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In praise of Joanne Rowling's Hermione Grainger series, which lauds the popular novelist for standing up to commercial pressure to adhere to traditional gender stereotypes and pepper her story with hackneyed clichés because they're, you know, "more marketable":
And what a show it is. In Hermione, Joanne Rowling undermines all of the cliches that we have come to expect in our mythic heroes. It’s easy to imagine Hermione’s origin story as some warmed-over Star Wars claptrap, with tragically missing parents and unsatisfying parental substitutes and a realization that she belongs to a hidden order, with wondrous (and unsettlingly genetic) gifts. But, no: Hermione’s normal parents are her normal parents. She just so happens to be gifted. Being special, Rowling tells us, isn’t about where you come from; it’s about what you can do, if you put your mind to it. And what Hermione can do, when she puts her mind to it, is magic.
The character of Harry Potter is an obnoxious error in the Hermione Granger universe, made more obnoxious by his constant presence. It’s tempting to just write Harry off as a love interest who didn’t quite work out; the popular-yet-brooding jock is hardly an unfamiliar type. And, given that Hermione is constantly having to rescue Harry, he does come across as a sort of male damsel-in-distress.But, if we look closely, we can see that Harry is a parody of every cliche Rowling avoided with Hermione. Harry is not particularly bright or studious; he’s provided with an endless supply of gifts and favors; he’s the heir to no less than two huge fortunes; he’s privileged above his fellow students, due to his fame for something he didn’t actually do himself; he even seems to take credit for “Dumbledore’s Army,” which Hermione started. Of course this character is obnoxious. It’s only by treating ourselves to the irritation caused by Harry that we can fully appreciate Hermione herself.Which makes for an astute critique of the reactionary elements of popular fiction, of which Harry Potter is an exemplar. Whether it's convincing as a counterfactual history, though, is another matter; were Rowling to write her books in the way the article described, what's to say they wouldn't have sunk into obscurity like a lot of worthily didactic left-wing fiction, championed only by those so cultishly right-on that they condemn the Grauniad as a right-wing hate sheet?
A Russian author has written a retelling of Lord of the Rings from a different angle. Kiril Yeskov's The Last Ringbearer specifically repudiates Tolkien's oft-noted agrarian romanticism; in it, Sauron and the land of Mordor represent progress and rationalism, and are destroyed in a war of aggression by Gandalf and his lackeys, reinforcing a backward, feudal order in thrall to superstition and hereditary privilege:
In Yeskov's retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science "destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!" He's in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become "masters of the world," and turn Middle-earth into a "bad copy" of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron's citadel, is, by contrast, described as "that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic."
Because Gandalf refers to Mordor as the "Evil Empire" and is accused of crafting a "Final Solution to the Mordorian problem" by rival wizard Saruman, he obviously serves as an avatar for Russia's 20th-century foes. But the juxtaposition of the willfully feudal and backward "West," happy with "picking lice in its log 'castles'" while Mordor cultivates learning and embraces change, also recalls the clash between Europe in the early Middle Ages and the more sophisticated and learned Muslim empires to the east and south. Sauron passes a "universal literacy law," while the shield maiden Eowyn has been raised illiterate, "like most of Rohan's elite" -- good guys Tolkien based on his beloved Anglo-Saxons.While Yeskov wrote The Last Ringbearer in 1999, an English-language translation has just been made available here.
If World War 2 documentaries were interpreted as fiction, the writing would suck:
So it's pretty standard "shining amazing good guys who can do no wrong" versus "evil legions of darkness bent on torture and genocide" stuff, totally ignoring the nuances and realities of politics. The actual strategy of the war is barely any better. Just to give one example, in the Battle of the Bulge, a vastly larger force of Germans surround a small Allied battalion and demand they surrender or be killed. The Allied general sends back a single-word reply: "Nuts!". The Germans attack, and, miraculously, the tiny Allied force holds them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive and turn the tide of battle. Whoever wrote this episode obviously had never been within a thousand miles of an actual military.
