Author Archives: Jason V Brock

Magical Thinking, Part 1

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The following is excerpted and adapted from the introduction to A Darke Phantastique: Encounters with the Uncanny and Other Magical Things, edited by Jason V Brock for Cycatrix Press. Jason’s full introduction is titled “An Abiding Darkness, A Phantastique Light.” The book also features a foreword by Ray Bradbury in the form of a previously unpublished 1951 essay titled “The Beginnings of Imagination.”

Why do we, as a species, create things? What is it to “create”? What is the purpose of such activity?

These are fascinating questions, and likely no one has a complete answer to them. However, from my vantage point, in its most essential form, creativity is making the divine out of the mundane. It is taking the fundamental life force of the human spirit and resolving that unfocused energy into something akin to the spiritual. (Sexuality is another example of this process, and is tied to creativity.)

Shamans were often catalysts of this in pre-religious contexts. In more organized societies, religion has attempted to channel energy of this nature with decidedly mixed results, often heaping upon the creative impulse the added burdens of castigation and humiliation, lest the individual attempt to take their (rightful) place amongst the gods. Just as one need not believe in a godhead to live a moral and righteous life, one can be a creative without the insufferable tyranny of an organized gathering of impotents taking umbrage at every word written, every stroke painted, every dish prepared, every frame captured. We are the authors of our lives and the masters of the final outcome, not the politicians or religious leaders of the moment.

Who are these individuals to dictate to us? How are they more able to advise us than any other person in the world, including ourselves? Certainly none of us needs a pope, a president, a lama, or a god to assist us in navigating any moral conviction; it is an innate function of socialization and reasoning. We have imbued such people with this ability; they are not actually illuming our existence. To understand this takes courage, passion, skill, talent, and inspiration. Otherwise we are all doomed, in the words of Thoreau, to lead “lives of quiet desperation.” And then the grave, followed by the unknown. Why not take one’s life and steer it, rather than listen to the protestations of less valiant persons hiding from the possible?

Other questions of interest to humanity — and to creators, especially in our science-driven, technologically dependent age — present themselves upon analysis: What is the fundamental nature of reality? Why are we alive? Are we alone in the universe? When does consciousness become non-artificial? If a humanoid (or non-human animal for that matter) has enough experience and wisdom to have insight, that means the threshold of insight has been crossed, which means the “artificial” aspects of Artificial Intelligence (simply programming data points or relying on input/output mechanisms) will have been breached. It isn’t artificial at that point. It just “is.”

“What is the fundamental nature of reality? Why are we alive? Are we alone in the universe? When does consciousness become non-artificial?”

Using that as an illustration, we realize that we are at an intriguing juncture as a world-changing species. When the first non-living organism begins to manifest actual sentience (as opposed to simple self-awareness), true emotions (not just programmed reactions), and is able, for example, to produce a profound work of art — a masterpiece of literature, painting, music, cinema, or the equivalent — then there will be no fundamental difference between “AI” and just plain garden-variety “I.” Once that happens, we will really have to examine the ethics of how we treat things that are neither born nor cultivated, but built for a purpose — something humanity struggles with now as it is related to non-human creatures and even to other humans based on sexuality, gender, and race, all of which are natural manifestations of DNA expression on Earth.

And indeed, what purpose is there to creating such a being? If we limit their life course to what “we decide” versus their own free will, isn’t that slavery? What if they are psychopathic and intentionally shut off the electrical grid to a hospital, for example, or commit an act of terrorism? Would that be a crime? I think it means we would need to reconsider many aspects of jurisprudence and mental health, for a start. Additionally, it is said that one learns more from failure than success, so does that mean that for higher levels of consciousness to be attained, AI must first have input from extremely negative learning experiences in order to garner enough data for such things as insight or empathy to manifest? Where does that lead? Uploading all the misery of the Holocaust? The horror of a cancer diagnosis? Deprivation due to the inability to see, hear, or speak, like Helen Keller?

And who are we to decide that these beings are mortals? (They could, technically, be immortals with the current technologies.) Are these prerequisites for such phenomena as the creation of emotionally moving artworks or philosophy, including knowledge of one’s own eventual death? Is immortality a good thing for humanity, either organic or manufactured?

