Quotulatiousness

January 11, 2018

William Gibson: The Gernsback Continuum – Semiotic Ghosts – #8

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 18:51

Extra Credits
Published on Jan 9, 2018

Ways that we dream about the world sometimes create a shared vision that we start to believe is real. When William Gibson first explored these “semiotic ghosts” of a pristine American future in the Gernsback Continuum, he showed how these visions of modern technology can separate us from our own reality and the personal meaning our world should hold for us.

January 4, 2018

“This is what you get when you touch the Orb”

Filed under: Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Jonah Goldberg thinks he’s identified the moment our timeline went screwy, sorta:

Ever since Donald Trump touched the Orb, praise be upon it, I’ve been making “This is what you get when you touch the Orb” jokes.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll tell you: On his trip to the Middle East in May, President Trump, along with the Saudi king and the president of Egypt, laid his hands on a glowing white orb for two minutes (which strikes me as a long time to touch an orb).

The image was like a mix of J.R.R. Tolkien and 1970s low-budget Canadian sci-fi. It looked like they were calling forth powerful eldritch energies from the chthonic depths or perhaps the forbidden zone.

Ever since then, when things have gotten weird, I’ve credited the Orb. For instance, when the Guardian reported that sex between Japanese snow monkeys and Sika deer may now constitute a new “behavioral tradition,” I tweeted, “the Orb has game, you can’t deny it.” When Roy Moore, the GOP Alabama Senate candidate, was plausibly accused of preying on teenagers and many evangelical leaders rallied to his defense, invoking biblical justifications for groping young girls, I admired the Orb’s cunning. And when the bunkered Moore decided to give one of his only interviews to a 12-year-old girl, I sat back and marveled at the Orb’s dark sense of humor.

But I know in my heart that it’s not the Orb’s fault things have gotten so weird, for the simple reason that rampant weirdness predates the Orb-touching by years.

I have a partial theory as to why, and it doesn’t begin with Trump. It begins with a failure of elites and the institutions they run.

December 21, 2017

William Gibson: The 80s Revolution – Extra Sci Fi – #7

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 19 Dec 2017

Start your free 1-month trial for The Great Courses Plus! http://ow.ly/3iLM30egcfR

After Star Wars, the science fiction genre suddenly became a pop culture darling, and a flood of schlocky imitations followed. William Gibson led the charge to reclaim space in the genre for his concept of future history – one that, in turn, eventually launched cyberpunk.

UFOs? Again?

Filed under: Media, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I must admit I share Colby Cosh’s just disproven belief that we were done with the UFO craze:

Yeah, I know: wrong UFO

There can no longer be any doubt: every fashion phenomenon does come back. I, for one, really thought we had seen the last of UFO-mania. When I was a boy, the idea of stealthy extraterrestrial visitors zooming around in miraculous aircraft was everywhere in the nerdier corners of popular culture. If you liked comic books or paperback science fiction or Omni magazine — and especially if those things were among the staples of your imaginative diet — there was no getting away from it.

Anyone remember the NBC series Project U.F.O. (1978-79), inspired by the USAF’s real Project Blue Book program? As the anthology show’s Wikipedia page observes, most episodes had the plot of a Scooby-Doo cartoon, only backwards: they would end with the investigating protagonists discovering that UFOs remained impenetrably Unidentifiable, but must be “real” craft capable of physically improbable manoeuvres. (I know citing Wikipedia will savour of pumpkin-spice holiday laziness on my part, but the Scooby thing is a truly perceptive point by some anonymous Wiki-genius.)

Then, at the end of the show, a disclaimer would appear on-screen: “The U.S. Air Force stopped investigating UFOs in 1969. After 22 years, they found no evidence of extra-terrestrial landings and no threat to national security.”

[…]

There are very good reasons for a superpower’s military apparatus to devote a little money to following up UFO sightings. “Threat Identification”? Sure, whatever. Plenty of U.S. military flyers have seen UFOs, and these people ought to be comfortable reporting odd occurrences without ridicule. But if I were American, I would definitely want most of that budget to go to Scully rather than Mulder. Don’t throw cash at someone who really, really wants to believe.

