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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 03:25:09 PM EST) Reading, Watching, Theatre, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Habibi", "The Rapture of the Nerds". Watching: "Summer With Monika", "Looper". Theatre: "Pictures from an Execution". Links.


What I'm Reading
Habibi by Craig Thompson Comic book, apparently based on an Arabic legend, following the life of a girl who after an arranged child marriage becomes a refugee in the desert, then a harem concubine; and her relationship with an adopted boy. It intersperses scenes from her life with the stories she tells others around her.

It's gorgeously drawn in black and white, with intricate patterns incorporating decoration, script and diagrams; with scenes ranging from the sensual to the disgusting. The story is compelling, with some unflinching tragic moments.

Some downsides: the world doesn't feel quite believable with its mixtures of isolated deserts and dense cities, camel caravans and trucks. Also the orientalizing and harem eroticism is strong enough I'm surprised it hasn't motivated a zombie Edward Said to lurch from the grave to rip the author's head from his shoulders.

Overall though, a powerful and well-drawn comic, well worth reading.

What I'm Reading 2
Finished The Rapture of the Nerds. Science fiction collaboration between Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow, released under a Creative Commons licence, about a post-singularity society.

The collaboration doesn't seem to be very deep. The first half, set on Earth, feels very much like Cory Doctorow; and the second half feels very much like Charles Stross. I read the download which has regular commercial interludes pleading with you to buy it. Annoyingly only the expensive hardcover and DRM'd Amazon version seems to be available in the UK: in other markets you can buy a cheap-ish DRM-free ebook from Kobo.

The book requires a fairly deep knowledge of science fiction and geek culture, scattered with references to Ayn Rand, "NPCs" and other jargon that would baffle most civilians.

I wasn't that keen on the first half: the satire seemed pretty weak, the jokes pretty juvenile, and we've seen plenty of Singularity-as-magic stuff already. The second half seemed a lot better, with the much rarer feature of looking at how the Singularity might actually function for uploaded personalities: with competition for large-but-limited computing resources and a complex legal-financial system for administering them.

Overall, flawed but interesting. I'm glad I made it through to the end since I thought the ideas compensated for the clumsy humour, but not everyone would.

Author sites.

What I'm Watching
Saw Summer with Monika on disc, 1951 Ingmar Bergman movie about a teenage couple's love affair.

Feels a bit clunky in places, especially the crude overdubbing of outdoor sound. Was notorious for its nudity at the time, though it's not particularly racy today (Monika is seen from the back in one shot, and there are some distant boobs on the horizon in another).

Overall, a good movie, some interesting characters and photography.

Review, review, review.

What I'm Watching 2
Saw the much-hyped time travel movie Looper at the cinema.

I thought it lived up to the hype. It's a good, well-balanced movie with a decent and well thought out plot, interesting characters, a few OK action scenes, and some interesting ideas.

I liked the way it brings to the screen some science fiction elements that are useful in novels, but are rarely seen in the cinema. The movie's present, which is probably in our future, has a semi-broken-down society with poverty, a distant or dysfunctional government, rather than an outright apocalypse. The "Loopers" are not elite assassins, but grunts at the lowest end of the criminal hierarchy.

The plot isn't that plausible, and the time travel rules take some swallowing, but it's not as daft as the trailer makes it seem.

Presumably there is some kind of causal link between the two timestreams, so that a change to the past-stream takes effect at an equivalent moment to the future person. But it's hard to see how it's supposed to work. For instance, after they amputate the future guy's legs, how did he get to the mob's location when that version of him had no legs to work the pedals of the car?

Overall though, an excellent movie.

Theatre
Saw an early preview of Scenes from an Execution at the National. Revival of a Howard Barker play about a female artist in Sixteenth Century Venice called Galactia, who is commissioned to paint a huge picture of the victory at the Battle of Lepanto. Instead of a grandiose celebration, she paints a horrific scene of carnage.

Good play, with some funny moments and pointed satire. It's not quite as didactic as the summary suggests: the Doge is a somewhat sympathetic antagonist, and other characters point out that he's a lot more friendly to artists than his political rivals.

Has a charismatic performance from Fiona Shaw as the earthy and passionate Galactia, but good supporting roles as well.

The play does start to drag a little towards the end as it gets a little self-indulgent. But overall a good play, worth seeing.

Links
Socioeconomics. Have we reached the end of economic growth? Couples who share housework equally more likely to divorce. Is inequality hurting growth.

