Friday, September 18, 2009

sleep dealer

Aili and I watched an interesting foreign sci-fi flick the other night:  Sleep Dealer.  Certainly
worth renting, especially if you have an interest in Mexican-US sociopolitics.  The best science fiction is speculative but realistic and tends to confront people's anxieties about the near future.  It can also approach difficult philosophical problems with a unique eye, given the enormous latitude it has in narrative.  Philip K. Dick, for instance, was particularly good at tackling tough issues, like the nature of human consciousness and "soul" (see "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and Blade Runner).

Sleep Dealer is very much an expression of Mexican anxiety about the current and future state of migrants.  It takes place in a near future where the wall between Mexico and the US is fully established, rivers have been dammed and water reserves controlled by militaristic corporations, and migrant workers no longer actually physically enter into our country.  Instead, the desperately poor have "nodes" surgically inserted into the bodies, serving as an interface between computers/virtual reality and the human nervous system.  These people often end up working in factories where workers "plug into" jobs located across the border, and find themselves remotely controlling machinery.

For example, the protagonist, Memo, finds himself "inhabiting" a small robot that is helping build a giant skyscraper in Los Angeles.  Workers endure long shifts, often falling asleep while still interfaced, and periodically suffer dangerous surges of electrical feedback that can leave them blind or dead.  So even though the "migrant" is no longer required to travel into the US to work, their condition in life has not improved.  Memo lives at the edge of Tijuana, in a desolate shanty-town inhabited by old, blind men, former victims of the sleep factories.

Memo's story is an interesting one - full of more depth and emotion than you'd expect from a science fiction film with TV-quality CGI.   And both Aili and I found it refreshing that while the movie is infused with anxiety and threat, there is no explicit "villain."  There is a Mexican-American military pilot, Rudy, whose narrative purpose is left vague for much of the movie, who but plays a central role in the metaphorically uplifting ending. 

Provocative and recommended.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Another fun, free interweb game worth playing on a lazy Saturday afternoon...
PuzzleBloom is a relatively simple and straightforward browser-based puzzle game, where you control a green nature-fairy-imp-thing (I think) who wants to transform an industrial wasteland into a giant tree.  Yeah, that's right. 

You do so by taking control of depressed looking drones, slaving under miniature robotic overlords.  The puzzles are quick and easy, involving obstacles, floor plates, and lasers.

Good times.  I think you need to install "Utility" to play it, but don't be afraid, it's just like Flash and not harmful at all.  I wish more games had such goals of environmental transformation and beautification.
PuzzleBloom has received comparisons to Okami, a typically odd Japanese adventure game whereby you play a spirit-wolf who leaves flowers in his wake (or something).  Don't have experience with it, but the advantage of PuzzleBloom is that it's free, quick, and easy to play.  Give it some time to load - it's all about patience and zen, man...