Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April: Executive Summary

"Meet the Thousands of People Ready to Die on Mars." I've gone the colour of my planet over this $40 entrance fee. I can't believe I've fallen at the first hurdle. There really seems to be no way around it :(

"Beaming into the Rat World: Enabling Real-Time Interaction between Rat and Human each at Their Own Scale." This obvious opportunity to give the rats control of human-sized robotic rats is being squandered. Please sign my petition here.

Fat traps under sinks to feed new east London power plant (BBC).

Flying cars (WSJ). Not-so-distant etc.: "The person at the controls of the TF-X would not have to be a licensed pilot, Dietrich said, because the most challenging elements of flying, from control coordination to precision navigation, would happen automatically under computer control." Still no sign of food pills (unless that's what BitCoin is and I've misunderstood some stuff). The TF-X feels a bit like a chopper. Maybe when we say we hanker for "flying cars" we actually mean something a bit more like "flying traffic jams"?

Touch-based interfaces (Phys.org). Also see Science Fiction Interfaces.



"World's first 3D-printed gun fired" (BBC). Extrapolative science fiction, this is your moment! Go go go go go.

Is this actually the first? Here's Cody Wilson of Defence Distributed talking to Glean Beak back in January. I guess there's probably a spectrum of gunniness. Where do you draw the line?

Here is Lara Buckerton, arguing for a holistic understanding of "arms" in the US Second Amendment, an understanding which includes the social and institutional infrastructures into which the actual hardware (the bit that goes BANG!) is woven. "What kind of civilian military counterweight ("militia"?) could exist, even in principle, to the latent USAF-backed tyranny of the government?"

3D-printed invisibility? (Phys.org)


On the 15th of April I delivered a paper-poem at Syndicate in Inspace in Edinburgh, worked up from this post in March on the Amazon / Solid Gold Bomb "Keep Calm" T-shirts affair. Here's a bit of it.

B. 60%. 30%, Percentages include saddle, reins and so forth because for Tesco, Every Little Bit Helps.

C. There are all kinds of reasons the incident had such long dull resonance. Chief among these reasons surely is that the horse is a lovely animal. You wouldn't eat a horse, would you?

D. Maybe among those reasons is a certain quasi-repressed awareness of the deceptive status of all food products and indeed all commodities. It's almost relief: we knew there was something funny about that lasagna, something we knew all along . . . or them kicks, or that Kindle . . . or pancake mix . . . oh thank f . . . 's just horse meat! Nothing worse. But it is worse because, to put it in somewhat Marxian terms, all commodities contain human meat. 

E. Buried deep in the arcane dungeons of Volume Eleven of Das Kapital: "It is [...] the ultimate money form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of private labour, and the social relations between the individual producers."

F. Here’s Keston Sutherland on how "human labour in the abstract . . . mere congellations, semisolid, tremulous comestible mass, Gallarte, of homogeneous human labour" is gathered in commodities. "Marx’s German readers will not only have bought Gallerte, they will have eaten it; and in using the name of this particular commodity [...] Marx’s intention is not simply to educate his readers but also to disgust them." Maybe one good translation would be Spam.

G. Meanwhile, back on the virtual environment of Second Life, widos grief innocent townsfolk with Object Spam. Elsewhere Findus "horsemeat" lasagne appeared on eBay, starting at £70. The brand Find-us encloses a kind of pun, as if we can still save the horses. 

H. Part of the reason we tend to have objects in categories like “pencil” and “teacup” is economies of scale: it’s sort of cheaper to make many objects that are the same. But a flatter marginal cost, as with ubiquitous 3D printing, encourages experimental manufacture. Consider a material culture that must be lip-read, facets become poor heralds of the polygonic extension, the texture, heft, and hinginess affixed. Lip has a secondary etymology of edge, the lip of a cup or a crater. Think of objects more Lego-like, more mercurial and chimerical. Objects tied to specific locations, objects that are not robust in a similar way to how evolved computation is not robust. Think of a teacup that is slightly cheaper because only Rooibos doesn’t leak. Think of objects manufactured with glitches, or manufactured for purposes of debugging. Objects sporting easter eggs hidden by hackers or hacking algorithms. Objects with bloatware extension, physical features not intended by the proximal manufacturer, but perhaps of use or value to someone somewhere down the line. Think of hackers scouring dumps and charity shops for discarded objects in whose manufacture they have covertly intervened. Of objects infused with their own one-shot 3D printers to change shape when a condition is satisfied. E.g. an object called a “teacup until 2020, thereafter an edible pencil.” And possibly a puddle. The front of a teacup is currently a good indicator of the back a teacup not far away. In a world of Object Spam, a world of commodities behaving a little bit more like online viral ecologies, the far side objects might be a really scary place.