What I find vexing is that most of the response to the Times story has been in the spirit of “Whoa, aliens!” rather than “Taxpayers got robbed.” Young people may know on some level that ubiquitous good-quality cameras have all but eliminated civilian UFO sightings. But they lack the personal memory of a live, thriving UFO fad, one that bred quasi-scholarly international UFO-study associations along with a whole publishing industry devoted to UFO tales. I wonder if the Times’ piece on UFO research, by the very virtue of its flat-voiced Grey Lady objectivity, is having the same weird effect as that disclaimer they showed at the end of Project U.F.O.

December 14, 2017

The Last Closet: the Dark Side of Avalon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Just saw this on Facebook:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel The Mists of Avalon and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

The Last Closet is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

While I was never a fan of MZB, I was still shocked to hear about her private life. I haven’t read the book, but I have no reason to believe it’s not completely true.

December 7, 2017

Frankenstein: Radical Alienation – Extra Sci Fi – #6

Filed under: Books, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 5 Dec 2017

What draws us to Frankenstein, and to sci fi as a whole? As the novel wraps up and our time with its characters draws to an end, Mary Shelley lays out the final theme which shaped the identity of science fiction as a genre: radical alienation and the search for a place to belong.

November 29, 2017

Frankenstein: Paradise Lost – Extra Sci Fi – #5

Filed under: Books, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 28 Nov 2017

Paradise Lost told the story of Satan, a creation who rejected his creator just like Frankenstein’s monster did. But even Satan had a loving creator, beauty, and friends. The monster had nothing, and his life in Mary Shelley’s eyes was not a horror story, but a tragedy.

November 25, 2017

Paul Kidby’s Discworld Imaginarium

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jessica Brisbane linked to this Guardian overview of a new book by Paul Kidby, collecting his art to accompany Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series:

Terry Pratchett’s ‘artist of choice’ Paul Kidby introduces some of the images he produced during their decades-long collaboration

November 23, 2017

Frankenstein: Plutarch’s Lives – Extra Sci Fi – #4

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 21 Nov 2017

Mary Shelley drew heavily from the style of biography first pioneered by Plutarch, creating characters like Victor Frankenstein and the monster whose lives parallel each other, but whose differing circumstances lead them to embody very different values.

November 16, 2017

Frankenstein: The Sorrows of Young Werther – Extra Sci Fi – #3

Filed under: Books, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 14 Nov 2017

Frankenstein’s monster discovered three books that shaped his understanding of the world, including the Sorrows of Young Werther. Werther’s unrequited love for a woman eventually leads him to commit suicide. Frankenstein’s monster wants to experience love as well, but Mary Shelley has her own critique of this idea of love.

November 9, 2017

Frankenstein: The New Romantics – Extra Sci Fi – #2

Filed under: Books, Europe, History, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 7 Nov 2017

Industrialization and the Age of Reason benefitted society in many ways, but also created an atmosphere of dehumanizing mass production. The Romantic literary movement rose up to assert the value of emotion in a modern world, and praised science as a marvel whose discoveries bounded on magic made real.

Lois McMaster Bujold interview

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It’s apparently a reprint, but since I missed it the first time, it’s a new one to me:

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer: You published a Star Trek fanzine in the 1960s, while the series was still on the air. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek, so I can’t resist asking you about it. What was it like to be a fan writer in the 1960s?

Lois McMaster Bujold: It was a lonelier enterprise back then than it is now. I go into it a little in this recent interview.

Other than that, I expect it was like being a newbie writer at any time, all those pictures and feelings churning around in one’s head and latching on to whatever models one could find to try to figure out how to get them down on a page. Besides the professional fiction I was reading, my models included Devra Langsam’s very early ST fanzine Spockanalia, and Columbus, Ohio fan John Ayotte’s general zine Kallikanzaros. It was John who guided Lillian and me through the mechanics of producing a zine, everything from how to type stencils (ah, the smell of Corflu in the morning! and afternoon, and late into the night), where to go to get electrostencils produced, how to run off and collate the pages — John lent us the use of his mimeograph machine in his parents’ basement. (And I just now had to look up the name of that technology on the internet — I had forgotten and all I could think of was “ditto”, a predecessor which had a different smell entirely.)

Fan writing, at the time, was assumed to be writing more about SF and fandom, what people would use blogs to do today, than writing fanfiction. So an all-fiction zine seemed a novelty to some of our fellow fans in Columbus.

[…]

ECM: Miles Vorkosigan is an amazingly resilient kid (and then an amazingly resilient adult), but it sometimes seems like moving to Escobar or Beta Colony, or staying with the Dendarii, would make his life much easier. His attachment to his home planet is a little mysterious. What are Miles’s favorite things about Barrayar?

