1498 – QUEST (1984)

vintage original Quest poster

Directors and Producers: Elaine Bass and Saul Bass

Based on a story by Ray Bradbury

Quest is without a doubt one of the most remarkable Sci-fi movies ever made, in a league of its own. No matter that it is just a mere 30 minutes, concept, length, aesthetics they all agree with each other. I think it is only available via a new re-release of the PHASE IV (1973) DVD (another wonderfully weird and rare movie), otherwise only a low rez copy available on YT and even this does not lower its impact and for whom I am deeply grateful. You feel like going back to see it again and again. Interestingly it also credits as co-producer Mokichi Okada Association, linked to an organic farming pioneer from Japan, founder of a Japanese new religion the Church of Messianity (1935) based on healing rituals and channeling ‘divine light’. There is no direct explicit link in the movie other than that, but I can see why Mr Okada or his followers would support such a Sci-fi or even commission it

Quest 1984

Definitely for Jodorowsky and Frank Herbert fans, here comes a Sci-fi with a spiritual dimension, without getting suffocated in mythological cycles or direct references of any sort. It is completely relevant, maybe even universally so, without the weight of tradition or cultural attribution. It invents a world, a universe with its own species, rituals, metaphysics and even temporality. Probably the only visible dated aspect and an important lack in this quest is the absence of feminine characters, apart from the early extended family, its only hero being the traditional gendered masculine Ghilgamesh/Enkidu type.

Quest 1984

The world-building is all of its own and there is no need of much add-ons, explanations, background story apart from the strictly necessary. You could even watch it without any text or voice-over and it would still make some sense beyond words. It accomplished what many space opera sagas such as SW have tried but never quite managed in so many episodes, to be symbolically original and inventive in a way that introduces you to a larger universe, relevant across generations and worlds. You can call it gnostic, you can call it spiritualist, occult or a piece that would easily take its place within the Hermeticist tradition, but I would abstain from that. Apart from its depiction of an initiatic parkour, it mixes stylistically modernist elements with ancient lost civilization type of gigantic temples and ruins. It also puts in perspective work by such visually innovative Scifi directors such as Alex Garland (see his recent quantum computing inspired series DEVS) or Denis Villeneuve. This 1984 Scifi Quest speaks to us today as humanity or even extra plantary humanity, especially in this difficult moment when questions of life, youth, old age seems to have heightened importance. The Coronavirus pandemic is also pointing in this direction somehow, or maybe it is just that a lot of things around us resonate with it. It is not just visually stunning but also emotionally moving and satisfying in a strange and almost trance- like way.

Quest 1984

Many have attributed an MC Escher dimension or have seen works by René Magritte reflected in it, to which I would add Piranesi’s Carceri. My thesis is that the scope could be much larger. Behind this atemporal feel, we can speculate more about the historical moment it got made. This mathematic-geometric phase space, unfolding in infinite directions in front of a POW coincides with a foundational moment in computer graphics or even VR (mostly speculatively via cyberpunk), a time when such means were low-rez and most gaming consoles fairly primitive. Yet then again, compared with Tron (1982), this is clearly not a moviemovie about the VR, cyberspace or the ultimate realism of a universe played and working according to gaming rules.

This film, at that point in time was not yet ‘post-cinematic’ (Steven Shaviro), and yet keeps announcing via cinematic means of expression thosevvery dreams of future Indie game creators. In a sense, Quest by Elaine and Saul Bass comes close to comics authors such as Marc-Antoine Mathieu Sense or The Princess of the Never-ending Castle by Shintaro Kago out on Hollow-Press (thx! Bogdan Otaku for introducing it), exploring infinite worlds and the meanders of a vast labyrinthine structures with fractal characteristics. It’s the unice itself who solicits exploration, who somehow like William James said keeps the journey going & mind searching for deeper truths. This absence of an all encompassing Internet feels almost liberating, showing how reality itself can stimulate the and simulate itself, offering maybe so much more than a holographic principle. If the Internet is superfluous as an outside reference, then Elaine & Saul Bass give us a different outlook, an entirely self-contained and infinitely branching world that expands almost in lockstep with the wanderer till the end into something that feels very much like our own challenges and trials.