Think of real tangible griefer object spam. Changeist pictures crapjects, & scavengers “tossing aside misshapen busts of Mozart and two-headed Star Wars stormtroopers, pushing past a half-finished TV stand or crunching through the remains of several attempted drone-prints.” Think of objects shaped by all kinds of processes we associate with text -- cut and paste, cut-up, spinning, rephrasing. Not just rephrasing objects, synonymising them, but also building them according to the kind of rainmaking, satisficing, scattershot, perhaps post-ironic expression I talked about earlier. Objects dictated not by function or design, but by experimental glissandos up spectra along which it is guessed functions and design forms may lie. In Scotland we call groceries the messages because we are brilliant. Could the object ensemble even borrow form from that domination for which objectification & reification has been such a beguiling & false face?

Bad Lip Reading (YouTube).

Techno-literary paparazzo Chris Scott's photos of the Syndicate event.


Guns! In a review of Peter F. Hamilton's Great North Road (2012) I've been writing for Foundation, I try to think a bit about taste, vulgarity, and space operatic / military sf images of the future. Does putting laser pistols in your far future commandos' paws subtly undermine the cultural profile of US military hegemony, such that it will (/ "always already has...") retaliate by stopping up rivulets of cultural capital, making it that bit more difficult for you to achieve a kneejerk acceptability?

"If they think you're crude, go technical; if they think you're technical, go crude," advises prophetic USB stick Johnny in William Gibson's "Johnny Mneumonic" (1981), as he puts a medieval halberd into his fanny pack.

Neal Asher is perhaps an example of an author whose far future atmospheres contain an adroit spritz of the primitive. In his tale in this month's Asimov's Science Fiction -- "The Other Gun" -- combatants don't die in a hail of bullets so much as: succumb to fast-acting fungal contamination, get bitten to death by dinosaur fangs, or deliberately crushed under a huge slamming door.

Do inclusions of technology which has not advanced sometimes act as a kind of flamboyant demonstration of restraint? Does such restraint aim to close (or just to blur) the gap between the kind of extrapolative rigour on which much science fiction builds its reputation, vs. the kind which it can actually exercise? Though when you realise you're suggesting "squashing people with doors" as an example of restraint, it could be time to take stock.


Susan Gray's (ShittyKittyPhD) mysterious sf playlet, "Switchboard" (PDF) is about gender, art (perhaps along the lines of artists like Jen Southern, Esther Polak and Christian Nold), surveillance, big data, and - especially - about representation of social complexity, and about understanding each other under conditions of social complexity.

"Typical of humanity. Dialogues are just monologues that have converged." Compare Charlie Brooker's only slightly reductive grump, in which he approvingly quotes a book about making Doctor Who: "Dialogue is just two monologues clashing." Of course a solo playwright / screenwriter is always aware at some level of dialogue as a masking of their (internal) monologue, a bifurcation artifice. Also cf. the different implications of "converging" and "clashing" (and others words - "cohabiting," "coalescing," "co-nquering," "integrating," "interleaving," "superimposing," etc.). It could be the difference, for instance, between a street that is two one-way streets superimposed, or side-by-side. (I don't know: I don't cognitively converge, although I do have a licence).

There's a significant stratum of academic-ish language in the scene, and it made me think of Bauman (ambivalence) and (inevitably for me) Habermas (communicative rationality vs. instrumental rationality), but also Walter Benjamin: "Für Männer: Über-Zeugen ist unfruchtbar," "For men: to convince is to conquer unfruitfully," or "to conquer without conception." Although, appropriately, I have no idea what he means. 


"Yet, for some individual or group, the mainstream media blackout was not enough; they wiped Facebook clean of our dissent too. We must take this as a note of caution and a reminder that Facebook and other social media sites are not free spaces, they are owned by corporations. If someone came and clasped their hand over your mouth in the street, there would be avenues for redress. If Facebook does the same, options are limited." (Scriptonite)

Does Facebook censor political content? 

"Yes and no is my best guess. It's worth trying to imagine, in concrete detail, how censorship might be embedded in Facebook's operations. Not that there aren't Evil Corporations (there basically are) but we shouldn't lose sight of the org hierarchy and processes of that Evil, how that Evil is embodied in the lives of various individuals committing various individual acts, according to narratives which let them sleep at night [...] Facebook needs to work out the signature of political speech and/or divisive speech being misreported as spam and find ways to protect it. There needs at least to be effective appeal functionality [...]"


It's a hein lein!

Heinlein on censorship: "The whole principle is wrong; it’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t eat steak."

Heinlein on gun ownership: "An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life."

Tor.com Heinlein symposium. Not sure when this is from.

January 2010, Ian Sales on Stranger in a Strange Land.  "[...] look at that hyperbole 'the Hugo-winning bestseller they wanted to ban'. It doesn’t say who wanted to ban it – lovers of good literature, perhaps. If it was some religious group – well, don’t forget one such group also wanted to ban Watership Down, a book with a cast of rabbits."

From November 2012, Jonathan McCalmont on Heinlein's legacy etc."Annoyed with the History of Science Fiction."

July 2011, Jo Walton on her least favourite HeinleinTo Sail Beyond the Sunset, linking to a lot of her other Heinlein stuff on Tor.


Damien G. Walter reveals the results of his indie SF-afari.


