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Are we living in a simulation?

It’s a question that has risen to prominence in certain technophilosophical circles in recent years, though in truth, the skeptical hypothesis regarding just how real reality is has been around for centuries; perhaps the most pop culturally present of those ancient arguments are things like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave or the “butterfly dream” from the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, though many other long-ago thinkers expressed similar ideas.

What it boils down to is the notion that everything about the universe we occupy, from the tiniest molecule to the most massive star, is a computer simulation. That includes us, by the way.

This current flavor of this theory springs largely from work in the early 2000s by the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, whose premise presupposes that future predictions regarding the massive increase of computing power are accurate and that at some point, said supercomputing capacity would be devoted to running simulations of civilization’s forebears. Assuming those simulations are sufficiently detailed and fine-tuned, the people in them will be conscious and sentient … and virtual.

Bostrom’s simulation argument – which he calls a trilemma – states that one of these three statements is almost certain to be true:

  1.     The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (i.e. capable of developing these sort of immense simulations) is very close to zero.
  2.     The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running simulations of their evolutionary history, or variations thereof, is close to zero.
  3.     The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation are very close to one.

Bostrom goes on to posit through anthropic reasoning that IF that third statement is true, then we are almost certainly living in a simulation.

There – that’s everything that five minutes on Wikipedia could teach me about simulation theory. You’re welcome.

But that’s not the whole story. In fact, we here in The Maine Edge’s Investigative Futurism Department have spent several hours digging into a different possibility with regard to our simulated world – a possibility that hits us where we live. You see, after much experimentation and deliberation, the IFD has come to an undeniable and paradigm-shattering conclusion.

We ARE in a simulation, but not one crafted by the powers that be in some far-flung future. No, the simulation in which we exist is not, one could argue, a simulation at all.

We’re characters in a story. Specifically, a Stephen King story.

Published in Cover Story
Monday, 08 March 2021 16:52

You should read ‘Later’ sooner

Ghost stories are universal. One could argue that in some way, all stories are ghost stories. It’s all in the telling – and no one does that telling better than Stephen King.

His latest novel is “Later” (Hard Case Crime, $14.95), the author’s third release with the Hard Case imprint. It’s the story of a young man whose childhood is marked by an eerie ability to see the dead, an ability that leads him to help others in ways both honorable and ethically questionable.

What King has given us is a book that is part coming-of-age tale, part hard-boiled crime thriller and part paranormal ghost story. It’s an ambitious blend, to be sure, but one that King has long since shown capable of pulling off beautifully. His clear love of noir fiction joins forces with his horror bona fides and his still-strong ability to capture the fundamental truths about being a child, resulting in a lean and propulsive read.

Published in Style

Nobody does novellas like Stephen King.

Sure, he’s a tremendous novelist and a great writer of short fiction, but more than perhaps any author of popular fiction in recent decades, he embraces the gray area between the two. And some of his most acclaimed work has sprung from that particular vein.

His latest book is “If It Bleeds” (Scribner, $30), the latest in his every decade-ish string of novella collections, book such as “Different Seasons,” “Four Past Midnight” and “Full Dark, No Stars.” It’s a quartet of stories that are a little too long to be labelled short, all of which are packed with that uniquely King combination of fear and empathy.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 11:15

The year in books: 2019’s recommended reads

It has been yet another fantastic year for the written word, with many tremendous literary offerings hitting shelves in 2019.

Reviewing books is one of the best parts of my job. As part of that job, I’ve read dozens of books over the course of the past year. I freely admit that I tend to seek out works that I know will resonate for me – and hence usually enjoy the books I review – but even with that degree of curation, there’s no denying that there are always some that particularly stand out.

This is not your traditional “best of” list – that’s not my style. Instead, consider this a collection of recommendations. These are suggestions; I enjoyed them, so I thought that you might as well. I’ve also included selections from my writings about these books (please note that the full reviews are available eslewhere on our website). Bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. I’m just one man – there are scores more books out there, exceptional works that I simply never got a chance to read.

So are these the best books of 2019? I don’t know – it’s all subjective. What I can say is that every one of these works captured my imagination and my attention … and perhaps one or more of them will do the same for you.

Here are my recommended reads from 2019.

Published in Cover Story
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:46

‘Doctor Sleep’ shines on

It seems like every week sees the announcement of another screen adaptation of a Stephen King work. Hollywood has always had an affinity for King, but the proliferation of outlets has brought more and more content creators to the nigh-endless font of material that is the erstwhile Master of Horror.

But “Doctor Sleep” is a little different. The 2013 book is a sequel to King’s classic novel “The Shining,” a look at whatever happened to little Danny Torrance in the aftermath of his ordeal at the Overlook Hotel. King’s relationship with Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of “The Shining” is notoriously fraught; in some ways, “Doctor Sleep” was a years-later reaction to that film.

Obviously, this makes the idea of adapting “Doctor Sleep” to the screen a tricky proposition. But few are as uniquely suited to strike the proper balance as Mike Flanagan, who both directed and wrote the screenplay for the film. Flanagan’s horror bona fides are legit, but more than that, he wrote and directed one of the best King adaptations of recent years; “Gerald’s Game” was a book that seemed almost unfilmable, yet Flanagan turned it into a powerful and effective film.