I will address these concerns in Part 2, to be published soon.

Fearless Artist: Remembering Giger

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of you are probably (surely) aware that H. R. Giger died last week. The obituary in The New York Times — which is just one entry in the outpouring of recognitions and appreciations that have flooded the media — opens with a concise and excellent summation of Giger’s master themes and cultural significance:

A thread running through Mr. Giger’s work was the uneasy meshing of machines and biology, in a highly idiosyncratic blend of science fiction and surrealism. From books to movies to record albums to magazine illustrations to a back-scratcher inspired by ‘Alien,’ his designs challenged norms. He kept a notepad next to his bed so he could sketch the terrors that rocked his uneasy sleep — nightmarish forms that could as easily have lumbered from prehistory as arrived from Mars.

The same piece also contains a worthy quote from none other than Timothy Leary, who knew the man personally: “Giger’s work disturbs us, spooks us, because of its enormous evolutionary time span. It shows us, all too clearly, where we come from and where we are going.”

Someone else who knew the man personally is Teeming Brain columnist Jason V. Brock. Here, Jason offers a tribute and farewell in which he describes the time he met Giger and shares his reflections on the artist’s legacy and importance.

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Jason with H R Giger

H. R. Giger and Jason V Brock

In 2006 my wife Sunni and I met the late visionary artist H. R. Giger at his home in Zürich, Switzerland.*

We were there to interview him for our forthcoming documentary Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic, and he, along with his lovely wife Carmen, entertained us for several hours. His house was a fascinating place, as one would imagine, and he was in a fine mood, laughing and discussing his artwork, as well as inquiring about a mutual friend, filmmaker Dan O’Bannon (writer of Alien, director of Return of the Living Dead and The Resurrected), who was still alive at the time. There was more to that fantastic encounter, including a fine meal, bottles of wine, the telling of amusing anecdotes, etc., but much of it is of a private nature; it is something that Sunni and I will always cherish and hold dear in our hearts. What I can share, however, is that Giger was very pleased that I had brought along a recent picture I had taken of Dan. He kept looking at the image in astonishment and muttering, “Mein Gott. ” I could sense that he was traveling back in time and reliving those moments so many years ago on the closed set of what would become the classic horror/sci-fi film Alien. Read the rest of this entry

Weird Fiction: The Passing of the Generational Torch

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Last year, in the wake of the NecronomiCon Providence convention, I posted a video of S. T. Joshi’s keynote address in which he focused on the long and winding history of H. P. Lovecraft’s literary reputation. These many months later, a video of much higher quality, with multiple camera angles and nice production values, has just been published, and it shows not just S. T.’s speech but the convention’s entire opening ceremony:

In light of this, it seems an appropriate time to publish Teeming Brain columnist Jason V. Brock’s brief reflection on the convention and its significance. He wrote the following words several months ago, but I failed to publish them during the blog’s winter break. Especially since there’s another NecronomiCon Providence in the works for August 2015, I think Jason’s comments about the way last August’s convention represented a generational passing of the torch for the weird fiction community are hardly out of date. In fact, they grow more timely with every passing day. – MC

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There are, and always have been, acolytes of various subdomains of interest, and the current period is no exception. Indeed, one major link in this chain has been the development of H. P. Lovecraft as a cult figure of some renown. To that end, I’d like to offer insight into one landmark event in particular: NecronomiCon Providence I, the Lovecraft convention that took place last summer in in Providence, Rhode Island.

It is hard to encapsulate such a sprawling, enormous event as this convention. Originally envisioned as an homage to Lovecraft and weird fiction, it bloomed into something not only of the genre, but something transcending it. The gathering had been building momentum for nearly two years, and it finally came to fruition in late August, 2013, in large part due to the donors of the online Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, as well as through the generous time and support of sponsors and volunteers and the hard work of the organizing committee, headed by Niels Hobbs. The size and range of this gathering of writers, artists, filmmakers, patrons, fans, and scholars was daunting, but it (mostly) came off without a hitch.