In the Scifi realm, it is akin The Silver Globe by Jerzy Zulawski, another world of modified descendants, survivors from a shipwrecked spaceship, populating another planet, developing their own civilizations, technologies and rituals, far away form Earth. It could also well be a Dying Earth story like the William Hope Hodgeson’s mysterious 1912 Night Land arcologic pyramid. Anyway, within this inner subterranean realm, a world of darkness longing for spiritual and rejuvenating light, a lifetime is measured just by 8 days. They grow, mature, learn and die during one week, a bit more than Ephemeridae insects. The only hope is to travel, get out and survive and live life as a journey, transiting along a series of increasingly difficult tasks that would allow final salvation and final release from the speeded-up, shortened version of life the subterranean ancestors are destined to live. There also some messianic prophecies that somehow foretell the arrival of a youth that has all the proper signs and could break this spell and push further on than anybody else before him. There is an entire series of games, involving different material shapes and what seems like a hologram – cognitive geometric pieces and reflexes to train the young, all parts of a larger puzzle. One never knows why or when they will come in handy. Precious days pass, as the hero climbs across unearthly scenery, crossing gigantic, mostly empty structures, seemingly built in the deep past by inhuman builders, almost seeming to stretch across planetary systems, or across some fathomless abyss.

1491 – Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin (2018)

a documentary by Arwen Curry

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin is a feature documentary exploring the remarkable life and legacy of the late feminist author Ursula K. Le Guin. Best known for groundbreaking science fiction and fantasy works such as A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed, Le Guin defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work, at long last, forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Her fascinating story has never before been captured on film.

Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin is a journey through the writer’s career and her worlds, both real and fantastic. Viewers will join the writer on an intimate journey of self-discovery as she comes into her own as a major feminist author, opening new doors for the imagination and inspiring generations of women and other marginalized writers along the way. The film features stunning animation and reflections by literary luminaries including Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, and more.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, California Humanities, the Berkeley Film Foundation etc (description taken from the original website of the documentary)

The documentary is truly one of the best I have seen dedicated to an author, the more to such an incredible and inspiring one such as Ursula K LeGuin. Take some time to explore her website https://www.ursulakleguin.com/

One of the best documentaries about Sci-Fi indeed and one to carefully and attentively thread along and listen to one of its most cherished authors. It wanders elegantly from personal life, the landscapes that shaped her novels, the childhood memories, her rise and response in Sci-fi fandom and canon, her relation, acknowledgment and understanding of the first nation people genocide in the Americas and in particular her knowledge of indigenous peoples of California.

It also combines some really great animation work that blends in very well with her world building. There are in fact very few movies based on her actual work.

To her previous mentioned works I would like to add The Lathe of Heaven about dreaming and the universe (also a movie) and the wonderful short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Also mentioned in the documentary is her 1985 experimental work Always Returning Home written and situated in the Napa Valley, a speculative anthropology works and tapes made by a future ethnographer and anthropologist Pandora with the rituals, the musical instruments, chants and language of a post-apocalyptic people named the Kesh, a sort of anarcho-primitivist tribe that combines elements of hunterer-gatherers, agricultural and industrial civilization while rejecting city building.

1471 – Radical Botany: Plants and Speculative Fiction by Natania Meeker and Antónia Szabari (book, 2019)

Radical Botany

Radical Botany is an extraordinary contribution to the burgeoning fields of plant studies and the nonhuman turn. The book succeeds beautifully in discovering and entwining an entire tradition of speculative botany that will reshape plant studies and posthumanist theory. I have no doubt this text will be eagerly devoured by readers.– Stacy Alaimo, author of Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times

 

DESCRIPTION

Radical Botany excavates a tradition in which plants participate in the effort to imagine new worlds and envision new futures. Modernity, the book claims, is defined by the idea of all life as vegetal. Meeker and Szabari argue that the recognition of plants’ liveliness and animation, as a result of scientific discoveries from the seventeenth century to today, has mobilized speculative creation in fiction, cinema, and art.

Plants complement and challenge notions of human life. Radical Botany traces the implications of the speculative mobilization of plants for feminism, queer studies, and posthumanist thought. If, as Michael Foucault has argued, the notion of the human was born at a particular historical moment and is now nearing its end, Radical Botany reveals that this origin and endpoint are deeply informed by vegetality as a form of pre- and posthuman subjectivity.

The trajectory of speculative fiction which this book traces offers insights into the human relationship to animate matter and the technological mediations through which we enter into contact with the material world. Plants profoundly shape human experience, from early modern absolutist societies to late capitalism’s manipulations of life and the onset of climate change and attendant mass extinction.

A major intervention in critical plant studies, Radical Botany reveals the centuries-long history by which science and the arts have combined to posit plants as the model for all animate life and thereby envision a different future for the cosmos.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface | vii

1. Radical Botany: An Introduction | 1

2. Libertine Botany and Vegetal Modernity | 28

3. Plant Societies and Enlightened Vegetality | 56

4. The Inorganic Plant in the Romantic Garden | 86

5. The End of the World by Other Means | 114

6. Plant Horror: Love Your Own Pod | 144

7. Becoming Plant Nonetheless | 171

Acknowledgments | 203

Notes | 205