Anyway, they spend the whole season building up how the Japanese home islands are a fortress, and the Japanese will never surrender, and there's no way to take the Japanese home islands because they're invincible...and then they realize they totally can't have the Americans take the Japanese home islands so they have no way to wrap up the season. So they invent a completely implausible superweapon that they've never mentioned until now. Apparently the Americans got some scientists together to invent it, only we never heard anything about it because it was "classified". In two years, the scientists manage to invent a weapon a thousand times more powerful than anything anyone's ever seen before - drawing from, of course, ancient mystical texts. Then they use the superweapon, blow up several Japanese cities easily, and the Japanese surrender. Convenient, isn't it?
I'm not even going to get into the whole subplot about breaking a secret code (cleverly named "Enigma", because the writers couldn't spend more than two seconds thinking up a name for an enigmatic code), the giant superintelligent computer called Colossus (despite this being years before the transistor was even invented), the Soviet strongman whose name means "Man of Steel" in Russian (seriously, between calling the strongman "Man of Steel" and the Frenchman "de Gaulle", whoever came up with the names for this thing ought to be shot).
The Exterminator's Want Ad, a new story by scifi author and design theorist Bruce Sterling, set after an economic/ecological collapse and collectivist revolution, and from the point of view of a particularly despicable corporate tool butting up against the rehabilitation process (the revolutionaries, it seems, are a bit more soft-hearted than the Bolsheviks or Cubans were).
Me, I was more of the geek technician in our effort. My job was to methodically spam and troll the sharing-networks. I would hack around with them, undermine them, and make their daily lives difficult. Threaten IP lawsuits. Spread some Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. Game their reputation systems. Gold-farm their alternative economies. Engage in DDOS attacks. Harass the activist ringleaders with blistering personal insults. The usual.
Claire and I hated the sharing networks, because we were paid to hate them. We hated all social networks, like Facebook, because they destroyed the media that we owned. We certainly hated free software, because it was like some ever-growing anti-commercial fungus. We hated search engines and network aggregators, people like Google -- not because Google was evil, but because they weren't. We really hated "file-sharers" -- the swarming pirates who were chewing up the wealth of our commercial sponsors.
Because the inconvenient truth is that, authentically, about fifteen percent of everybody is no good. We are the nogoodniks. That's the one thing the Right knows, that the Left never understands: that, although fifteen percent of people are saintly and liberal bleeding hearts, and you could play poker with them blindfolded, another fifteen are like me. I'm a troll. I'm a griefer. I'm in it for me, folks. I need to "collaborate" or "share" the way I need to eat a bale of hay and moo.
New Scientist magazine has a collection of very short science fiction stories online:
Peace be with you, Gulnaz. I am an app. I live in your phone. Only you can hear me, Gulnaz. I am your teacher. Don't be afraid. You can banish me or call me at any time by using my name. I know that girls aren't allowed teachers. Some men think it's wrong that women learn. Why would a woman need to think? they say. Their place is in the home, men's place is in the world. So they burn classrooms, they throw acid at girls who go to school, they shoot teachers. But women should learn, Gulnaz. It is their world as much as men's. I am Huma, I am part computer and part real teacher. I am a woman who developed a new way for women to learn, a secret way. I am one woman and thousands of apps. Together we can go on wonderful journeys. Learning is always a holy struggle against ignorance and those who desire ignorance. If you're afraid to go, I will erase myself from your phone, no trace will ever be found. If you want to take this journey, say the word and we will start right away.
Rongomaiwhe's great-grandparents were early victims of global warming. When their Pacific island homeland was swamped by rising sea levels, their nation sold its carbon credits and moved to a refuge in New Zealand, which escaped much of the consequences of violent climate change. A succession of canny leaders preserved tribal unity and invested heavily in ecological engineering. Rongomaiwhe's parents helped to quicken a new ecosystem on Howe Island after shifts in ocean currents increased the average temperature by a full 10 degrees. Now Rongomaiwhe is part of a rainbow coalition of the young and willing, taking on the challenge of greening the shores of the thawing Antarctic Peninsula.
