On The X-Files Revival...


By now you've heard the news: The X-Files are returning to Fox for a limited series. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter have signed up. Best of all, the City of Vancouver has been enlisted as the shooting venue for the episodes.

Longtime readers know how badly I wished the series never left Vancouver, with its moody atmospherics and deep pool of talent. The series lost something vital when it left Canada after Season Five, and that may have a lot to do with losing executive producer RW "Bob" Goodwin, the man on the floor who made the magic happen.

I was watching some episodes in Season Eight (read my epic post on the season here), specifically the episodes I had given the lowest ratings to. And it surprised me how well they've aged and how obvious the effort to recapture the magic of Vancouver was.

I was just telling my wife how I seemed to tune in with Season Seven at the time (aside from crapfests like 'First Person Shooter' and 'Fight Club'), how some of the mystical themes seemed to synch up with my life at the time. But I feel that it's aged quite badly, that all the comedy and high concept may have been novel at the time but now it just seems like they were squandering the show's hard-earned mystique. It's actually my least favorite season now.

Of course, disenchantment had happened the season before, a season I definitely did not appreciate at the time. But I didn't know then that the producers were struggling to keep their star engaged in those seasons, even after he unilaterally forced the entire operation to move to Los Angeles.

But aside from some of the really broad comedies ('Rain King', 'Aqua Mala', 'How the Ghosts Stole Christmas') and the paint-by-numbers eps ('The Beginning', 'Alpha') I think there's a lot of high-quality work in Season Six, even if the show seemed hellbent on running away from itself (it certainly seems to be the favorite of a lot of fans online).


As I've said, Season Eight is by far my favorite season of the LA years and the truest reflection of what the show might have been had there not been so much creative interference coming from outside the writers' room (hence the record nine Carter/Spotnitz Mythology episodes)

But it's the Vancouver era where the magic really lies (particularly seasons Two, Three and Five). Even the weaker episodes (and there are no shortage of those) retain a certain charm because the machine was so well-tuned, so efficient at telling compelling stories.

I'm of mixed feelings about this reboot, not because I don't have faith that the people involved can't still do excellent work, but because of my alienation from the world it is reincarnating into. No matter what goes on screen there will endless bitching on the Internet. I am going to do my best to tune the negativity out, as I've tried to do since, oh, Season Two (I'm still totally mystified by the bitching about the second XF movie, which to me was a classic 1994-vintage standalone, replete with a host of familiar 1013 faces).

But part of me wants it to remain an indelible part of another age, a better age. An age when everything didn't seem so totally fucked-up. It's the same impulse you get when an old band reunites. Part of you wants them to remain as a totem of another time, not this time. As much as I want to see some new material, I don't know if I want The X-Files to be a part of 2015.

Or I only want to see The X-Files if it exists to defy 2015, with its superficiality, narcissism and Balkanization. Certainly the show is more relevant than ever but it will also be reaching an audience to whom "conspiracy" is a four-letter word, thanks to incessant media conditioning. I've already seen Millennials bitching about The X-Files' distrust of government and corporate power. Sigh.

But maybe The X-Files will strike a nerve once more and make it cool again to question authority. Stranger things have happened.

UPDATE: Excellent interview with Chris Carter where he takes some of his critics head on.


A Novel Approach


I remember hearing a story on NPR once about how the survival of a language depended on literature, that if a certain tongue didn't produce a substantial corpus of literature it would eventually die out.

I think ideas are like that. You hear the phrase "predictive programming" thrown around a lot in conspiracy media-- usually in an incorrect context-- but it's most certainly true that Hollywood and other forms of entertainment media have shaped our culture in ways other institutions no longer can.

The entire extraterrestrial hypothesis owes everything to Hollywood. When flying saucers first appeared the general assumption was that they came from behind the Iron Curtain, or in some esoteric circles, were the war-weapons of a Nazi regime in exile. It was a barrage of flying saucer movies that cemented the association with Martians or Venusians or Reticulans in the public mind, when Crypto- or Ultraterrestrials would make just as much sense. Especially given the fact that what people were seeing looked like hovercraft, not like anything that could escape Earth's gravity.

