers. Subsequently she suffered a miscarriage and the couple lost their first child.
The book was written as a form of catharsis and a severe warning about a future where the state controls the way we think, and everyone is turned into good, little citizens . . . without the power of choice.
Fahrenheit 451 is a 1953 dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury. The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and firemen burn any house that contains them.
The novel has been the subject of various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship, but a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of factoids, partial information devoid of context.
François Truffaut wrote and directed a film adaptation of the novel in 1966. At least two BBC Radio 4 dramatisations have also been aired, both of which follow the book very closely.
The book’s title refers to the temperature that Bradbury understood to be the autoignition point of book paper.
Opening from J.G.Ballards 1977 short story, ‘The Intensive Care Unit’.
Within a few minutes the next attack will begin. Now that I am surrounded for the first time by all the members of my family it seems only fitting that a complete record should be made of this unique event. As I lie here – barely able to breathe, my mouth filled with blood and every tremor of my hands reflected in the attentive eye of the camera six feet away – I realize that there are many who will think my choice of subject a curious one. In all senses, this film will be the ultimate homemovie, and I only hope that whoever watches it will gain some idea of the immense affection I feel for my wife, and for my son and daughter, and of the affection that they, in their unique way, feel for me.
It is now half an hour since the explosion, and everything in this once elegant sitting room is silent. I am lying on the floor by the settee, looking at the camera mounted safely out of reach on the ceiling above my head. In this uneasy stillness, broken only by my wife’s faint breathing and the irregular movement of my son across the carpet, I can see that almost everything I have assembled so lovingly during the past years has been destroyed. My Svres lies in a thousand fragments in the fireplace, the Hokusai scrolls are punctured in a dozen places. Yet despite the extensive damage this is still recognizably the scene of a family reunion, though of a rather special kind.
The film is particularly well known for a single tracking shot that lasts for over 8 minutes. The shot follows a car slowly moving through a traffic jam. After eight minutes, the cause is discovered: a family has been in a car accident and their bodies lie across the road. It is a stark contrast to the beeping horns and frustrated drivers waiting to get by.
They eventually encounter a subterranean ocean, which they name the Saknussem Ocean, and make a raft from the stems of giant mushrooms to cross it. Somewhere in the middle of the ocean, they pass through the center of the earth and their raft begins circling in a mid-ocean whirlpool. The professor deduces that must be the center of the earth, because the magnetic forces from north and south meeting there are strong enough to snatch away even gold in the form of wedding rings and tooth fillings. They somehow manage to cross the ocean, and, completely exhausted, reach the shore on the other side.
Despite the dangers of their journey, no one has died, but that soon changes. Gertrude, the duck, loses her life to Saknussem, who can’t control his hunger and eats her. Soon after a mild earthquake occurs; Saknussem is buried under a shower of heavy stones, but right behind the collapse the rest of the group comes upon the sunken city of Atlantis. They are now faced with one ominous question: How will they return to the surface?
Solaris chronicles the ultimate futility of attempted communications with the extraterrestrial life on a far-distant planet. Solaris, with whom Terran scientists are attempting communication, is almost completely covered with an ocean that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing organism. What appear to be waves on its surface are later revealed to be the equivalents of muscle contractions.
Kris Kelvin arrives aboard the scientific research station hovering (via anti-gravity generators) near the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, a scientific discipline known as Solaristics, which over the years has degenerated to simply observe, record and categorize the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Thus far, they have only achieved the formal classification of the phenomena with an elaborate nomenclature — yet do not understand what such activities really mean in a strictly scientific sense. Shortly before psychologist Kelvin’s arrival, the crew has exposed the ocean to a more aggressive and unauthorized experimentation with a high-energy X-ray bombardment. Their experimentation gives unexpected results and becomes psychologically traumatic for them as individually flawed humans.
The ocean’s response to their aggression exposes the deeper, hidden aspects of the personalities of the human scientists — whilst revealing nothing of the ocean’s nature itself. To the extent that the ocean’s actions can be understood, the ocean then seems to test the minds of the scientists by confronting them with their most painful and repressed thoughts and memories. It does this via the materialization of physical human simulacra; Kelvin confronts memories of his dead lover and guilt about her suicide. The torments of the other researchers are only alluded to but seem even worse than Kelvin’s personal purgatory.