Virtual is Virtuous! was the popular slogan way back in the 2030s. The Chinese, with their laudable one-family-one-child policy, offered their vast computerate population virtual babies in addition to the permitted single physical offspring. Such was their automated skill at reading and blending parental DNA! Of course a sensible sex ratio was maintained. Realboy for every family, virtual girl; no no.
Tan has done a number of other works, among them, The Arrival, the wordless story of a man travelling around the world. It ended up winning a prize, and being bashed by right-wing populist rabblerouser Andrew Bolt, ostensibly because a book without words lowers educational standards, though one does wonder whether the fact that the author is named Tan and it is about immigration has anything to do with it.
Read: Another Day At The Office, a fine and topical short piece of dystopian sadofuturism by Nile Heffernan:
Work enough weekends under constant threat of downsizing, maybe any of us would look like that. Maybe.
Get downsized enough times, then one last time in a world where white-collar work is over, and maybe you'll look like the woman in the next cubicle across. Which is to say: crying silently and either not knowing or caring and just carrying on. And the next cubicle, and the next: scuffed and fading grey partitions repeating like an exercise in perspective, straight lines along and across the concrete floor of a factory that hasn't had machinery for thirty years: closed and cleared in the last recession, or maybe the one before that.
Look closer and there's no lamps or work lights in the cubes. None. Four of them - the corner offices - are lit by the blue flicker of a monitor. The rest are not: these people are 'working' in front of dead screens, tapping away on keyboards that may or may not be plugged into the silent metal boxes underneath the desk.
Some of the 'monitors' are cardboard boxes, sideways-on.
People have been shot for coffee: it's the currency of choice for criminals, and we don't touch it. Our trade is bread-and-butter materials recovery, digging through the garbage and extracting lead for roofing, paper and cardboard for compression into pellets; these bulk commodities, like the gas and water, are the currency for a regular supply of food and nowadays some biodiesel. Higher-value items - tools and wheel-bearings and plastic sheeting - are tradeable for spares and welding gas but it's slow: we have a network and a market, but bartering depends on luck - without a formal currency, you have to have the thing they want, and they have to have the thing we want, both in the same place at the same time. It's frustrating and it isn't getting any better.
I have absolutely no idea who's supplying food to the 'Office Workers', or why; Médecins Sans Frontières provides a monthly clinic on the local round but there's no way they can be supplying all those people with antidepressants or tranquillisers... Is there? We supply the gas and water because the doctor's round will stop if we can't keep up a 'population centre'.
Speaking at the Visit London Awards, Sir Michael Caine revealed what happens after the end of The Italian Job:
"I crawl up, switch on the engine and stay there for four hours until all the petrol runs out," he said.
"The van bounces back up so we can all get out, but then the gold goes over."
"There are a load of Corsican Mafia at the bottom watching the whole thing with binoculars. They grab the gold, and then the sequel is us chasing it."
International Association of Time Travelers: Members' Forum Subforum: Europe – Twentieth Century – Second World War; Page 263; a fiction about time travel and online forum etiquette/politics:
At 02:21:30, SneakyPete wrote:
Vienna, 1907: after numerous attempts, have infiltrated the Academy of Fine Arts and facilitated Adolf Hitler's admission to that institution. Goodbye, Hitler the dictator; hello, Hitler the modestly successful landscape artist! Brought back a few of his paintings as well, any buyers?
At 02:29:17, SilverFox316 wrote:
All right; that's it. Having just returned from 1907 Vienna where I secured the expulsion of Hitler from the Academy by means of an elaborate prank involving the Prefect, a goat, and a substantial quantity of olive oil, I now turn my attention to our newer brethren, who, despite rules to the contrary, seem to have no intention of reading Bulletin 1147 (nor its Addendum, Alternate Means of Subverting the Hitlerian Destiny, and here I'm looking at you, SneakyPete). Permit me to sum it up and save you the trouble: no Hitler means no Third Reich, no World War II, no rocketry programs, no electronics, no computers, no time travel. Get the picture?