The personal computer and hacker revolutions were most certainly accelerated by Cyberpunk, first the novels and short stories then the parade of terrible movies and TV shows. No one believes today that computers or the Internet will set anyone free, but there was that expectation back in the late 80s and 90s, which definitely fed the dotcom boom.

Religions are fed by art, literature certainly. Where would Christianity be without the soaring rhetoric of the Apostle Paul? The spread of Islam in the Middle Ages was done with both the sword and the word; the great poets of the Muslim world were often as powerful argument for their faith as their slavers and swordsmen.

And though we may not recognize it, we are in the middle of a Gnostic Renaissance, a time when more people are familiar with the belief system than any time in history. Can you imagine it without the novels of Philip K. Dick or movies like Dark City and The Matrix?

Is this new Gnosticism condemned to recede back into the tides of history, the same way the Syrian and Alexandrian sects did, the same way the Cathars and the Bogomils did? That all depends. Certainly it's difficult to imagine the kind of ecclesiastical backlash that destroyed the previous expressions of the Gnosis, given that the Church has its own crisis to deal with. There are plenty of other antagonists with annihilationist agendas-- the Islamic Wahhabis, the totalitarian "social justice" thought-controllers, the NĂ¼ Atheists, the Paleoconservatives-- but they seem focused on destroying each other (not to mention civilization, the humanities and culture in general) to worry about small potatoes like Neo-Gnostics.

If The Secret Sun is anything it could be called "Neo-Gnostic." I've detailed Gnostic themes (and AstroGnostic themes, especially) in several films and TV shows, but I have to say that job has gotten harder in the past 5 years. We're in a strange fugue state in the culture and in society and our art reflects that. Paleocons have been bashing Gnosticism lately because Gnosticism is a tabula rasa to them, a scare word that they can project everything they don't like about our post-postmodern, cosmopolitan, nihilistic culture onto.

Their definition of Gnosticism is amorphous and comes from Traditionalist Catholic and Evangelical apologetics, sources not known for their scholarly dispassion. But I think Gnostic ideas express themselves best in art and entertainment, which is why I've spent the past 8 years talking about them.

But as I said, I feel like I'm running out of interesting source material so I decided that it was time to start creating some of my own.

This is a sort of homecoming for me, since my earliest writing was fiction. I wrote fiction all throughout high school and later did a few comics projects. Those led to my spending a few years shopping scripts for movies around. I have to say that even though I didn't sell anything I had a comparatively cushy ride. I got a lot of interest from major independent producers before I'd written my first screenplay, based solely on my graphic novel.

I wasn't cut out for it, though. Even though I met some very nice people (I got a lot of help from Kevin Smith's* people at View Askew, for instance), I knew I was getting myself into a situation that I wasn't suited for, nor was it suited for me.

But I can't help but wonder if maybe I just was too impatient, that maybe I should have had a stronger stomach for it, given the fact that a treatment I wrote in the late 90s magically transformed itself into the 2011 Saoirse Ronan vehicle Hanna, by some bizarre quantum fluke in the space-time continuum.

A lot of people have asked me over the past 5 years when I was going to do a new book. To be honest I was so unhappy with the entire experience of the rock 'n' roll book I wasn't sure when I was going to write another. Sadly, my publishing career (with one major exception) has been marked by major issues with creative control over the work.

Page/word counts have been my nemesis since my very first project, and at this point in my career it's not something I am willing to compromise on anymore. It's like writing with handcuffs on. It's why I've published so much on this blog, several books work of material if you add it up. No restrictions.

The book market has changed drastically in the past five years. Self-publishing has gone from being a joke to being the gold standard for independent-minded authors. The only satisfying experience I've had so far in publishing was my book on The Clash, which was essentially self-published. I did everything on that book, from concept to layout to production, and handed the printer a PDF file. It was wonderful. It's an experience I intend to repeat.

