Thursday, October 13, 2016

Works Slighted

Ghost bibliography. From an essay that was never written.

Adams, Douglas. 1988 [1987]. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. New York: Pocket Books.
Adams, Douglas. 2010 [1980]. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. London: Macmillan.
Atwood, Margaret. 2003. Oryx and Crake. London: Bloomsbury.
Atwood, Margaret. 2008. Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Work. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. eBook edition.
Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. ‘The Forms of Capital.’ In J. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood.
Brantlinger, Patrick. 1975. ‘“News from Nowhere”: Morris’s Socialist Anti-Novel.’ Victorian Studies, 19(1), September 1975.
Brown, Carolyn. 1996. ‘Utopias and Heterotopias: The “Culture” of Iain M. Banks.’ In Derek Littlewood and Peter Stockwell (eds.), Impossible Fiction: Alternativity, Extrapolation, Speculation. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Brown, Chris. 2001. ‘Special Circumstances: Intervention by a Liberal Utopia.’ Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 30(3).
Cairns, Craig. 2002. ‘Player of Games: Iain M. Banks, Jean-François Lyotard and Sublime Terror.’ In James Acheson and Sarah C.E. Ross (eds.), The Contemporary British Novel Since 1980. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 2006 [1817]. Biographia Literaria – Or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions. Pomona Press.
Crawford, Kate. 2016. ‘Can an Algorithm be Agonistic? Ten Scenes from Life in Calculated Publics.’ Science, Technology & Human Values 41(1).
Delany, Samuel. 2009 [1978]. The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
Doctorow, Cory. 2003c. ‘Truncat.’ August 2003. Accessed online at on 11 September 2016.
Duggan, Rob. 2007. ‘Iain M. Banks, Postmodernism and the Gulf War.’ Extrapolation 48(3).
Egan, Greg. 1994. Permutation City. London: Orion/Millenium.
Fleming, P. and M.T. Jones. 2012. The End of Corporate Social Responsibility: Crisis and Critique. London: Sage Publications.
Guerrier, Simon. 1999. ‘Culture Theory: Iain M. Banks’ ‘Culture as Utopia.’’ Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, 28(76).
Hartwell, David G. and Kathryn Cramer (eds). 2006. The Space Opera Renaissance. New York: Tor.
Haworth, John T. and A. J. Veal. 2003. Work and Leisure. Routledge: London and New York.
Heeks, Richard. 2008. ‘Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on ‘Gold Farming’: Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games.’ Development Informatics Group. Accessed online at on 1 September 2015.
Huizinga, Johan. 1955.  Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. [First English edition Roy Publishers 1950. Previously published in Dutch and German].
James, Edward and Farah Mendlesohn (eds). 2003. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Khouri, Nadia. 1980. ‘The Dialectics of Power: Utopia in the Science Fiction of Le Guin, Jeury, and Piercy.’ Science-Fiction Studies 7, no. 1 (March, 1980): pp. 49–61.
Kulibicki, Michal. 2009. ‘Iain M. Banks, [Ernst] Bloch and Utopian Interventions.’ Colloquy: Text, Theory and Critique, vol. 33-34, pp. 372-86.
Le Guin, Ursula K. 1976. ‘Introduction’ to The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace. [The Left Hand of Darkness first published 1969].
MacLeod, Ken. 2003. ‘Socialism: Millenarian, Utopian and Science-Fictional’, in Butler Andrew M. and Mendlesohn Farah (eds), The True Knowledge of Ken Macleod, Reading, Science Fiction Foundation.
Marcuse, Herbert. 1969. An Essay on Liberation. Accessed online at on 20 July 2014.
Maughan, Tim. 2015. 'The Inevitable Rise of the Internet of Shipping Containers.' Motherboard, September 24, 2015. Accessed online at on 15 April 2016.
Mendelsohn, Farah. 2005. ‘The Dialectic of Decadence and Utopia in Iain M. Banks’ Culture Novels.’ Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, vol. 93, pp. 116-124.
Morris, William. 1936. ‘Thoughts on Education under Capitalism,’ in William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist, ed. May Morris. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. [Essay first published in Commonweal, Vol 4, No. 129, 30 June 1888, pp. 204-205].
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1996. Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Parker, Stanley R. 1985. Leisure and Work. London: Allen & Unwin.
Piketty, Thomas. 2014 [2013]. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge Massachusetts: Belknap Press. eBook edition.
Roberts, Adam. 2010. New Model Army. London: Gollancz.
Stephenson, Neal. 1992. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam Spectra.
Stephenson, Neal. 1995. The Diamond Age, or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. New York: Bantam Spectra.
Stross, Charles. 2003. Singularity Sky. New York: Ace Books.
Stross, Charles. 2013. Neptune’s Brood. London: Orbit.
Suvin, Darko. 1988. Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction. Kent OH: Kent State U.P.
Terry, Judith. 1988. ‘Seen But Not Heard: Servants in Jane Austen’s England.’ Persuasions 10.
Tolkien, J.R.R. 2001 [1937]. ‘On Fairy-Stories.’ In J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf. New York: HarperCollins. [‘On Fairy-Stories’ delivered as a lecture in 1937. First print appearance 1947. Tree and Leaf first published in 1964].
Watts, Peter. 2006. Blindsight. New York: Tor.
Žižek, Slajov. 2012. The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. London: Verso.
Žižek, Slavoj. 2011. ‘Address to Occupy Wall Street, 9 October 2011.’ Impose Magazine. Accessed online at on 11 September 2016.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Calling USA