Speculative Fiction 2012, ed. Justin Landon and Jared Shurin. Mur Lafferty, Ana Grilo, Thea James, Sarah Anne Langton, Joe Abercrombie, Daniel Abraham, Niall Alexander, Elizabeth Bear, Rob Berg, Liz Bourke, Maurice Broaddus, Myke Cole, Kate Elliott, Katherine Farmar, Chris Gerwel, Christopher Garcia, Daniel Goodman, Ana Grilo, Niall Harrison, Dan Hartland, Matt Hilliard, Kameron Hurley, Thea James, N.K. Jemisin, Paul Kincaid, Lady Business, Rose Lemberg, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Cynthia Martinez, Tim Maughan, Foz Meadows, Jonathan McCalmont, Martin McGrath, Aidan Moher, Ken Neth, Larry Nolen, Abigail Nussbaum, Christopher Priest, Stefan Raets, Adam Roberts, Tansy Rayner Roberts, CS Samulski, Penny Schenk, Ro Smith, Maureen K. Speller, Aishwarya Subramanian, Matthew Surridge, Sam Sykes, Gav Thorpe and Lavie Tidhar.

"Science fiction is one of the great middle class cultural projects; an exciting, upmarket gated community where you need to show your credentials to get admittance. You’re allowed into science fiction because you understand the greatest middle class-empowering construct of the last 200 years – you understand science. You are welcome in science fiction because you understand that scientists and engineers and astronauts are heroes. You are welcome in science fiction because you understand that rationality and reasoning and hard work can fix anything. And most importantly, you are welcome in science fiction because you’re middle class and you understand that the future is yours for the taking." Tim Maughan, from "Science Fiction Is Here, It's Just Not Evenly Distributed."

"Intentions are meaningless if contradicted by our actions, and doubly so if we refuse to even acknowledge the possibility of dissonance between them. Victoria Foyt is not being bullied; she is being called out for having written a horrendously racist book in the first instance and then for completely dismissing her critics in the second. Trying to turn the existing conversation about the negative themes of Revealing Eden, the reactions of POC readers, Foyt’s behaviour and the general problem of race in YA into a discussion about the appropriateness of various reviewing techniques is, ultimately, a form of derailing: however important the issue might be otherwise, it’s a separate topic to the one at hand, and the STGRB site managers have done themselves even less credit than usual by so hamfistedly conflating the two. Subconscious racism is a real problem – but so is the refusal of would-be allies to acknowledge that, despite all their active efforts and intentions, it can still affect them, too." Foz Meadows, from "Racism, Revealing Eden, and Stop The Goodreads Bullies."


Jonathan McCulmont on The Hugo Awards. And a long comments thread about a YA Hugo, rejuvenation factor, permission to translate a review of Windup Girl, communities, committees, lawns, comments threads, etc.

"Going by the comments on Justin’s blog, the SFF community appears to be stuck in two self-contained vicious circles:

Whenever an alienated fan feels inclined to express their concerns about the Hugos, established fans such as Kevin Standlee use an array of tactics (including mockery, tone escalation and flood-posting) to shut down debate leaving the alienated fans feeling not only disenfranchised but also increasingly angry and resentful over the Hugo Awards’ claims to universality and democracy.

Whenever established fans devote time and money to ensuring that the Hugo Awards are not only well-attended but smoothly run, a group of people with very little invested in the process appear and begin to question not only the outcome of the Hugo process but the integrity of the process itself. Whenever a fan attempts to correct a mistake or encourage further engagement, they are met with hostility. Given that these outliers appear unwilling to contribute to the Hugos, the only option is to ensure that the complaints and protestations are silenced lest they negatively impact the awards and the convention that hosts them.

I have been following these types of discussion for the best part of ten years and that decade has seen online reactions to the Hugo Awards become ever more aggressive and balkanised. People outside the process see the Hugo Awards becoming increasingly isolated and dysfunctional while the people who are heavily invested in the process fear the institutions slipping away from them, hence the orchestrated campaigns to not only preserve ‘fan writing’ as something that is done in the remnants of the traditional fanzine scene but also block any constitutional overtures that expansive and progressive fans might want to make to the vibrant and energetic YA and comics communities."


"I am officially Very Poorly." A Personal Statement from Iain Banks.

"I can still remember how shocked and impressed I was by the end of the book. In terms of the games writers can play with the chronologies of narratives, it has long been a touchstone work for me." Ian Sales on cancer's latest fucking brilliant idea.

Some messages from fans.

Adam Roberts is moonwalking through the Culture novels.


Me: scarce maths, scarce reading, scarce solo writing except Syndicate pres & Great North Road review. Some coastline wibble with nick-e & some lines & rhymes with Verity & Justin. Mini PiP/WFSPFN at Forest+. (Dropped by Iain Morrison's "Subject Index" Emily Dickinson project & Leiza McLeod and Iain's "This Is Not The Place" readings there too). Did avant radge with Sam & Justin for Calum & Sandy's Verse Hearse in Glas. There is a new SCREE. Justin Katko visit.


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