Maciej Ceglowski has written up an illuminating history of the Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel, the spectacular feat of engineering which delivers fresh burritos from the San Francisco Mission District to New York, in a chord under the continental United States:
Who can imagine New York City without the Mission burrito? Like the Yankees, the Brooklyn Bridge or the bagel, the oversize burritos have become a New York institution. And yet it wasn’t long ago that it was impossible to find a good burrito of any kind in the city. As the 30th anniversary of the Alameda-Weehawken burrito tunnel approaches, it’s worth taking a look at the remarkable sequence of events that takes place between the time we click “deliver” on the burrito.nyc.us.gov website and the moment that our hot El Farolito burrito arrives in the lunchroom with its satisfying pneumatic hiss.
Once in the tubes, it’s a quick dash for the burritos across San Francisco Bay. Propelled by powerful bursts of compressed air, the burritos speed along the same tunnel as the BART commuter train, whose passengers remain oblivious to the hundreds of delicious cylinders whizzing along overhead. Within twelve minutes, even the remotest burrito has arrived at its final destination, the Alameda Transfer Station, where it will be prepared for its transcontinental journey.
Not everyone is as delighted with the tunnel as the geologists. Old-time San Franciscans will be quick to point out that the comestibles in the tunnel flow strictly one way. “In the old days you’d go to a place like Pancho Villa and get yourself a steak burrito in five minutes, maybe ten if it was near lunchtime,” says lifelong Mission resident Howard Washington. “Now the line is out the door even in the morning. And some of those places down in the South Bay won’t even take customers anymore. If you want a burrito in the daytime you have to get it first thing, or else you go to one of the places that isn’t hooked up to the tunnel.”
Hard sci-fi ideas man Greg Egan has started writing again. A new story of his, Steve Fever, which deals with a global plague of self-replicating nanobots hijacking human minds to recreate their dead creator, has just appeared in the Technology Review (registration or BugMeNot needed), and it's a cracker:
Steve Hasluck had been part of a team of scientists developing a new kind of medical nanomachine, refining the tiny surgical instruments so they could make decisions of their own, on the spot. Steve's team had developed an efficient way of sharing computing power across a whole swarm, allowing them to run large, complex programs known as "expert systems" that codified decades of biological and clinical knowledge into pragmatic lists of rules. The nanomachines didn't really "know" anything, but they could churn through a very long list of "If A and B, there's an 80 percent chance of C" at blistering speed, and a good list gave them a good chance of cutting a lot of diseases off short.
Then Steve found out that he had cancer, and that his particular kind wasn't covered by anyone's list of rules.
Steve decided that the swarms still had too narrow a view. He gave them a general-purpose knowledge acquisition engine and let them drink at will from the entire Web. To guide their browsing and their self-refinement, he gave them two clear goals. The first was to do no harm to their hosts. The second was to find a way to save his life or, failing that, to bring him back from the dead.
That last rider might not have been entirely crazy, because Steve had arranged to have his body preserved in liquid nitrogen. If that had happened, maybe the Stevelets would have spent the next 30 years ferrying memories out of his frozen brain. Unfortunately, Steve's car hit a tree at high speed just outside of Austin, TX, and his brain ended up as flambé.
(via Frogworth) Share
I just read Christopher Brookmyre's most recently published novel, A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil. It took me a while to get around to it, because I found his previous book, All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye, somewhat disappointing; it seemed almost as if someone replaced the wickedly dark satirist who wrote Quite Ugly One Morning and A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away (whom some have called the Bill Hicks of Scottish crime fiction) with a committee of Hollywood script-doctoring hacks; virtually all the bite was gone (with the exception of a few token bampots and numpties and a dash of rote Old Firm sectarianism), and replaced with a schmaltzy wish-fulfilment story. This was centre-of-goodness plotting at its most formulaic and uninspired. As such, I only picked this book up when it was half-price from Amazon and I needed to pad out an order.
