Windup Girl, Doctor Who, and Buddhism

10 12 2010

I finally read The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. The best comparison I’ve heard is to William Gibson— not in terms of content or style, but in terms of vision. Neuromancer was a new vision of the future in 1984, heralding a shift from space opera and flying cars to cybernetic implants and virtual reality. The Windup Girl is another piece of inventive futurism with the smell of accuracy. I find it interesting that it’s also another scaling back of the future. Gibson took away interstellar flight, and Bacigalupi takes away…well, almost everything, in a convincing scenario where industrialism has been gutted by worldwide collapse, but limps along under an economy driven by calories.

The Windup Girl takes place in Thailand, and explores several Asian cultures. One scene that sticks with me illustrates the Buddhist concept of change as a law of nature. A certain character has lost just about everything but his life, and he reaches an understanding of his situation as one stage in an endless series of changes. For some reason his epiphany really got to me. I’ve spent most of my life acting like everything will stay the same, but of course it doesn’t. Marcie and I are looking at becoming parents, which would be a radical change, and as such it’s pretty terrifying. But even if we remain childless, our lives will not stay the same. It feels safer to avoid change, but the fact is change cannot be avoided.

Which brings me to Doctor Who. Why? Well, firstly, because I just finished the fifth season and wanted to say, I like the new Doctor. I like how nerdy he is. Chris Eccelston and David Tennant were great, and Eccelston is still my favorite of the new guys, but Matt Smith eschews typical heroism and brings a level of goofiness that’s been missing from the reboot. Also, he has the hottest assistant. (Not the best one though–that’s still Martha Jones.)

Craig Ferguson’s leaked opening number sums up Doctor Who remarkably well. But I was talking about change. Most TV franchises run away from change. They find a formula that works, and run through it over and over until the audience finally gets sick of it. The Doctor, on the other hand, gets a new face and a new personality every few seasons. With the endless rotation of new companions, the whole cast is constantly changing. Some things stay consistent–the TARDIS, the villains, saving the universe– but at its heart Doctor Who embraces change like nothing else on television. I think that’s largely why the show has endured in one form or another for half a century. From a practical standpoint, it helps not having to worry about your actors aging out. But on a deeper level, it speaks to our experience of life, loss, and new beginnings. It’s always sad to see a Doctor go, and it’s always a thrill to get to know the new one.

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