Wednesday, June 26, 2013

June: Executive Summary

Iain M. Banks died.

"I am officially Very Poorly." Last interview (Guardian). Some words from Adele (Mrs B-to-be-as-was)Ken MacLeod, Ian RankinNeil Gaiman, others, others.

On my desktop there is a foolishly half-written note to him.
First of all, congratulations on your marriage.
And thank you for your books. Your more recent are my favourite, especially Matter, but I like them all.
In the last year or two, I saw you in an Indian restaurant in Edinburgh, and resisted the urge to despatch ROU Excuse Me, But.
Of course now I really wish I had.
("I'm dying of cancer."
"If I'd foreseen this, I would have fucked up your tea!")
It is strange to see the deluge of good wishes and distress on your guestbook and elsewhere. There are hyper-literate bibliophiles and there are folk who say they might not be readers at all, if it weren't for you. There are a few there I wouldn't have had down as fans of yours at all. I wonder if some of the people telling you how much you've inspired them and touched their lives make you think, "Oh dear. Oops." Maybe there's something in that about the way some storytelling can sort of burst its Banks, and involve a kind of togetherness which isn't about minds in harmony. But mostly it's just kind of funny.
That didn't seem quite right, especially the last paragraph, or quite enough, so I laid it aside, thinking there was plenty of time.


NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about the PRISM / US-984XN surveillance program (Wikipedia).

@emilanddc reformats the leaked slides. A really excellent job, although you'd just know this kind of reformat is going to come back marked up with "combine with next slide" all over it.

(Someone should redo it as blog post with gratuitous lolcats (OMG why isn't there a "internetify any text" site yet headdesk?).)

Remarks on PRISM and US military doctrine, with gratuitous lolcats.


Superman reboot Man of Steel. Now if it'd been me rebooting the thing, I'd have focused on Kal-El's less well-celebrated hypnotist, ventriloquist, memory savant and shapeshifter skillset (Wikipedia | Superman Wiki).

Awesome!, epic!, hard-hitting! article by Erik Chidress about (I think) film critics who say nice stuff so their reviews will get quoted. His kvetch re the term blockbuster is a bit prescriptivist though.

Mike Habjan's fanimation of Superman vs. Hulk, part I:

Superman vs. Hulk part II:

"Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" is Larry Niven's 1971 article on Superman, sex and making babies. "That leaves LL with several million microscopic perforations all leading deep into her abdomen. Most of the channels will intersect one or more loops of intestine." See also rishathra.

"[...] Not only [do] bodies tend to indicate a world beyond themselves, but this movement beyond their own boundaries, a movement of boundary itself, appears to be quite central to what bodies 'are' [...] what constitutes the fixity of the body, its contours, its movements, will be fully material, but materiality will be rethought as the effect of power, as power's most productive effect." - Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter

I am entitled to a scrupulously footnoted animated data visualisation of Superman's changing powers, including his fluctuating strength levels, over the past 80 years, and of the power whereof they are effects. I also am entitled to watch Fiver vs. Titus Groan. Fwd ASAP pls.

DC Strength Scale. Marvel Directory Strength Levels. "Hold This For Me Will You": Non-Thor Mjolnir Wielders.

"[T]he only visible form that evil assumes is an attempt on private property." Umberto Eco's 1972 (?) analysis of the Superman myth (JSTOR paywall).

Alex Law doing character design based on little girls' costumes. Little Girls Are Better At Designing Superheroes Than You.


"Well, being in the army is like being in prison. You are not your own person. You are constrained 24/7. You are told what to do. They keep you in your place. You are not allowed to have an awful lot of self-respect, or pride of place, or pride of self. And I've been in jail, and I've been in hospitals, and I've been in the army. They constrict me. They're a straitjacket. I am a mad thing, and wildness asserts itself. I'm like your average dopey teenager, who lies down in the middle of traffic just to see what it feels like to have a car run over you. I'm blessed. I'm blessed. I'm less than a month shy of the age 79. By all rights – I ran away from home when I was 13, not because I was being abused, just because I couldn't stand it any more, and I had to get out on my own. I was on the road at age 13, and I should have bought the farm at age 14, duelling with Richelieu's guards on the parapets, and instead I have lived to this ripe old age." Damien G. Walter interviews Harlan Ellison in The Guardian.