I am pleased to report, then, that A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil is a return to form. The plot involves various people who went to school in the early 1980s in (you guessed it) greater Glasgow, and their lives in the present day; more specifically, one of them has apparently been murdered, and two others look like the suspects. The characters' school days, in all their petty viciousness, brutality and moments of levity, are fleshed out quite realistically (one can empathise with the children in their schoolyard conflicts as much as with their grown-up selves), and the way the characters grow, gaining perspective and no small amount of regret. Needless to say, dark secrets are revealed and some people turn out to not be what they initially seem, in various ways. And Brookmyre, perhaps acknowledging the shortcomings of his previous book, sets up an obvious wish-fulfilment plot line, and then proceeds to swerve well wide of it.
Missile Gap, a new novella by Charlie Stross, and released on the internet for free, positing a world where someone or something stripped the continents off the Earth and transferred them to the surface of a vast disc in distant space, at the height of the Cold War. It's a cracking good read, filled with unsettling wonder:
"Okay." Gregor thinks for a minute. "Let us see. What everyone knows is that between zero three fifteen and twelve seconds and thirteen seconds Zulu time, on October second, sixty two, all the clocks stopped, the satellites went away, the star map changed, nineteen airliners and forty six ships in transit ended up in terminal trouble, and they found themselves transferred from a globe in the Milky Way galaxy to a disk which we figure is somewhere in the lesser Magellanic cloud. Meanwhile the Milky Way galaxy--we assume that's what it is--has changed visibly. Lots of metal-depleted stars, signs of macroscopic cosmic engineering, that sort of thing. The public explanation is that the visitors froze time, skinned the earth, and plated it over the disk. Luckily they’re still bickering over whether the explanation is Minsky’s copying, uh, hypothesis, or that guy Moravec with his digital simulation theory."
There is a rather good hard-scifi story at Salon: "The Perfect Man" by Lauren McLaughlin. It's about a woman who has a virtual AI boyfriend made to order, who then transforms from adorably bumbling Hugh Grant-esque Hollywood Englishman stereotype to sinister, inscrutably calculating Hollywood Englishman stereotype:
The design process is easy. First step: Pick a physical template. A youth squandered on Monty Python reruns left me with a full-blown kink for English guys, so I chose a template called "Nigel" -- think Michael Palin crossed with Laurence Olivier. Then, to assure he didn't look overdesigned, I clicked the "random factor" option to introduce "lifelike imperfections."
If you want to know anything about the "human" rights travesty currently under way courtesy of draconian anti-AI laws, there's a whole subculture of liberationists ready to lecture you on it. They've got the skinny on behavioral inhibitors, recursive self-teaching limiters and other artifacts of AI "slavery." For my purposes, what it all boiled down was this: snip Pritchard's inhibitors or resign myself to dating a functionary. Do you want to date a functionary? Me neither. Thankfully, for every Webcop dutifully guarding the behavioral inhibitors of the thousands of AIs cropping up on the Web, there's a black market geek with the tools to snip.
Now that I have my sanity back, I must dive deep into the black waters of her soul, excavate her most primal desires, and do what no human male has been able to do: keep her interested in me. Thankfully, I have one freedom human males do not -- the freedom to redesign myself. I can make myself so fascinated by Lucy that all I want to do is watch her, study her. A nip here, a tuck there, and voilà, I'm in love with the girl. Well, not in love, exactly. Love is still an alien concept. But I have made myself a bit of a stalker. And the more information I gather about my lovely little monkey, the more I can adjust my personality to suit her needs. Heck, I could turn myself into Prince Charming if I wanted. Something tells me that would not tickle Lucy's fancy. In fact, the more I learn about Lucy, the more I realize she doesn't know what she wants at all. She only thinks she knows. No, Lucy's desires are my nut to crack. And crack it I will. Or she'll crack me. Oh, I don't mean to sound morbid. I'm incapable of morbid thoughts. To mitigate the persistent fear of being snuffed, I've given myself a devil-may-care attitude about death. That way I can focus my energies more intensely on Lucy.
Of course she doesn't know the contents of her subconscious. She lacks the processing power to unravel it. It's a number-crunching job, that's all. Humans, with your lovely little wet brains, will never achieve the self-knowledge you so desire.