America, can you help me? This is a key speech in a story I'm writing ('The Ballast of All Possible Worlds.') The character who speaks it is from the US. It is probably peculiar in all kinds of ways. But the thing I am really keen to avoid is any accidental British-isms. What do you think? Is there anything there that jumps out at you? Let me know in the comments or get me on Twitter.
Another fun fact. Black slaves built white America. Did it to spec and on time. But the check’s not in the mail. Let me be clear, Farah. The grind, the passion demonstrated by LAB’s allies – I’m speaking of the traditional slavery reparations movement here – the ingenuity, the courage, ain’t nobody going to question that. Ain’t nobody going to forget that. Yet LAB believes that the time has now come ... can I say, the time has now come for some of us more energetically to concern ourselves with the husbandry of the law. 
That’s why LAB proposes a return to the aspiration of Cato v. the United States, 1984. Heard of it? Not sure? Don’t worry, you’re okay. A thing I hear a lot, and especially from white folks, is that we need to focus on the future. The future, not the past. We can’t let our history hold us back. Cato might agree. But maybe not the way they mean it.  
Cato’s suit began with the forced ancestral indoctrination of Africans into a foreign society, and it pursued that original injustice, tracked it doggedly through history, right up to the present day. LAB does a lot of things, but the project closest to our hearts -- and because our hearts are forever falling, this project also is on the down-low! -- it’s a project in the algorithmic reparations space. Because you see, in the end, Cato’s complaint was judged to be too abstract. Too abstract, without concrete injury fairly traceable to concrete perpetrators. You can put a multinational in the dock, sure. You can put the government in the dock, if the government consents. Want to go a little higher? You want to put a system in the dock? That’s when you hear, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. We're not racist, but that’s too abstract.’ Abstract.  
Tell me something, Farah. When you are excluded from education, from housing, when you get underpaid, deceived, banned, shunned, barred, ridiculed, enjoyed, hounded, permitted unfit food, unclean water ... when your lungs get forced to breathe a different air from white folks’ lungs ... when you are raped, tortured, sterilized, your reputation smeared, your dignities snatched away, tormented psychologically, swindled, your loved ones taken ... when you are entrapped, framed, hunted and snared ... fearful to drive, fearful to walk, fearful to stay at home ... taken to factories and plantations that call themselves prisons, while your transgressions, as often as not, are themselves a kind of side-effect of our peculiarly American system of recruitment ... when you get beat down, without concern for your survival, and when you get shot down, lawfully shot down, because you too swiftly heed a police officer’s instruction, or do not heed it swiftly enough ... now, will that feel abstract to you?  
And I assure you, I am speaking as abstractly as I can manage. Farah, if the law construes these injuries as too abstract, could it be our job to make them more concrete? To quantify racism? And in so doing, to quantify its undoing?
PS: The story, I should say, does not in any big way follow the provocation introduced at the end of this speech. Maybe in another story. Though I don't know if I'll ever be ready to write something like that.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Voyager Scarcity

Had a smol think about (post-)scarcity again the other day. "Scarce" technically means "limited relative to requirements" rather than limited per se. Scarcity is always about the relationship between resources and the various things that might be done with them. Scarcity is never about whether those resources are finite or infinite.

