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Ex Machina – Did AVA Kill JFK?

No surprise, the only way these blokes can get a girlfriend is to build one out of vacuum cleaner spare parts.

A month or so ago my nieces came to visit and we had a movie sci-fi marathon with lots of big fuck-off space ships, laser guns, aliens and exploding planets—just good, wholesome family fun. At the end of it all, Marlee said, “You should watch Ex Machina , you’ll enjoy it”.

Who am I to argue? She can speak Japanese and along with her sister Paige they can recite, word-for-word, the entire script of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Impressive shit.

So the next time my Better Half was out of the house (she doesn’t watch anything that hasn’t got John Cusack in it—although the Hemsworth brothers are making inroads) I rented Ex Machina, got a six-pack of ales, a block of chocolate, a packet of chips, put on my Star Trek onesy and settled in for some serious one-on-one sci-fi.

With, I should add, absolutely no idea what the movie is about.

Here’s a rough idea (yes, this may spoil any future viewing for you).

A nerdy, IT-savvy gaming dude called Caleb wins a contest with a first prize of spending a weekend at the secret, secluded retreat of Nathan Bateman, who’s a genius, computer-programming guru. Under any other circumstances all sorts of predatory, paedophile warning bells would go off, but this is sci-fi, so don’t panic. Caleb arrives by private helicopter in the middle of the countryside somewhere and enters this ultra-secure, hidden luxury villa.

At this point I’d begun to notice—so far— a distinct lack of big fuck-off spaceships and laser canons, but Marlee promised, so I cracked another beer and kept watching…

It turns out that Caleb’s been sucked into being a guinea pig for a Turing test. Put simply (very simply) a Turing Test is supposed to determine whether a computer can think and behave like a human being. In a kind of reverse, double-whammy, Nathan is also testing Caleb to see if he can withstand the wiles and seductive attractions of the computer.

The computer, no surprise, is nothing like an airport check-in terminal or anything you might be reading this blog on. Instead, it’s a feminine android called Ava that looks like a cross between Oscar Pistorius and Angelina Jolie—with a light bulb on the back of her head. Myself, being firmly in the Jennifer Anniston camp, I couldn’t find Ava remotely attractive, but don’t forget Caleb is a nerd whose idea of online porn is the Christmas edition of PC Magazine, so he falls for Ava in all kinds of twisted, this is wrong on so many levels ways. It doesn’t help when Nathan explains that Ava has “pleasure circuits” in all the appropriate places and Caleb is quite welcome to give these a try… close to a Eewww moment really. The next time I see C3PO say, “I need lubricating, Master Luke” it’s going to push all the wrong buttons now. Let’s be real—all the technology in the world doesn’t alter the fact that Ava is just a few lithium batteries away from being one of Nathan’s blow-up dolls. Even if this is some sort of nerdy, blokey, weekend away, you have to draw boundaries about exactly what you share.

Definitely not the sort of “warped” I was hoping for. I wanted big, fuck-off spaceships warping  into light speed – with laser canons.

Anyway, before long, the film has lots of underlying, mind-bending themes about the ethics and practicalities of artificial intelligence, just what is human anyway, and the growing question of exactly who is testing who? Ava is plainly smarter than your average food blender.

Interesting, fascinating, thought-provoking… but without a single, big fuck-off spaceship or laser canon in sight. Not even a proper droid on three wheels that bleeps shit all the time. I’ve been robbed of my sci-fi DVD rental money. Would it have hurt the film’s producers to chuck in a wookie or two? Maybe a cameo by Doctor Spock?

The film builds to a creepy kind of climax—when I say “climax” I’ll let you find out for yourself, if those weird-arse “pleasure circuits” are involved—and here’s the really interesting thing about Ex Machina.

The end of the movie has spawned a whole bunch of furious debates about how the film should really… well, end. There are blogs about whether Ex Machina is “three minutes too long” or not. If there are hidden agendas or meanings. Even if the film itself has become a victim of a manipulative, artificial intelligence to sow the seed of the coming android revolution and we’re all going to be killed by our washing machines. Eventually, Ava will be added to the list of people suspected of shooting JFK and abducting Elvis. It’s become that kind of conspiracy.

None of which was ever intended by the movie’s writers. They just thought, Hey, let’s do this for the ending, because we’ve already paid a fucking fortune for the helicopter and we want to get our money’s worth. Or something.