Excerpts from stories rejected by Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, showing a broad range of deficiencies, from wildly implausible characterisations to incoherent word-salads of technobabble, bizarre adjectives and half-digested clichés:
Freddy was in the habit of staring at Beverly's legs as they peaked from her Susie Wong slit dresses. She had a dozen of them.
"Stand slow!" a voice rang out with hollow ubiquity.
The universe is a vast region of deep mystery steeped in antiquity.
Onion oil! I couldn't imagine anyting worse than a daily bath in onion oil.
"Corporeal, we've got to do our best to keep this from the public."
"I know sir, but its already too late."
What do you mean, the general inquired?
"While you were gone I let a curious private in on the secret."
"We've got to stop him."
By now he's long gone. Sorry sir."
(via raven) Share
+ Does the character have a name you really, really like? [1 point]
+ Is it Raven? [3 points]
+ Is it a variation of Raven? [1 point]
+ Does the character have an unusual eye color, or otherwise exceptional eyes? [3 points]
+ And are these eyes a color that does not occur in nature? [1 point]
+ Does the character have eyes that somehow reflect hidden depths or experience or sorrow? [4 points]
+ Is the character ever described as "thin enough to be anorexic," where this is intended as a compliment? [1 point]
+ Does the character keep a notebook of poetry? [1 point]
+ Is the poetry "good enough to be published"? [3 points]
+ Does a love interest find this poetry book and begin to understand the character? [5 points]
+ Does the poetry contain any of the following words: crimson, soul, darkness, love, vampire, glass, moonlight, serpent, rose, dance, winter, flame, cold, goddess, blood, angel, star, forever? [1 point per word]
+ Does the character use Japanese words in conversation, although she/he does not live in Japan? [2 points]
+ Do you take any negative feedback about the character as a personal affront? [4 points]
The Onion's 2056 issue, with stories like "Government May Restrict Use Of Genetically Modified Farmers", "Final Installment of Frogger Trilogy Poised To Sweep Oscars", "Halliburton Wins Bid To Rebuild Midwest" and "Could Jimi Hendrix Mk. IV's Disappointing Synth-Funk Output Spell The End Of The Vat-Grown Celebrity?":
"Our first objective is to suppress the Wisconsinite and Illini insurgents," Halliburton spokesman James Rothman told reporters. "Attacks on the area's megasilos and supermills have cut the region's grain production in half. Once the insurgents have been contained and the farmland has been adequately irradiated, we will build our own MechaSuperfarms, which we will manage for as long as is necessary to maintain stability in the area."
One thing seems clear: If vat-grown celebrities continue to follow their own muses, it may spell the end of the entertainment industry's latest and most expensive case of sequel-itis.
"It looks like the ancient curse of entertainment--the infamous 'mind of their own' problem--might keep everyone from taking a chance on bringing back anyone else," Miner-323 said.Meanwhile, Charles Stross's future-history of the Singularity, Accelerando, has been released under a Creative Commons licence; you can read it as straight HTML on the site, download it to your PDA, or, of course, buy a dead-tree copy. It covers time from the very near future (or perhaps the present) to the age of solar-system-wide matrioshka brains with incomprehensibly complex cultural/economic systems and wormhole-spanning colonies of posthumans (not to mention uploaded lobsters and Machiavellian robot cats).
You are carrying:
A cell phone with a message from your friends Dave and Paul telling you what a fun time they're having in the Bahamas
A slowly coalescing escape plan
A piece of ham
Resentment toward Emily for persuading you that visiting her parents at Christmas would be "totally fun"
Via bOING bOING, a pretty nifty scifi story, in the form of the memoirs of a washed up bioengineered adult-baby actor:
I got my first break as stunt-double for the top goodie on Super Comix Babies. For the third season the producers cast me in a recurring role. Before the series ended its seven-year run, one or two scripts even revolved around my character. You always remember your first job fondly, I guess, but the public remembers me if at all for my own series: NinjaBaby.
