Tales of the Loop: Pushing the Boundaries of the PossibleSimon Stålenhag’s captivating post-apocalyptic landscapes remind us that the world could, at any time, be different from what we think it is
In case you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend the trailer for the new Amazon Studios series Tales from the Loop. I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty excited to see how this series turns out. And I don’t have to wait several months for the release. The premiere date is set for April 3.
If you don’t know much about Tales, here is a super quick rundown. Simon Stålenhag (below right) is a futuristic painter of incredible post-apocalyptic landscapes. I remember stumbling upon some of his work a few years back and I was immediately captivated. It reminded me of Villeneuve’s Blade Runner but with a more apocalyptic and retro tone.
Tales from the Loop, one of Stålenhag’s older projects (2015), depicts scenes of robots and otherworldly creatures. In the art books, a large particle accelerator was built underneath a town out in the countryside and decommissioned in the 1990’s. The result was a landscape altered in unexpected ways. If you ever have the chance to flip through some of his work in Tales, I would certainly recommend it. If not, check out this fan-made animation of Stålenhag’s work in The Electric State.
While there isn’t much to say about the series until its release, I am hoping for something along the lines of a combination of Electric Dreams (based on the work of Philip K. Dick) and Eureka. (futurist inventions go wrong).
I can envision a landscape created by unfamiliar and uncontrollable sources. The world of quantum physics is intriguing and somewhat magical, full of speculation and theorizing. Anything might be possible in quantum physics: time-travel, alternate universe, alternate dimensions… etc. Stålenhag’s work is certainly science fiction, but it conjures the vision to which truly creative science fiction is meant to aspire.
Whether venturing into the unknown or discovering the unimaginable, truly creative science fiction tells tales of what we might find just around the corner in the future, just across the stars of another galaxy. Science fiction, as an art, has always meant to inspire. It’s meant to push the boundaries of the possible. In a culture that is so polemic and so utterly narrow-minded as ours, it’s inspiring and refreshing to be reminded that the world could at any time be different from what we think it is. And Stålenhag’s world isn’t just different, it’s unique.
Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. For all I know, the series could be a complete flop (knock on wood). Big studios like Amazon and Netflix make me nervous. I’m always holding my breath lest some promising new series or feature film be suffocated by Netflix or Amazon’s “wokeness.” To be fair, not everything Amazon or Netflix does is woke…
One thing I know for certain… look for more about Tales from the Loop in next week’s Sci-Fi Saturday.
Last week: Does science fiction encourage narcissism? As a sci-fi critic, I think most fans are just looking for a genre where they can understand and be understood. It’s true that many people who are attracted to science fiction feel like outcasts or disconnected from mainstream popular culture. And many of them feel welcome, loved, accepted, and validated in the sci-fi community. Does that really make them narcissists?
If you enjoyed these reflections by Adam Nieri, you might want to check through his sci-fi reviews below— brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:
2019’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV: 2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative. In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals.
Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those who seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.
Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.
Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.
The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series ReviewThe attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi. I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.
The Expanse, Season 4: The Best So Far? A Mind Matters Perspective: Unlike critic Zac Giaimo, I preferred Season 3 but it really depends on what you are looking for. Season 4 is, as critic Zac Giaimo notes, integral to character building and plot development for the overall series. I gave it 9/10 in an earlier review. However, I don’t know if I completely agree with Giaimo’s Amazonian optimism. Season 3 set up urgent questions that should be answered by the end of the show, preferably beginning in Season 5.
The Feed—A Mind Matters TV Series Review: I started out thinking that the show was just the usual ho-hum tyrant-AI-takes-over flick and it is so good to be wrong! Imagine a world where your mind is stored on social media. Now, what happens if someone steals, then abandons it? What will you do?
Her (2013): If you created her, is it real love? In this retrospective Mind Matters movie review, Adam Nieri ponders the questions raised by a thoughtful AI film. Unlike Catherine, Samantha is exactly what Theodore was looking for. No surprise there; Samantha is, literally, adjusted and updated according to Theodore’s preferences from when he initially began speaking to her. She exists only to be Theodore’s soulmate. Is that enough?
How To Become Human—A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.
Lost in Space, A Mind Matters TV series review. I was skeptical at first, based on Netflix’s track record, but was pleasantly surprised. If I could rewind time a week and add a piece of 2019 sci-fi to my list of the year’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV, I would add Netflix’s Lost in Space, Season 2—which came out just after I had published. Let’s fix that now.
Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch
Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received. It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the good ship Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.
The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.
Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery. The mystery is related to another familiar Star Trek character. Seeing the Star Trek universe from a different perspective—that is, not from the interior of a starship—was super refreshing and rewarding. It gives viewers a unique look at what day-to-day life is like for other people (much as The Mandalorian did for the Star Wars universe).
Star Trek: Picard — On second thought, some serious quibbles. Now that I’m four episodes in, I’ve gotta say, the “haters” might be onto something. Not everything but something. Why does Picard seem to be obsessed with Commander Data? And what happened to The Federation? Star Trek fans are quick to point out that Star Trek: Picard takes an unnecessary malevolent tone towards The Federation. Why do the Romulans look different? I’m still watching but I’d like some answers.
Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.
Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.
Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.