The ocean’s intelligence expresses physical phenomena in ways difficult for their limited earth science to explain, deeply upsetting the scientists. The alien (extraterrestrial) mind of Solaris is so greatly different from the human mind of (objective) consciousness that attempts at inter-species communications are a dismal failure.
Crash is a novel by English author J. G. Ballard, first published in 1973. It is a story about symphorophilia or car-crash sexual fetishism: its protagonists become sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car-crashes.
It was a highly controversial novel: famously one publisher’s reader returned the verdict “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!” The novel was made into a movie of the same name in 1996 by David Cronenberg. An earlier, apparently unauthorized adaptation called Nightmare Angel was filmed in 1986 by Susan Emerling and Zoe Beloff. This short film bears the credit “Inspired by J.G. Ballard.”
The story is told through the eyes of narrator James Ballard, named after the author himself, but it centers on the sinister figure of Dr. Robert Vaughan, a “former TV-scientist, turned nightmare angel of the expressways”. Ballard meets Vaughan after being involved in a car accident himself near London Airport. Gathering around Vaughan is a group of alienated people, all of them former crash-victims, who follow him in his pursuit to re-enact the crashes of celebrities, and experience what the narrator calls “a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology”. Vaughan’s ultimate fantasy is to die in a head-on collision with movie star Elizabeth Taylor.
At the opening of the book, the narrator, an everyman named John (a.k.a. Jonah), describes a time when he was planning to write a book about what important Americans did on the day Hiroshima was bombed. While researching this topic, John becomes involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker, a fictional Nobel laureate physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. John travels to Ilium, New York, to interview the Hoenikker children and others for his book. In Ilium John meets, among others, Dr. Asa Breed, who was the supervisor “on paper” of Felix Hoenikker. As the novel progresses, John learns of a substance called ice-nine, created by the late Hoenikker and now secretly in the possession of his children. Ice-nine is an alternative structure of water that is solid at room temperature. When a crystal of ice-nine contacts liquid water, it becomes a seed crystal that makes the molecules of liquid water arrange themselves into the solid form, ice-nine.
John and the Hoenikker children eventually end up on the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, one of the poorest countries on Earth, where the people speak a barely comprehensible creole of English (for example “twinkle, twinkle, little star” is rendered “Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul, lett-pool store”). It is ruled by the fictional dictator, “Papa” Monzano, who threatens all opposition with impalement on a giant hook.
San Lorenzo has an unusual culture and history, which John learns about while studying a guidebook lent to him by the newly-appointed US ambassador to the country. He learns about an influential religious movement in San Lorenzo, called Bokononism, a strange, postmodern faith that combines irreverent, nihilistic, and cynical observations about life and God’s will with odd, but peaceful rituals (for instance, the supreme act of worship is an intimate act consisting of prolonged physical contact between the bare soles of the feet of two persons, supposed to result in peace and joy between the two communicants). Though everyone on the island seems to know much about Bokononism and its founder, Bokonon, the present government calls itself Christian and those caught practising Bokononism are punished with death by the giant “hook.”
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that San Lorenzon society is more bizarre and cryptic than originally revealed. In observing the interconnected lives of some of the island’s most influential residents, John learns that Bokonon himself was at one point a de facto ruler of the island, along with a US Marine deserter. The two men created Bokononism as part of a utopian project to control the population. The ban was an attempt to give the religion a sense of forbidden glamour, and it is found that almost all of the residents of San Lorenzo, including the dictator, practice the faith, and executions are rare.
When John and the other travelers arrive on the island, they are greeted by President “Papa” Monzano and around five-thousand San Lorenzans. It becomes clear that “Papa” Monzano is extremely ill, and he intends to name Franklin Hoenikker his successor. Franklin, uncomfortable with this arrangement, abruptly hands the presidency to John, who grudgingly accepts.
The dictator later uses ice-nine to commit suicide rather than succumb to his inoperable cancer. Consistent with the properties of ice-nine, the dictator’s corpse instantly turns into solid ice at room temperature.