I live in a crib in a public care ward. I don't think the folks who come in to window-shop for orphans know I'm bio-engineered and not a real baby like the others warehoused here, row by row. If ever a couple expresses interest in buying me, the ward sales-director steers them away to another crib. Salespeople are good at control. They don't want a bio-freak becoming a tourist attraction in the ward. They'd chuck me out if they could, but it's state-run so they have to keep me. Im on a waiting-list: re-engineering surgery for the destitute. Been on it fifteen years.
The Great Old Pumpkin, or what happens when H.P. Lovecraft meets Charles Schultz. And, from the same site, Prisoners of Uqbaristan, a collision between hyperpatriotic American techno-thrillers and Jorge Luis Borges.
The Orange, a short and perfectly-formed magic-realist story by one Benjamin Rosenbaum: (brought to my attention by bOING bOING)
An orange ruled the world.
It was an unexpected thing, the temporary abdication of Heavenly Providence, entrusting the whole matter to a simple orange.
The orange, in a grove in Florida, humbly accepted the honor. The other oranges, the birds, and the men in their tractors wept with joy; the tractors' motors rumbled hymns of praise.
I can see this story as a short film, done in the style of Jeunet & Caro (think the rhythmic motion sequences in Delicatessen or somesuch).
Today in Alternate History, a blog giving, each day, the events that happened in several parallel universes:
in 1976, hot off the success of American Graffiti, director George Lucas begins work on a science fiction film that he has written himself, based on old film serials. Unfortunately for him, and everyone involved, the picture runs horribly over-budget and the studio barely advertises it at all. The name Star Wars becomes synonymous with movie failure from that point on.
in 1902, the Vidalia Eddie is introduced. The Vidalia has a small movie screen on it that allows the user to see the output of the Vidalia prior to printing it. This innovation rocks the world and spells the end of Edison's French competitors, who cannot match this technological advance.
in 1953, Elizabeth Windsor, daughter of exiled King George VI, was crowned Elizabeth II after her father's passing. The ceremony, held at the British Government-In-Exile's compound in Washington, D.C. was brief and untelevised. Elizabeth herself lived a reclusive life and would die without returning to England, which remained under Nazi control until her son's return in 1982.
Strange Horizons Magazine has published a list of scifi plot submissions it sees too many of; these range from generic poor writing (boringly linear plots, deus ex machina plot twists and vaguely Mary Sue-ish pieces about writer's-blocked creatives) to clichés (AIs loose on the net, dystopian futures, cultural misunderstandings with aliens leading to interplanetary incidents) and terribly clever things which everybody else has thought of, like tech support calls for magical items or humans described from alien perspectives as vermin or monsters. (via bOING bOING)
And here's the one for horror stories. Not surprisingly, serial killers feature several times in the list.
Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead, an interesting short story postulating an afterlife not unlike the world of the living, and its interaction with events in the living world.
A comprehensive history of the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency, a branch of the US Government in a parallel universe where infestations of undead were a significant problem. It's sort of like an American equivalent of the British TV series Ultraviolet. (via bOING bOING)
A compellingly fucked-up short story fragment from Warren Ellis, who does fucked-up better than most people.
After a lot of rehashing, the first draft of Unwirer, Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross' story about illegal wireless networking in a dystopian alternate America, is up. It's not bad, in a rather dark and paranoid sort of way. I suspect they'll have a hard time cutting 4,500 words from it.
Who doesn't love "Frogger"? It draws its power from our shared memories of powerlessness. Wherever we are now, at one time or another we have all felt the poor frog's anxiety in the face of the world's intransigence, its blind and callous disregard for our happiness or well-being. We are not killing anything in "Frogger," except the occasional fly. It is all we can do to stay alive, avoid the fast cars, snakes, gators and weasels long enough to get a lady frog and make it to the top of the screen for our moment of rest. More than anything else, we'd love to stay in that Frog Haven forever, existing in a state of amphibian bliss -- but we are forcibly dislodged, and have to repeat the whole ordeal. Most of our antagonists do not even know we exist. They are not "after" us. We are not a target. We are just in the way.