This was the inaugural event in what will hopefully be a new series of these conventions, all to be located in Providence, the former domicile of Lovecraft and the current residence of several Lovecraft-inspired creators, among them writers Jonathan Thomas and Sam Gafford, as well as author Caitlín Rebekah Kiernan (The Drowning Girl). These are planned to convene every other year: the next one is scheduled for 2015.

While paying respect to the core and origin of this type of fiction, and also to the works it has inspired, this con clearly showed the passing of the torch from the Third Generation to the Fourth (a trend that I discussed in a previous installment of this column). It was all quite fascinating to witness, and I was pleased to have a role in it, however modest.

As I recall the staggeringly rich and varied interactions and activities that unfolded last August, I realize there is really nothing more to say, except that this was likely the single greatest congregation of Lovecraft/weird fiction professionals in history, and that it took place in a fantastic, beautiful setting. The panel discussions were informative and interesting, the new research presented was stimulating, the socializing was epic, and everyone was excited, happy, and enthusiastic. If you missed it, be aware that this was one for the record books.

My advice: Don’t miss the next one!

Last of the Titans: A Note on the Passing of Ray Harryhausen (and Forrest Ackerman and Ray Bradbury)

Monstrous_Singularities_150pxEDITOR’S NOTE: With this post we welcome award-winning writer, editor, filmmaker, composer, and artist Jason V. Brock to the Teem. Jason’s work has been published in Butcher Knives & Body Counts, Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities, Fungi, Fangoria, S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings series, and elsewhere. He was Art Director/Managing Editor for Dark Discoveries magazine for more than four years, and he edits the biannual pro digest [NAMEL3SS], dedicated to “the macabre, esoteric and intellectual,” which can be found on Twitter at @NamelessMag and on the Interwebs at www.NamelessMag.com. He and his wife, Sunni, also run Cycatrix Press.

As a filmmaker Jason’s work includes the documentaries Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, The Ackermonster Chronicles!, and Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic. He is the primary composer and instrumentalist/singer for his band, ChiaroscurO. Jason loves his wife, their family of reptiles/amphibians, travel, and vegan/vegetarianism. He is active on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter (@JaSunni_JasonVB) and at his and Sunni’s personal website/blog, www.JaSunni.com.

Jason will contribute an occasional column titled “Monstrous Singularities.” For this inaugural installment, he offers an elegiac reflection on the passing of three authentic titans of fantasy, horror, and science fiction whose work literally helped to define major aspects of popular culture and collective psychology during the twentieth century.

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Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

They were present at the beginning… and we are witness to their end.

Endings, in many ways, are entrances into self-realization — whether a portal into some altered state of mind, a window into collective insight, or even a chance for some final and comforting acceptance. Endings signify not only change, but also, often, transcendence, either metaphorically or literally, and on occasion simultaneously. Be it a lonely struggle that reaches a sad (even tragic) conclusion, or perhaps the unexpected outcome of a traumatic situation, or the shared exhilaration of justice served, endings are always transitional, even transformational, in ways that beginnings cannot be. Endings are the true headstones by which we collectively measure and define history. They are markers of conclusiveness — more so than births or the start of a new venture, which can be shrouded in secrecy, obscured by the fog of antiquity, or both. Thus, they are uniquely able to serve as touchstones for what has been bequeathed to the past (what cannot be again) and what is yet to be accomplished (and is therefore allotted to the future).

In May of 2013, the 92-year-old stop-motion animation film pioneer and artistic genius Ray Harryhausen, perhaps best known for his creation of the special visual effects for Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, passed away. His ending completes, in a sense, a circle of loss for the world; with the transitioning of Harryhausen away from the realm of the living and into the annals of time, a triumvirate of giants has now vanished from the Earth, a troika destined to become even more powerful in voice, authority, and veneration over time. This amplification will undoubtedly be quite profound in the immediately foreseeable future, as people who are not yet aware of them, or who may have forgotten the seismic impact of their works and personalities, discover or rediscover their greatness and celebrate it even more, perchance, than those who instantly recognized it and mourned their loss to humanity and culture. Read the rest of this entry