So what this all adds up to is that I am up to my neck in a new book, a fictional work this time, a novel. I've got the entire story plotted and boarded out (literally- I've taken a page from The Matrix and have drawn storyboards for many of the events- it's an incredible tool for working out thorny storytelling problems). I've got about 90% of the dialogue roughed out. The other 10% then leads to the polishing and rewriting, a process that usually takes twice as long as the original writing itself.

What's it about? Probably what you might expect. I'm a big believer in the concept of "dance with the one what brung ya." I've spent the last 8 years blogging about the topics that most interest me so you can expect to see a lot of them in the book.

But there are a lot of surprises as well. I've been surprised by the process, amazed as characters reveal themselves to me in ways I'd never expect for and events arise that I could never plan for. Writing is truly a magical art when it becomes an act of discovery, when the characters take control of the process and tell you their stories.


So what brought this all on? Appropriately enough, a VALIS reread. Somehow it hit me at the right time, the idea that Dick chose to tell this magical story, that was only barely fictionalized and so ripe with power. Life-changing, world-changing power. How what some might see as the drug-fueled delusions of a handful of weirdos in Southern California in the early 70s was alchemically transformed through fiction into something possessing an indescribable power. You can't help but be struck by the audacity of it.

My story is entirely fictional, there's nothing of a kind like VALIS in it. But I'm trying to draw on that same energy to communicate ideas, to realize them, to transubstantiate them from fringe notions to experiences.

Since I'm doing this on my own, I don't have a deadline. It will be published when I feel that it's 1000% killer, that it's a world-beating, stone-cold classic (in my own humble opinion, of course). But I may serialize at least part of the story here. That seems like a logical progression, especially given the subject matter I'll be exploring. And it certainly fits The Secret Sun ethic as well.

Watch this space...

*Clyde Lewis told me Kevin Smith is a Secret Sun fan when I was on Ground Zero, a fact I'd long suspected.

"Just Around the Corner"




Everyone is a skeptic and a believer, when you get right down to it. Everyone has their own set of beliefs and their own set of hopes and dreams. Everyone has had disappointments and experiences that teach them to be wary and untrusting. 

Oftentimes, you can scratch a skeptic and find a closet believer, and vice versa. Sometimes the difference between a skeptic and a believer is just a few drinks.

I once was a believer in Progress, the inevitable linear march towards the future. Now I am--maybe not a skeptic so much as a (very) cautious believer. Or maybe just a wishful thinker. I see Progress not as a straight line but a scribbly one. Things get better for some people and get worse for others. 

In my lifetime Syria, Iraq and Ukraine were modern, industrialized countries with educated populations. Now they are disaster areas. But by the same token the opposite can be said of many other countries who were mired in war and poverty 30 years ago but now are forces to be reckoned with. 

Like I said, it's not a straight line.

Industrial Progress was once America's surrogate religion. Gordon recently wrote about the late Edward Condon, a hero to debunkers but a man who had the professional ethics of a schoolyard meth dealer. 

Condon's religion- the religion of the "March of Progress"- was so existentially threatened by UFOs that he rigged the report, fired whistleblowers when his deception was revealed and then burned all his notes so no one could review his work. Had this been any other topic, Condon may well have been put up on charges (Uncle Sam was footing the bill). He certainly would have been disgraced by his peers; but his peers shared his religious beliefs so he was rewarded for his acts.

THE UNFOLDMENT

The Western world once believed in Progress towards heavenly salvation. The entire world was revealing itself and unfolding in such a way as to glorify Jehovah and lead to a paradise on Earth. With the Age of Discovery and the Industrial Revolution, these same exact expectations were merely transposed onto Science.

We have more sophisticated technology than ever before, but it hasn't led to Paradise, and most certainly not the stars. Silicon Valley isn't the engine of  Utopia, it's the engine of the new Feudalism that dominates California, which went from being a middle class paradise to being one of the poorest and most economically stratified states in the country, a place of grotesque inequality and near absolute-zero social mobility.