Science fiction probably ought to try to keep that in mind, because it implies that (post-)scarcity can never apply absolutely to any setting or story whatsoever. (Maybe there's some weird example that can prove me wrong there?). Rather, (post-)scarcity is always one of those "it depends how you mean it" kind of things. Any resource is always scarce in some ways, but not scarce in others, depending what you happen to be counting as a requirement.

(That's not to say that science fiction shouldn't also be interested in infinity and finitude as well, of course. Just that that problematic is slightly offset from the post-scarcity problematic).

Some (post-)scarcity science fiction gets very interested in the idea of social connectivity as a kind of intrinsically scarce resource. "Alas, all my material desires are fulfilled, and yet all I want is for senpai to notice me." Maybe that's why you often see a funny kind of pettiness appear in some self-consciously post-scarcity settings.

In Look to Windward, Iain M. Banks equips Culture characters with an idiom for when something is especially desirable: “[t]hey’d reinvent money for this” (ibid.). When the Culture’s particular brand of plenitude is compromised in an apparently trivial way, some Culture characters do reinvent money.

A one-off music concert is set to take place in a limited-capacity venue, and everyone wants to go. Concert tickets become a kind of money. What do they buy and sell with it? Don't they have everything already? They buy and sell commodities arising from a division of affective, sexual, reproductive, and performative labor. Or in other words, they buy and sell aspects of social relationships. "People who can’t stand other people are inviting them to dinner [...] People have traded sexual favours, they’ve agreed to pregnancies, they’ve altered their appearance to accommodate a partner’s desires, they’ve begun to change gender to please lovers; all just to get tickets" (Banks 2000: 276). 

It struck me that Star Trek: Voyager also has a little of this going on: social meaning is its key scarce resource.

In the Star Trek universe, you got your replicators that can synthesize you fancy meals or whatever ex nihilo with just one squirty beep. Maybe even more importantly, you got your holodecks, rooms that can spin you whatever reality you desire to dreamily live in.

Voyager casts one vessel really, really far from home. (I can't remember the premise exactly, but I think maybe in the pilot episode they fall asleep on the space night bus). The same post-scarcity technologies are present, but they don't project the same aura of coziness and security.

And I bet that was part of the point: there's a heightened sense of peril that must be met with careful resource management, else this bucket of bolts isn't going to make it home in one piece. But also, the resource which Voyager brings to the fore as limited and precious are human (and Talaxian yadda yadda) relationships. This is stitched into the fabric of the story. Everything, everything that occurs in Voyager, occurs in relation to the process of people drawing closer together or failing to. Their movement is both literal and a metaphor for social de-atomization. The most estimable treasure that Janeway can win in any episode is to shave time off Voyager's ETA, or to make some kind of Starfleeting contact ...

At the same time, the show seems to think a lot about its domestic production of meaning. It thinks about ways in which Voyager already is home. (That theme often seems to swirl around Neelix, who I think is responsible for "morale").

And I think it does a pretty good job, in that liberal, cosmopolitan, look-the-Borg-is-not-intrinsically-other, look-even-the-hologram-is-not-intrinsically-other, kind of way that Star Trek does. But it also makes me wonder if the general vibe of a more strictly material kind of scarcity is getting rather dangerously applied in ways that ideally it really shouldn't be. Human relationships, after all, aren't actually resources, with alternative uses, resources that require efficient production and allocation to fulfill some requirements although sadly not others. Whatever they are, it's not that. They have their own logic. And for what it's worth, pretending that human relationships are merely precious resources, rather than whatever they really are, is something that goes very neatly together with the nostalgic longing for the homeland, the longing that is ultimately what functions to distinguish friend (including assimilable outsider) from enemy, to distinguish "us" from "them."