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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lucy: Calling Keyes and Asimov

I finally got around to seeing Luc Besson's Lucy last night, starring Scarlet Johansson in the title role.   Parts of it were just high-tech, drug-dealing shoot 'em up, on a par with John Wick, which is to say, nothing really special in retrospect.  But parts of it were pretty good high-concept science fiction, in the tradition of Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon" and  Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question".

In both cases, I'm talking about the short written fiction versions first published in the 1950s.  In "Flowers," a contender for the best science fiction story ever written, in my opinion, we're told the heartbreaking tale of a man with below-average intelligence who receives a medical treatment that makes him a genius.  Why is this heartbreaking?  Because the fix is only temporary, and the genius must witness the beginning of his own intellectual decline, to where he was at at the start.  In "The Last Question," work on a computer over centuries finally gives an answer to the question of if there's a God - it's that very super-perfected computer.

Lucy gets her trigger to genius from a bag of powerful drugs that breaks in her stomach after she's beaten, which in turn happens after she's forced against her will to carry to the drugs (this is the uninspired part of the story).  How the drugs make her so smart is only slightly spelled out - it's based on a hormone that ignites growth in fetuses - but the interesting part of this is that Lucy becomes much more than a genius.  Her astonishing intellect is able to read minds and move matter, for example.

There's no reason at all in our current science that this would or should happen with an enormous increase in our intellect - except, I suppose, if we wanted to postulate a macro-quantum-mechanical mind-over-matter (this is not clearly suggested in the movie) - but it's still fun to see enacted on the screen, and Johansson puts in a good performance as Lucy, as does Morgan Freeman as the sage scientist.   My favorite scene is when our Lucy, already close to God-hood, travels back in time, and touches the original Lucy in prehistoric Africa, to get our whole human race going in the first place. In the immortal words of Desi Arnaz, "Lucy, Lucy, Lucy!"  Or maybe the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" should have been playing in the background.

Hey, I'm sucker for time travel in just about any form, so I'd recommend Lucy for that reason alone, as well as its contribution to the Keyes and Asimov themes.

Sierra Waters series, #1, time travel


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