During John’s inauguration festivities, in which the American ambassador to San Lorenzo was going to speak, San Lorenzo’s small air force was supposed to present a brief air show. One of the airplanes crashes into the dictator’s seaside palace and causes his still-frozen body to tumble into the ocean, and all the water in the world’s seas, rivers, and groundwater turns into ice-nine, killing almost all life in a few days.
John manages to escape with his wife, a native San Lorenzan named Mona. They later discover a mass grave where all the surviving San Lorenzans had killed themselves with ice-nine, on the facetious advice of Bokonon. Displaying a mix of grief and resigned amusement, Mona kills herself as well. John takes refuge with a few other survivors (an American couple he had met on the plane to San Lorenzo and Felix Hoenikker’s two sons), and lives in a cave for several months, during which time he writes a memoir revealed to be the novel itself. The book ends by his meeting a weary Bokonon, who is contemplating what the last words of The Books of Bokonon should be. John receives inspiration from these words and the reader realizes he is planning to place his own book—a “history of human stupidity”—on Mt. McCabe (the highest point on the island) as a “magnificent symbol” and then die.
‘It is simply this. That Space, as our mathematicians have it, is spoken of as having three dimensions, which one may call Length, Breadth, and Thickness, and is always definable by reference to three planes, each at right angles to the others. But some philosophical people have been asking why three dimensions particularly – why not another direction at right angles to the other three? – and have even tried to construct a Four-Dimension geometry. Professor Simon Newcomb was expounding this to the New York Mathematical Society only a month or so ago. You know how on a flat surface, which has only two dimensions, we can represent a figure of a three-dimensional solid, and similarly they think that by models of thee dimensions they could represent one of four – if they could master the perspective of the thing. See?’
‘I think so,’ murmured the Provincial Mayor; and, knitting his brows, he lapsed into an introspective state, his lips moving as one who repeats mystic words. ‘Yes, I think I see it now,’ he said after some time, brightening in a quite transitory manner.
‘Well, I do not mind telling you I have been at work upon this geometry of Four Dimensions for some time. Some of my results are curious. For instance, here is a portrait of a man at eight years old, another at fifteen, another at seventeen, another at twenty-three, and so on. All these are evidently sections, as it were, Three-Dimensional representations of his Four-Dimensioned being, which is a fixed and unalterable thing.’
‘Scientific people,’ proceeded the Time Traveller, after the pause required for the proper assimilation of this, ‘know very well that Time is only a kind of Space. Here is a popular scientific diagram, a weather record. This line I trace with my finger shows the movement of the barometer. Yesterday it was so high, yesterday night it fell, then this morning it rose again, and so gently upward to here. Surely the mercury did not trace this line in any of the dimensions of Space generally recognized? But certainly it traced such a line, and that line, therefore, we must conclude was along the Time-Dimension.’
Anybody who uses the Internet should read E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. It is a chilling, short story masterpiece about the role of technology in our lives. Written in 1909, it’s as relevant today as the day it was published. Forster has several prescient notions including instant messages (email!) and cinematophoes (machines that project visual images).
“The Concentration City” is set in a “city” encompassing everything in known existence to its inhabitants. The districts comprises endless streets and buildings and seemingly infinitely high and low levels, or floors, with few trees and little wildlife. Cubic space is in shortage and expensive; high speed transportation is in use, but it is implied that many people do not find the need to leave their particular area. The people do not know what lies beyond the endless urban expansion, but seem to care little, and generally assume that there are just endless levels and districts that have existed forever.
The short story follows a physics student named Franz, who devotes his time to the concept of “free space” – the idea that somewhere, there must be just infinite amounts of space, a concept labelled as nonsensical by most of the other city’s inhabitants. He also wishes to develop a machine for flight – a relatively unknown theory due to the complete lack of partially open spaces.
Eventually, Franz decides to travel on one of the high-speed rail coaches for as long as possible in one direction in order to discover what lies beyond the urban zoning and trying to find free space. The story ends when Franz after ten days of travelling realises that the coach is travelling back in the opposite direction. When he is finally stopped by the authorities, he notices the date of a calendar is unchanged from when he set forth travelling. Franz discovers that if one keeps travelling forward, one finally ends back in the same place at the same time.