Zoetropolis' "Philosophy|Drink|Film” series combines thought-provoking films, spirited conversation, and expertly crafted cocktails. Each film in the series will be introduced by York College Professor of Philosophy Dennis Weiss and combined with a specialty cocktail mixed by Zoetropolis’ bartender and suggested by the film’s themes. Be sure to stick around after each screening to reflect on the film, sharing your insights and engaging in discussion with your fellow patrons. Join us monthly, (every third Wednesday) at 6:30 p.m. for a lively combination of cinema, cocktails, and conversation.
It's Time to Scream a Little!
Paranoia and conspiracy. Global superpower conflict. Corporations who abuse their workers and subject them to horrific working conditions. Autonomous machines that seem to be getting the better of their human "masters." The disappearing boundary between human and machine. Who couldn't use a good scream today! But we're not talking about 2021. It's more like 2078 and the dark dystopic world created by mixing Philip K. Dick, Robocop's Peter Weller, sci-fi screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, and Christian Duguay. This is the world of Screamers--an under-appreciated film inspired by Dick's short story "Second Variety" that was critically panned but has picked up a cult following in the years since its debut in 1995, described thusly on the Unappreciated Blog:
Pound-for-pound, 1995’s Screamers (adapted from Philip K. Dick’s Second Variety ) is one of the fiercest films of the nineties and remains the most unseen and, arguably, the most unappreciated film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick (PKD hereafter) story to date.
Screamers continues some of the intriguing and still-relevant themes raised in Total Recall and brings to the fore a theme we'll see masterfully explored in Blade Runner: the distinction between human and machine, a theme that fascinated Dick and which he returned to regularly [more on that below].
So if you're looking for a good scream, join us in the theatre on Wednesday, July 21, at 6:30PM, for the next edition of the "We Love Dick" summer film fest.
Cmdr. Joe Hendricksson (Peter Weller) and new recruit Ace Jefferson (Andy Lauer) set out across the surface of Sirius 6B, where they hope to settle a violent labor dispute at a remote mining outpost. After going too far to turn back, they find the desert riddled with deadly Autonomous Mobile Swords, or "Screamers." Created to protect the mines, these burrowing weapons have learned to replicate themselves. To make matters worse, recent generations of Screamers can assume humanoid form.
"The claws were bad enough in the first place—nasty, crawling little death-robots. But when they began to imitate their creators, it was time for the human race to make peace—if it could!"
Thus begins "Second Variety," the short story that inspired Screamers. Dick was a masterful short story writer and his more than 120 stories now span five volumes and have been the basis for such films as Screamers, Impostor, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, and the Amazon Series Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams. According to Wikipedia, Strange Horizons called "Second Variety" one of "Dick's most compelling works", and stated that it is "often singled out as one of the early stories that most anticipates Dick's preoccupations in his more famous novels". As Thomas Disch notes in his introduction to the fifth volume of collected stories of Dick, "John Brunner called him "the most consistently brilliant science fiction writer in the world." Norman Spinrad trumps this with "the greatest American novelist of the second half of the twentieth century." Ursula LeGuin anoints him as America's Borges, which Harlan Ellison tops by hailing him as SF's "Pirandello, its Beckett and its Pinter."
If you're interested in reading the short story that inspired Screamers, you can find it at Project Gutenberg HERE.
That's Hiroshi Ishiguro – director of Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, which, as they note on their website:
...were founded to encourage and promote studies based on original and unique ideas from Hiroshi Ishiguro, ATR Fellow, who has remarkable achievements on robotics. We have explored new information media based on humanlike robots that harmonize humans with information-environment beyond existing personal computers, while inquired "what is the essence of human beings?"
Questions about androids, humans, and the essence of the human being were taken up in 1972 by Dick in a speech given by him at the Vancouver SF Convention at the University of British Columbia, in March of 1972. As noted by Ken Lopez, "the speech was later published in SF Commentary in December, 1972 and then reprinted in Vector in March-April 1973. In a letter that accompanied its publication in SF Commentary, Dick wrote that "this speech [tried]... to sum up an entire lifetime of developing thought." He concluded that it contained, "I hope, the seed for my novels to come." The speech touches on what Dick himself identifies as ‘‘my grand theme—who is human and who only appears (masquerades) as human?’’
You can read "The Android and the Human" HERE.
For a further take on Ishiguro's work on androids relevant to both Screamers and next month's feature Blade Runner, you might be interested in checking out Wired Magazine's "Love in the Time of Robots."
Not too many sci-fi writers have an android built and inspired in their image. But of course Philip K. Dick is no ordinary sci-fi writer. As reported by Hanson Robotics:
Activated in 2005, Hanson Robotics debuted Philip K. Dick (aka Philip K. Dick Android) at Wired Nextfest. Designed by David Hanson as a robotic paean to the sci-fi writer of the same name, it was initially created using thousands of pages of the author’s journals, letters and published writings.
The android earned the Hanson Robotics team a coveted AAAI award in 2005.
The original Philip K. Dick android was lost on a flight from Dallas to San Francisco in late 2005. However, in 2011 Hanson Robotics, together with Dutch broadcasting firm VPRO, developed a new version. It includes state of the art computer vision technology and employs 36 servomotors to power a complex and wide range of facial expressions. These days, PKD serves researchers at the Apollo Mind Initiative.
If you're interested in reading a bit more about Philip K. Dick, there are several good journalistic essays available online on the man, his work, and his influence. You might check out:
THE MOST BRILLIANT SCI-FI MIND ON ANY PLANET: PHILIP K. DICK [Profile of Philip K. Dick by Paul Williams published in the November 6, 1975 edition of Rolling Stone magazine]
Philip K. Dick Goes Legit--How Jonathan Lethem wrestled the most outré science-fiction writer of the 20th century into the canon of American literature.
How does one fashion a book of resistance, a book of truth in an empire of falsehood, or a book of rectitude in an empire of vicious lies? How does one do this right in front of the enemy?
Not through the old-fashioned ways of writing while you're in the bathroom, but how does one do that in a truly future technological state? Is it possible for freedom and independence to arise in new ways under new conditions? That is, will new tyrannies abolish these protests? Or will there be new responses by the spirit that we can't anticipate? -- Philip K. Dick in an interview, 1974.