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Exploring the Matrix

October 29th, 2003 · No Comments

Exploring the Matrix: Visions of the Cyber Present is the book I spied in the bookstore window those many months ago, the book that began my Matrix reading kick at the library. This is the third one I have read/skimmed and definitely the most FUN! The other two I’ve reviewed were Taking the Red Pill and The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real.

The authors in this collection appear to be science fiction writers and artists. Red Pill seemed to be mostly professors and scientists, while the other collection seemed to be philosophy professors. The writers in this collection also seemed to have received more room to write. A few essays were focussed on particular perspectives, but the collection as a whole was not as narrowly defined in subsets as the Red Pill essays. For example, Exploring is the only collection that didn’t have a “Buddhism” essay or a “Christianity” essay. Many of the pieces mention these aspects though. The writers seemed more free to simply offer individual perspective, and as artists, they both overlapped each other and varied in their writings. They painted similiar themes but did their own strokes. I liked the lighter air of the essays, how fun they were to read, yet also challenging in ideas.

Now I’m no cyperpunk or sci-fi fan. So I felt a bit intimidated at the beginning, picking up this black and green book. And sure this collection talks a lot about science fiction and sci-fi (skiffy). There’s Philip K.Dick, Blade Runner, electric sheep, cyberpunk and Gibson’s Neuromancer (quoted multiple times!)…..but there’s also Baudrillard and the Bible, Johnny Mnemonic, Chinese Opera, comic books and super heroes, grimy tile bathrooms and black leather to boot. Even a great essay on kung fu films that taught me a lot. There’s much mention of the irony of science defeating science with science, computers with computers. While not as deep or thorough perhaps as the Red Pill essays, there are hints and highlights of those issues.

I appreciated too that this is the first collection, I think, to address the aspect of violence in the film. In one essay – I couldn’t find the exact quote when I flipped through it again – the writer pointed out “here we are 18 months from 9/11 and we are applauding terrorists” or something to that effect. I’ve never been comfortable with the violence in The Matrix or in any movie. But I’d never quite thought about it as “terrorism” as in September 11th or made that connection. There’s a whole essay refuting the responsibility of Hollywood for Columbine. I’m not sure I agree completely with it, but I am grateful for the discussion of violence in the film.

Rather than write much more, I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Bruce Sterling in “Every Other Movie is the Blue Pill”:
“You can’t be dead because I love you. That is the emotional core of The Matrix and that is not an adult statement. That is the statement that a six-year-old girl would say to a dead kitten…..”

Stephen Baxter in “The Real Matrix”
…the main thing to do is figure out the purpose of the simulation and then work out how to avoid being deleted. If it’s entertainment, you should be as dramatic as possible; if it’s a moral fable, you should lead a blameless life; if the simulation is designed as a playground for the creators themselves, you should get as close as possible to rich, famous and powerful celebrities – or better yet, become one yourself….

Mike Resnick in “The Matrix and the Star Maker”
I am an atheist. You show me a bearded old man – or an unbearded young woman, for that matter – who can perform the godly miracles of the Old Testament and I’ll convert so fast it’ll make your head spin. I am an atheist only because I have not yet seen proof of my creator’s existence; that’s not going to be a problem for the self-aware AI machines.

If God touches my rib and pulls forth a fully formed woman, I’m a believer as of that instant….

We’re not talking religion here. Religion is just a bunch of customs created to bring spiritual and emotional comfort to a mass of people who have no direct contact with their creator. No, we’re talking the real McCoy here – Olaf Stapledon’s non-denominational Star Maker. Once you confront your creator in the flesh, you no longer need the trappings of religion to help you communicate with him or even worship him.

Walter Jon Williams in “Yuen Woo-ping and the Art of Flying”

But aside from the science-fiction ideas, there was another element of The Matrix that dazzled…..That element goes by the name wuxia pian. And Yuen Woo-ping is its master.

“The Matrix as Sci-Fi” by Joe Haldeman taught me the difference between science fiction, Sci-fi, fantasy and “respectable literature” (nice diagram!)

Karen Haber (also editor) in “Reflections in a Cyber Eye”
The blackest joke of all is that The Matrix is using computer tech to beat up on computer tech. Talk about ungrateful.

David Brin in “Tomorrow May Be Different”
Indeed, try to come up with even one example of a recent film you enjoyed in which the hero did not bond with the audience in the first ten minutes by resisting or sticking it to some authority figure.

Now, after reading/skimming through three essay collections on the original Matrix movie, one question I have – on today, one week away from the release of the final film – is whether the completed trilogy will inspire as much thought, creation and writing as the first one did.

Tags: matrix