Articles. The exhaustion of science fiction via Alastair Reynolds. "Female-bodied people can never really be sexual, only 'sexualised'". Alan Moore on Stan Lee. Problems with science

Politics. >Neoliberal thinktanks and the media have colluded to capture our political system. Golden Dawn gains influence as state wanes. Railways: "One of the absurdities of privatisation the report highlights is the fact that franchises are increasingly run by subsidiaries of the German, Dutch and French state railways", more. Virtual ID card scheme to launc Civil servants used as scapegoats for rail fiasco?

Video. The Fall of the Dinosaurs.

Random Angels and demons using firearms. Survival tactics that don't work

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the spoiler-protected part of the movie by aphrael (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 05:54:23 PM EST
is the part i had the most difficulty with.

If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
End of growth by Herring (4.00 / 1) #2 Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 06:06:08 PM EST
Not sure of you've been watching the Stephanie Flanders series on the TV. The latest one of Marx, well the problem diagnosis chimed with what I think: companies get stuff made by robots or low-paid employees and there's nobody with money to buy stuff. Consumer credit over the last decade or so hid the problem because people bought stuff they couldn't afford (who, me?).

What the solution to this is - or whether there is a solution is a whole other thing. And whether we can have growth (whatever that is) when people can't buy stuff is another question.

On a tangential but related topic, against my better judgement I was listening to the Today Programme on the way into work this morning. They were discussing an issue cropping up in the 3rd world. Summarised in bullet points because I've been speaking to management too much recently:

They had a woman on from the IMF who claimed this was OK because it was "economic progress". A bigger farm can indeed be more productive than lots of small subsistence farmers. But it's a pretty shitty sort of progress that leaves a whole load of people destitute and hungry.

So that again brings me back to: What is Growth? What is Progress? What is Productivity?

I have no answers, just a head full of man-flu and strong medications.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

Yorkshire Ranter... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 06:13:40 PM EST
has a good post on how quite a few of the "inevitable forces leading to the end of economic growth" are actually political choices.
It's wasn't written as a direct response to Gordon, so don't expect it to be comprehensive - but it's a counterpoint worth reading.



Another little bit of evidence... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #9 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 06:04:08 AM EST
for the political choices angle...

http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2012/10/04/1191411/why-the-uk-output-gap-could-be-a-chasm/

[ Parent ]
Science Fiction Decline by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 06:55:10 PM EST
It's an interesting topic.

One thing that doesn't seem to be mentioned in either linked article (and not mentioned many places) is that science itself has slowed down and I think that's a big part of the problem for traditional science fiction. Science meanders on at the moment, but it hasn't produced much in the last 20 years that science fiction writers had not already explored.




Science has slowed down? by lm (4.00 / 2) #5 Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 10:16:59 PM EST
I'm not so certain.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Well, name 3 things by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #7 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 06:02:22 AM EST
that Sci-Fi authors should be writing about from science that they would not have heard about 20 years ago.

 

[ Parent ]
Use that same metric in the fifties by lm (4.00 / 1) #12 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 09:30:20 AM EST
Wells was writing about underground mutants in 1895. Swift was writing about computers in 1726.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Home Florienensis, Gliese 531g, cyanide life /nt by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #17 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 12:58:02 PM EST

--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Assuming you mean... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #18 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 04:49:40 PM EST
Homo Florienensis, then like Gliese 531g and cyanide life the theme has been written about before the science fact arrives.
Another form of human alongside Neanderthals, etc. and odds of life on planets of various kinds based on different molecules... <shrug>
I can guarantee whining from critics of "just another retread..."

Which is really the point, our imaginations ranged faster than science. Science is in some ways just catching up.


[ Parent ]
If by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #19 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 06:06:16 PM EST
You were writing traditional hard SF about those things, you'd incorporate unique things about those into the story. Eg the cyanide lifeforms might poison someone in a suicide attack impersonating food. The hobbies would turn out to have a different origin, maybe they're our future descendents who time travelled from an overpopulated future. It could easily be done if people wanted.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
It's not 3 things... by ana (4.00 / 2) #22 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 08:05:03 PM EST
But I was very pleased by the idea I wrote about in a recent nano (that I'm still revising, sigh). Tachyons are real, which means they have an imaginary rest mass (which is a mathematical nicety since they can't slow down).

Now imagine some kind of solid state racetrack orbitals that allow you to bind them to ordinary matter. Voila, a complex rest-mass. You rotate it, you get an imaginary part to the moment of inertia, and then you wave your hands and all those sin and cos functions that describe rotation become sinh and cosh functions and (tap dance a bit) time travel.