FUTURAMA

I'm old enough to have heard how the next world-changing technology is "just around the corner" but all we really seem to get are faster and smaller versions of things we already had. I remember seeing articles claiming that bionic limbs were "just around the corner" when The Six Million Dollar Man was popular. Virtual Reality was "just around the corner" 20 years, it's still "just around the corner" today. Hovercraft as personal transportation was "just around the corner" around the same time. 

When's the last time you saw a hovercraft?

Transhumanism was all the rage a few years back, but now it's somehow landed on the attack list for online skeptics. Desperate Singularitarian and Transhumanist true believers increasingly look electronics companies who went all in on the Betamax format. We were hearing how uploading our minds into robot bodies was the way to achieve immortality, but now Silicon Valley is going all in on medical (read: pharmaceutical) solutions for longevity.

Androids are supposed to be "just around the corner" but I feel like I've been seeing the same creepy Japanese fembot press conference on a tape loop since the Reagan Era. Sure, computers can beat grand masters at chess, but can they build a birdhouse and take out the trash as well? Artificial Intelligence is supposed to be "just around the corner," but I've seen a lot of serious skepticism about that as well.

Of course, there's also the "Disclosure Movement", which forever keeps the illusion alive that the government is going to reverse 70 years of policy and admit that not only do UFOs actually exist, but that they are extraterrestrial spacecraft. That's always "just around the corner" too. The Edward Condons of the world may feel threatened by the possibility of someone possessing greater technology than themselves but the government does so for an entirely different reason, believe me.

But for guys my age, space is the biggest disappointment. Star Trek electrified a generation of kids who didn't have a lot else to look forward to, and then of course there was Star Wars. But it seems like they're both in a galaxy far, far away these days.

The two success stories of the space program, the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter and the Mars Opportunity Rover, are being unceremoniously defunded by the Obama Administration, who seem content to keep NASA alive as a mouthpiece for "global warming" propaganda (the New England area just received the most snow in recorded history, a headline we seem to be seeing a lot lately).  There's another probe being talked up for Mars but not much else. 

I can't help but wonder if all this Flat Earth and ISS hoax material out there is in some way a reaction to the broken promises of the space program and of the better-living-through-technology paradigm altogether. 

I have to say these videos are entertaining, and there are a lot of curious anomalies in the ISS footage, but the question you have to ask is why bother? Who really cared about the Shuttle, never mind the ISS? The Apollo hoaxes have a compelling motive; keeping a country together during a period of extreme crisis by creating a massive "feel-good" diversion. An ISS hoax? Who cares?

People my age grew up expecting there to be bases on Mars by now and certainly some kind of colony on the Moon. But what if the skeptics are right? What if outer space is an impassable hell of lethal radiation? (Radiation could certainly explain why we aren't picking up any coherent radio signals- they're being garbled as they travel through giant waves of radiation trillions of miles wide.) 



I'm not saying I necessarily agree, but certainly there are a lot of huge gaps in the orthodox position on space exploration.

Joe Rogan said, quite cannily I thought, that when the Apollo missions were done that no one could have foreseen the age of home video recording, to which I'd add they didn't foresee the age of image analysis being available to anyone with a decent computer either.

When challenged about whistleblowers, Rogan brought up Gus Grissom. He could have brought up several other astronauts and NASA employees who died violent deaths during that same time period. He could have also brought up the fact that there were whistleblowers, like Bill Kaysing.

It's not something I want to believe. want to believe in the March of Progress. The alternatives aren't very appealing.  I'd say most of the serious Apollo skeptics started out as serious space nerds. I'd also bet there are a lot of quote-unquote believers who are in fact skeptics, but are afraid to speak up. 

Technology has very often solved many of the existential problems of the human condition (see irrigation, agriculture, medicine, air flight, etc). But technology also has a tendency to empower the worst of us to do harm to the best of us. 

It's why as I wrote before we may see ever stranger expressions of dissent from the dominant consensus, which preaches Progress and the salvational force of Technology. What form they take and where they go will be something to watch, you can bet on that.  Social revolutions often spring from the most unlikely sources.