Interzone #246 includes the first of Jonathan McCulmont's Future Interrupted column. "While the world of literary horror positively bristles with newfound creative energy and the grandees of epic fantasy are canonised by American cable TV, science fiction drifts aimlessly between nostalgia and self-immolation as awards and critical plaudits are split between the people who produce old-fashioned science fiction stories and the people who produce stories that could just as easily have been written under the auspices of an entirely different genre. [...] Aside from explaining how a 4th Century Greek Bishop wound up serving as both a Coca-Cola mascot and the Senior Elflord of Christmas consumer debt, cultural drift has also been central to the history of science fiction. [...] One of the topics I would like to explore in future columns is the idea that, far from being fixed in stone, the history of science fiction is something that can (and must) be remade by each new generation of readers [...]"

So far, I've also particularly enjoyed Priya Sharma’s “Thesea and Astaurius” and its minotaur which is different depending where he is in his maze.


SFWA and sexism. Foz Meadows picks through the pontificating.

Later: Alex MacFarlane: "On SFWA: Making Bigots Unwelcome."


Twitter has hinted at a feature under development to let users "jump back in time," synching their Twitter timelines with on-demand TV. "Mr Costolo suggested that watching a major event without Twitter was like watching TV "with the volume off" (BBC Newsbeat).

There are a couple interesting things implied by this, roughly summed up as Social Media Time Travel. First, why not figure out how to allow new tweets in this retro mode? They'd have to be timestamped with the "actual" moment when they were tweeted, but they could appear in the virtual past. You'd want to be able to hide tweets by people from the future, of course (spoilers etc.), and some more advanced app might let you filter what you see on the basis of both when other twerps tweeted and what filters they had active at the time. Perhaps another app would allow you to re-do your own tweets. All this would create a sort of branching structure: "quit blowing up my alternate timeline," etc. (Perhaps something clever could be done to associate competing versions of the past with different branches of BitCoin blocks, to extend this indeterminate, flickery ontology into the economic realm). Furthermore, in principle, we could start to extend Twitter backwards in time. Everyone from my generation remembers where we were during the moon landings: on Twitter. The extent of possibilities isn't completely clear to me; what's clear is that Costolo, Zuckerberg et al. should be studying stuff like Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself and Carruth's Primer, and assessing the risk of the downside scenario in which they were never born at all.


"The device is capable of customizing the level of ventilation by sensing the number of people in different areas or zones of a building and then adjusting fan speed and air movement accordingly" ( I am horrified and existentially challenged to find that offices are not already energy optimal.

@pomeranian99: We Need a Fixer (Not Just a Maker) Movement.  "This would be a huge cultural shift. In the 20th century, U.S. firms aggressively promoted planned obsolescence, designing things to break" (Wired).

NASA's microgravity 3D printing experiment ( Cf. also SpiderFab.

Get your fix speculative Martian geology: enigmatic class of gullies could be work of gas-cushioned dry ice fragments (

If we can't find life, we'll just jolly well anthropomorphise black holes. Cute black hole nap pics (

When Eric Davis talks about FTL travel, it just seems a matter of stepping into a mirror and finding your way out. "Why Warp Drives Aren't Just Science Fiction" (Yahoo!).


ME: reading Interzone, Fearsome Journeys (ed. Jonathan Strahan), Titus Alone, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World. / Syndicate+ at Summerhall w/ Juha Virtanen, Nell Perry, Luke Allan, Iliop, Greg Thomas. / Cambridge x2, Norfolk. / Zilch leaves, scarce bucks, but! Deftly limbo'd under the Northumb. In the bag. Already signing everything "[probably also medical] Doctor J." / Animal Crater officially out. / Folks nothing to see here 'cept repost of an old Banks review. / Charms 'gainst gout, typhoid, tetanus, rabies 0.67. Leggings scaling Mnt. Laundry. Costco for the big mayo. Away tae Pitlochry, Gateway tae the East etc.v. soon for cheffery.

Maybe a bit of a hiatus till Sept: then pow! this blog's gonna stop making sense at all.



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