Turning his eye onto “Doctor Sleep,” Flanagan’s stated goal was to do proper service to King’s book while also finding ways to pay homage to Kubrick’s iconic film. It would seem to be a Herculean task … and yet Flanagan managed to pull it off. Being all things to all people rarely works, yet here we are – a film that is true to both the spirit of the book being adapted and of the film being remembered.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 08 October 2019 14:27

‘In the Tall Grass’ comes up a bit short

What if you heard a voice calling to you, emerging from an unseen child lost somewhere in a field of tall grass? If that voice asked you for help, would you venture forth to offer your assistance? What if you went in … and couldn’t find your way out?

That’s the deceptively simple conceit of “In the Tall Grass,” a film directed by Vincenzo Natali from a script Natali adapted from the novella of the same name co-written by Stephen King and Joe Hill. It’s pastoral horror at its most elemental, a tale of terror where unexplained forces can trap the innocent in circumstances that they cannot understand – and cannot escape.

The film operates largely in the realm of atmospheric scares, relying on the seeming innocence of the natural setting to evoke the fear-feeding tension. It isn’t always successful, with stretches that don’t quite cohere as well as they might; the plot takes on a complexity that isn’t always easy to follow. But with some brutally bloody moments and an enervating audio/visual style, you might find yourself unable to look away.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 10 September 2019 17:54

A lie of the mind - ‘The Institute’

Stephen King’s reputation is that of a master of horror, a writer who plumbs the depths and brings forth supernatural terrors to be confronted and defeated by regular people who have been thrust into irregular circumstances. And that reputation is well-earned.

But make no mistake – King is often at his horrifying best when his villains are ordinary rather than extraordinary. Finding the evil that lurks within the human heart – that’s a skill for which Mr. King doesn’t always get his full due.

Those are the villains in King’s latest novel “The Institute” (Scribner, $30), regular people willing to do unspeakable things simply because they have been told those things are necessary. There’s a timeliness to this book, an of-the-moment quality that also possesses a sense of universality. It is a look at the evil that men do when they believe their cause is just.

But while these villains may not be possessed of paranormal girts, the targets of their villainy certainly are – children. Children, stolen from their homes in the dead of night and confined to an isolated compound, selected for imprisonment and torture so that a shadowy cabal might somehow bring forth the full force of the children’s inexplicable talents.

Published in Buzz
Thursday, 05 September 2019 14:47

Send in the clowns – ‘It Chapter Two’

The next chapter has arrived: Pennywise the Dancing Clown is once again creepily cavorting across movie screens.

“It Chapter Two” concludes the cinematic diptych begun with 2017’s “It” – both films were directed by Andy Muschietti, while screenwriter Gary Dauberman handles the new installment solo after co-writing the previous film, all of it adapted from the iconic 1987 horror masterpiece of the same name by Stephen King. That creative carryover goes a long way toward building an aesthetic and tonal consistency across the two films – important in any case, but particularly vital when you have a movie whose narratives are both chronologically separate and utterly entangled.

This second installment brings to an end the story of the self-styled Losers Club, a group of childhood outcasts forced to confront an ancient evil that has poisoned their hometown of Derry. Despite believing that they had emerged victorious – and allowing themselves to compartmentalize away the trauma that came with the triumph – it seems that their foe merely slumbered, awaiting an opportunity to victimize the town anew.

“It Chapter Two” is an aesthetic triumph, one where every frame seems perfectly crafted to elicit the creepy weirdness and absurdity of the circumstances. And the ensemble is exceptional, with outstanding work from performers of all ages. However, it doesn’t quite clear the (extremely high) bar set by its predecessor – not that there’s any shame in that. The film’s pacing occasionally undermines the meticulously-conceived look and feel; the 169-minute runtime could have been trimmed to two-and-a-half hours pretty easily. It’s more tense than scary.

But again – that’s OK. Ultimately, any quibbles are minor. If this film’s biggest sin is that it isn’t quite as good as the one that came before, then you’ve still got a damned good movie – which this absolutely is.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 April 2019 12:55

Grave consequences – ‘Pet Sematary’

Considering Hollywood’s concurrent current trends toward embracing reboots and Stephen King properties, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that a number of the Master of Horror’s past filmic adaptations are ripe for revisitation. Particularly when you take into account the runaway critical and commercial success of 2017’s remake of “It” and the notorious unevenness of previous screen adaptations.

This brings us to the latest King remake “Pet Sematary.” This new film – based on King’s 1983 novel of the same name – follows the 1989 version helmed by Mary Lambert. It tells the story of the Creed family and their move to rural Maine, where in the woods behind their new home, they stumble upon a dark place – a place where death is no longer an end, but rather the beginning of a much more horrifying tale.

However, while the assembled cast is stellar and co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer are not without skill, the end result doesn’t quite clear the bar set by either the novel or the original film. That isn’t to say that this version is without merit, but those with a deep-seated affection for those previous works will likely find themselves a little disappointed.

Published in Movies

When one hears about a new Stephen King novel, one has certain expectations. We know that it is going to be a compelling story. We know that it will feature mysterious, likely supernatural elements. We know that the ideas resting beneath the narrative surface will be thoughtful and engaging.

And we know that chances are good that it will be long.

Not so with King’s latest. Titled “Elevation” (Scribner, $19.95), the author’s latest is a much slimmer story than we usually see from him – just shy of 150 pages. Have no fear, however – this Castle Rock tale more than meets all the other expectations you might have. But while the inexplicable and uncanny are present, this book isn’t ABOUT that. It’s a charmer of a feel-good story that illustrates the breadth of King’s talents, breaking some new ground while still doing what he does best.

Published in Buzz
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