LMB: I actually put off this question for last, as it was strangely hard to answer. (I may be overthinking it.) Partly it’s that it requires me to reboot a character I haven’t written in some years, and hold his whole 43-years-book-time character development in my head at once. Why does anyone love their childhood home, or their family, if they do? (Not a universal given among F&SF readers, I observe; it’s a very anti-domestic genre. Don Sakers’s Analog review of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen touched on this.)

Miles’s favorite place on Barrayar is easy to tag: the lakeside retreat at Vorkosigan Surleau, and the wild Dendarii mountain range backing up behind it. Actually including its obstreperous people. As ever, Miles is a conflicted hybrid, half city boy and half country, half Betan and half Barrayaran, half future and half past, stretched between in a moving present. Family, friends, landscapes; all made him and all hold him. And from his very beginning, with all those painful medical treatments as a barely comprehending child, he’s been taught that he can’t run away when things get hard. But which also taught him that painful things can get better. It’s a lesson he’s taken to heart, and not only because it validates his own questioned and criticized existence.

(Miles being Miles, he may also take this a step too far, and confuse pain with hope, which would make him not at all the first human to stray down such a path.)

November 8, 2017

QotD: The second coming of SF’s depressing and neurotic “New Wave”

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Back in the mid to late 70’s the “New Wave” was in full force. Downbeat endings, “black and gray morality” (which can be good if handled well, at least as a change-up from more clear cut items) or worse “black and black.” Those were the tone of Science Fiction.

Then, fairly close to each other, two movies came out which took an entirely different approach: Lucas’ Star Wars and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The rogue was given back his heart of gold. The callow youth could be the hero of the piece, not ground down by the world weary cynics. Heroes who are actually heroes fighting bad guys who weren’t so “sympathetic” that you couldn’t tell hero from villain.

It was a refreshing change. And the result was that, for a time, it became OK to have good guys who were good guys. Bad guys who were actually bad and not just “oppressed” or “victims of their backgrounds”. You didn’t have to wonder who to root for.

Today we’re kind of in a similar position. One of the best selling series, for young people is The Hunger Games. Black and Very-Dark-Gray morality, little really to choose from in the sides, and (no spoilers) that’s shown pretty clearly in the ending. And in printed SF? So much “humanity is a plague” stuff. Bleah.

David L. Burkhead, “Star Wars and the Human Wave”, The Writer in Black, 2015-10-21.

November 3, 2017

QotD: Perhaps we were lucky that Firefly got cancelled when it did…

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This cult classic made the list not for being overtly “conservative”, but mainly for being “not liberal”. The universe of Firefly is some other solar system with “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons”. Some of these are closer than others to the “core” planets, which are under control of the “Alliance”, a plus-sized, technologically-advanced and repressive system of government. The outer planets and moons have less technology, and even less law, i.e Alliance control, but subsequently greater freedom. Firefly producer Joss Whedon, a stereotypical Hollywood lefty, somehow (inadvertently?) imbued Firefly with a heavily libertarian sensibility, which may not be exactly conservative, but it definitely isn’t liberal. Progressive fans of the show may be tempted to fantasize about the Alliance being an oppressive right-wing government, but that would make the “Browncoat” rebels rat bastard commie revolutionaries, and that makes no sense. The Browncoats are not interested in destroying civilization and putting a new one in its place, rather, they just want to be left alone. Their motto can best be described as “Don’t Tread On Me”, not “Workers of the World, Unite”.

Almost every science fiction fan, to a man, bemoans the fact that Firefly was yanked after only 11 episodes, and their dreams are filled what could-have-beens. I, however, take the contrarian view that the cancellation of Firefly was A Good Thing, a blessing in disguise that helped preserve it when it was still a quality show. For it would not have continued a quality show. I believe that Joss Whedon’s perverse Hollywood lefty views would have eventually seeped into Firefly the way a dead rat behind the baseboard will stink up the entire kitchen. A similar thing happened with Battlestar Galactica, as Jonah Goldberg argues in this Commentary article from 2009.

“Whither Conservative TV Shows? [OregonMuse]”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2016-03-19.

November 1, 2017

Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus – Extra Sci Fi – #1

Filed under: Books, Europe, History, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 31 Oct 2017

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein launched the entire genre of science fiction. What made it unique? What did Shelley create, and how did her view of the possibilities of science shape the way we imagine our world even today?

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