:-D

You heard it here first. 

I now know what the noise that is usually spelled "lolwhut" sounds like. --Kellnerin

[ Parent ]
this really reflects shallowness of the authors by the mariner (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 02:48:52 AM EST
and of the genre's readership rather than an actual decline in the pace of scientific discovery. 

[ Parent ]
As I asked lm... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #8 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 06:03:06 AM EST
name 3 things from science that Sci-Fi authors could be writing about that they wouldn't have heard about 20 years ago. 

[ Parent ]
a peculiar measure of scientific progress by the mariner (4.00 / 2) #21 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 07:00:08 PM EST
your idea seems to be that a decline in science fiction reflects a decline in new sources of inspiration, which would come from scientific progress. this seems dubious on a number of levels, few of which i'm interested in exploring. what might be true is that decline in science fiction reflects a decline in the extent to which science and perhaps recent scientific research in particular captures the public imagination. i don't think that such a trend can be attributed to a decline in science, though. 

another way to say it is that science fiction was never really about science at all, but instead popular enthusiasm for science. as science advances it becomes less accessible to the layman and consequently provides less grist for a storyteller looking to craft a plot out of easy speculation and half-baked science-themed silliness. 

but so as not to sound like i have a purely negative case, let me posit another guess about this decline of science fiction under discussion: perhaps it is just the natural consequence of years of overreaching utopian and dystopian nonsense catching up with the authors. if it's not robomaids, flying cars, and dinosaurs with frog dna, it's global totalitarianism, reproduction managed by the government like a farmer does a hen house, and hand-wringing about christian theocracy in the event of another thatcher/reagan administration. of course, modern technology doesn't look anything like the jetsons' or jurassic park and there's been another reagan administration, yet somehow we don't live in a society of handmaids and we're not marching the streets in guy fawkes masks. this must be the gambit of futurism and i would say the genre has largely lost it.


[ Parent ]
What could you write about? by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #10 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 07:36:03 AM EST
Science has been pretty specialized since the start of the twentieth century. Golden age sci-fi writers could get away with readers just starting to get a post-Sputnik burst of science education, but even then it was limited.

Even the idea of "golden age" opens you to the joke about "the golden age of sci-fi is eleven". Once you realize "how much more science do you know than a 5th grader", you realize how difficult it is to write such science fiction. The last (last published) work I read that was based upon some scientific "discovery" was Beowulf's Children and that was limited to a discovery of a single species that was nearly its entire ecosystem. There have been some good works based on technology (Neal Stephenson comes to mind), but that really isn't based on science.

My guess is that as long as Michael Crichton can publish works based on a couple "facts" he barely understands and can get absolutely everything else completely wrong, potential sci-fi authors see themselves getting only their narrow specialty correct and botching the rest (presumably Harry Turtledove either isn't afraid of this or wasn't quite aware of the size and fanaticism of US Civil War buffs). (I am also grateful about my inability to google that stupid steampunk work that was built around a completely botched understanding of how data compression works).

Wumpus

[ Parent ]
To be clearer... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #11 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 08:16:46 AM EST
I should have said "big concepts in science."

If we take a field I have some specialised awareness of, protein folding, there is lots of good work being done and lots of important scientific facts and understanding being generated. So science is advancing.

But there's nothing there which would up-end the likely narrative frame used in a story that hinged on such a theme written 20 years ago.
I'm sure someone with greater literary genius than I could find some difference and spin it into a story, but it's hard to see it being treated as more than a retread of existing themes with a little twist. Thus we get to the point where one of the linked articles groans about "another robot story, just an Asimov retread"...

[ Parent ]
Yeah, but robot stories are ages old by lm (4.00 / 1) #13 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 09:41:28 AM EST
Mechanical automata played a key role in the myth of Hephaestus. By the time Asimov start writing sci-fi, robots were old hat. He was born the same year that Rossum's Universal Robots was produced on stage. The "big idea" that everyone grants to Asimov (the three laws of robotics) didn't really have anything to do with science or technology but with an insight into the human psyche.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Robot stories: by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #15 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 12:07:48 PM EST
I guess you could claim that an Asmiov robot story had more to do with classic genie stories (twisting your wish) and possibly myths with prophesies (the prophesy will happen, but only as exactly stated regardless of what you do).

Still, it fit with where he was trying to sell his stories, and had a lot more stories to sell than "the're takin' our jorbs".