As a writer, it’s intriguing to see people read all kinds of strange, non-existent messages behind your stories. In a way, it’s what you want—a bonus of frenzied, online paranoia and free promotion (ah… like this blog, I suppose). So I have to hand it to the writers and producers of Ex Machina and say, “Well done. You’ve inadvertently created a cult classic”. Bastards. When’s that going to happen to one of my books?

All right, I’ll admit that Ex Machina is worth watching. But if you find Ava even slightly attractive I strongly suggest you take out a restraining order against your refrigerator and microwave oven. You have problems.

My free horror book, Bedtime Story, actually does have a backwards satanic message in it. Okay—it’s not exactly backwards, but it is sort of satanic. In a ghostly, demonic, possessed kind of way. However, I should point out it definitely hasn’t got any big fuck-off spaceships, laser canons or exploding planets—but I never said it did, right? (yes, I’m looking at you, Marlee and Paige). Did you notice the FREE thing? Click the link below and scroll down for a download.

And if you’d like an email announcing my next blog or news of my writing and music (nothing else, I promise) just fill in the newsletter sign-up on the right.

Bedtime Story Cover Get Bedtime Story for free by going to THIS PAGE and clicking on the links.

Blogging, Bragging and Blagging… All Part Of The Plan

Over the last few weeks the planets have lined up and made some changes. I’ve suddenly gotten more time to write my novels due to other commitments coming to a halt (don’t you just love it when someone else’s “cashflow problems” become yours?), I’ve embarked on writing a new series on crime thriller novels called The Lukas Boston Stories that I’ll self-publish, and we’ve had some guests staying who are IT and web design experts – so they took on the role of giving my website a new look and migrating it across to my domain, too.

All this equated to a spring clean of what we all call our Authors Platform and it’s been a real eye-opener. Most of us know about doing Facebook, maybe blogging regularly, contributing to forums… and you tend to approach these things piecemeal as you discover the benefits. But when you’re looking at this stuff altogether like I did during the revamp you get a much better idea of what’s involved – and it’s a hell of a lot. I know there are some writers who simply whack a book onto Amazon and it sells without any promotion, but the general rule-of-thumb is that if you want to be successful at this writing bizzo and self-publishing, you need all kinds of extra skills to make sure the world knows your novels and ebooks exist. Even if you have a free ebook or a 99 cent ebook published you need to let readers know. How you let them know is obviously important, but the devil is seriously in the detail too and it can be time-consuming and daunting.

However, I’m so very glad we can do it. Back in the good ol’ days of traditional publishing (I’m sure that one day we’ll consider them “good ol’ days” just like many Russians today still believe the era of Josef Stalin’s rule was the best of times) when a book was published you promised to be available for two weeks of promotions. I even managed a couple of TV talk show appearances, but mostly it was radio interviews over the phone. Some things don’t change – it was vital that you instantly sounded interesting or the producer would be cutting the line. Like the first sentence of a blog or facebook post now needs to be attention-grabbing. After that two weeks, life returned to normal and your book sales were again at the whim of bookstore browsers. It didn’t occur to many of us that continuing some kind of promotional campaign would be beneficial.  That wasn’t our job. We were supposed to write. To be fair, I don’t recall any publisher suggesting I get out there and promote myself either. It’s not how things worked.

You might even say it was a mixture of apathy and ignorance that invented the mid-list author. After all, if you were good enough to be published, surely you were good enough to be a best seller? Plenty of authors have complained that a lack of advertising dollars were the only thing between them and super-stardom. Someone else was supposed to make us really famous.

What we should have done is throw ourselves at the task of self-promotion with all the application required today – except can you imagine doing it without the modern internet? Writing endless snail-mail letters to book clubs and libraries, cold-calling radio stations to convince them you’re worth an interview, creating “author profiles” in prominent bookstores by… hmm, standing in the corner and shouting about yourself?

So for those writers today who think the grindstone of self-promotion is something new, and maybe an onerous task, it really isn’t and you should be grateful that it’s a job that can be done these days so easily online. Sure, a lot of us hoary old trad-published authors didn’t have to do it, but we should have, and it would definitely have been a nightmarish task. Nowadays we’ve got so much more influence on how successful we can be – assuming, of course, that at the end of all things considered you’re actually a good writer. Blog about yourself, brag about your writing and blag a bunch of awesome reviews. It doesn’t sound like much of a business plan, but it is.