Wumpus

[ Parent ]
That's where I was going with that by lm (4.00 / 2) #29 Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 06:29:05 PM EST
What made Asimov's robot stories was great wasn't that he extrapolated the existing science of his day but that he used technology as a lens through which to view the human condition.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
I feel like by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #14 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 09:47:14 AM EST
Greg Egan goes to the trouble of following the science, because he loves it. The man genuinely loves physics and  maths and chemistry and biology. The result is a small hardcore readership of devoted fans, and lots of people who can't be bothered.

I feel like hard SF could almost become more like scholar fiction, blowing your mind with academic theories recast in fictional form. In this view good historical fiction has more in common with Greg Egan than Tolkein ever will.

The audience would be the Radio 4 types that listen to In aour Time and watch newsnight review.

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
It isn't that we've lost the future by MartiniPhilosopher (4.00 / 1) #16 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 12:22:01 PM EST

it's that we've lost the promise that the future will be better. We've lost that dream, that hope.

There's lots of blame to go around for this. For our fictions becoming too enamored of the failure of society, for ourselves and our politicians becoming complacent with what we have (and don't get me wrong, what we have is both incredible and wondrous) but mostly because it's hard to make up dreams. Doubly hard to make up dreams that aren't overflowing with a material wealth that would make Midas blush with unabashed outrage at our greed.

Think about it -- when was the last time you were in a grocery store that wasn't overflowing with the bounty of the land? When was the last time you couldn't go to a store and get just what you wanted, or a near enough substitute to satiate that lizard brain impulse for endorphin release?

I'm not saying our society needs to suffer for us to create great fiction. But I think that to create something vital or new or different you have to force a different perspective onto yourself. To look to the future as something hopeful, something wonderful, you need to ground yourself in what is going on around oneself. Really, really going on. And then see how it could get better.

I don't blame these authors for not being able to see the something better part of that. Our present is a golden age of incredible wonders. Just saying that's it's damn hard.


Whenever I hear one of those aforementioned douche bags pontificate about how dangerous [...] videogames are I get a little stabby. --Wil Wheaton.

[ Parent ]
If this is so, by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #20 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 06:28:30 PM EST
where is the distopian sci-fi? There is a long tradition of distopian worlds, and I can't think of many: when was Handmaiden's Tale written, anyway? On the other hand, Left Behind is certainly distopian, but not written for anyone concerned with such a future.

Maybe it isn't so much lost as forgotten the future. I have to wonder if the Illuminati finally got Robert Anton Wilson: he gave away too many secrets about Furbish Lousewart and the revolution of lowered expectations.

Wumpus

[ Parent ]
H.G. Wells would like a word. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #23 Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 09:31:29 PM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
??? by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #24 Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 12:16:07 AM EST
What has H.G.Wells written since we "lost our future" (not sure when, sometime before 2000)?

Wumpus

[ Parent ]
I must have mis-parsed your sentence. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #27 Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 01:46:43 PM EST
Carry on.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
Cyberpunk by MartiniPhilosopher (4.00 / 1) #25 Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 01:58:23 AM EST

All of cyberpunk -- Neuromancer and the rest of the Sprawl novels and even the more contemporary recent works are all places where technology has been used to enslave (overtly and subvertly) instead of liberate.

In fact, just about all of that sub-genre is nothing but distopian.

But stepping away from that, you can look at the Dust trilogy by Elizabeth Bear as another example. There we find a world/generation ship that has fallen into disrepair after fleeing a dying Earth. Technology has been used not to elevate the passengers but to transform a few into an absolute elite that rule through a feudal dynasty. The whole series is not concerned about how humanity is affected but the interplay of drama between the elites. Humanity, or what is left of it, is largely ignored as the rabble that must be transported to a new home.

Almost all of it, at least all of what I've read in the past ten years, is nothing but distopian in nature.


Whenever I hear one of those aforementioned douche bags pontificate about how dangerous [...] videogames are I get a little stabby. --Wil Wheaton.

[ Parent ]
dystopian science fiction by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #30 Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 11:42:03 AM EST
Are you familiar with the works of Octavia Butler? Paulo Bacigalupi? Cormac McCarthy?
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
[ Parent ]
Are you on by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #26 Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 08:27:09 AM EST
Goodreads?

--------
It's political correctness gone mad!

Not so far by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #28 Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 02:29:25 PM EST
I'm still sort-of on Shelfari, but don't do much except log my books now.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
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