And the world of "Double Dragon" is a world of car ads and wanted posters and brick buildings, not the iconic idea of a building we see in "Donkey Kong," but recognizable individuated buildings. The Classic games were Classic because, like classical music or architecture, they strove to give life and weight to ideals of order and proportion, to provide a vision of timelessness. In "Double Dragon," we can see the cracks in the brick, the mold growing on the drainage pipes, the unmistakable deterioration of the world we live in. We are thrust rudely back into time. When I put a quarter into an arcade machine or call up an emulated game on my computer, I do it to escape the world that is a slave to the time that makes things fall apart. I have never played these games to occupy my world.
Charlie Stross has posted an interesting essay about the process of writing novels:
Don't get silly and try to write a multi-threaded novel straight off, you'll tie your own shoelaces together and trip over them. If you must do multithreaded, a better way to do it is to write a novella -- say, 30,000 words long -- and then write a second novella of the same length showing the same story from a different angle. Then intercut them chapter by chapter, like chunks of salami. The trick here is to find a story that has enough different angles to be worth looking at repeatedly.
One of the easiest and commonest character development McGuffins is the romantic engagement or "boy meets girl" plot. The conventional rendering is "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl". With or without variations -- in the case of my most recent novel, "boy meets six-armed alien penguin, boy and six-armed alien penguin have great sex, boy turns into girl, girl loses six-armed alien penguin ..." -- it's a handy tool because it gives your protagonist a goal to aim for and a yardstick for character development. By the way, people have been running riffs on this since the 16th century (and earlier); Shakespeare's comedies are a good source of ideas, notably "As You Like It", "All's Well that Ends Well", "Much Ado About Nothing", and so on. As somebody or other said, "if you're going to steal, steal from the best" -- there's a full run of synopses at http://www.bardweb.net/plays/ that provide a suite of off-the-shelf romantic subplots if you're not imaginative enough to work out the details of six-armed alien penguin sex with hermaphrodites.
And more along those lines. One day, I might give something like that a try (writing a novel, I mean, not hermaphroditic alien penguin sex). I keep coming up with ideas, timelines and scenarios, though not quite enough for a novel.
Cory "bOING bOING" Doctorow and Charlie "Antipope" Stross are collaborating on another short story, The Unwirer, set in a world where Jack Valenti runs the FCC, all Internet transactions cost money, operating unlicensed network sites is criminal copyright infringement, and wireless networking is a sort of underground guerilla resistance. And they're posting it to a specially commissioned blog as it's written.
He'd lost his job and spent the best part of six months inside, though he'd originally been looking at a from a five year contributory infringement stretch -- compounded to twenty by the crypto running on the access-point under the "use a cypher, go to jail" statute -- to second degree tarriff evasion. His public defender had been worse than useless, but the ACLU had filed an amicus on his behalf, which led the judge to knock the beef down to criminal trespass and unlawful emission, six months and two years' probation, two years in which he wasn't allowed to program a goddamn microwave oven, let alone admin the networks that had been his trade.
The Top 10.25 Things Women (genders 1-2.5) Don't Know About Men (genders 3-5): (via friday6pm.com)
Yes, we know the JebJeb can sting you to death if it's brought into the exterior. Yes, we know it lives in your cloaca. But still, we are turned on by the image of you catmating with a 2.5-3 constricted JebJeb. It's just how we are.
And then there's Selections from My Name is Blanket, © 2046 Blanket Jackson:
From observing the children my father invited to the ranch, I assumed that everyone outside of my family had a terminal disease. I desperately wanted to be as ill as them. When I was about to turn 10, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I said, chemotherapy.
I spoke about going to college and having a life of my own, like my brother Prince. I wanted to study veterinary medicine. But my questions fell on dead ears. Finally he erupted. No one else is leaving the ranch! No one! His legs were shaking, but he steadied himself and walked across the room to a statue of Apollo, flipped open its marble head, and pressed a keypad hidden in its neck. Sirens went off. The sound of deadbolts locking echoed throughout the room, and great mechanical noises came through the window. In the distance, a hippo lowed.
At the end of the clanking, a moment of total silence. Finally, my father said, "We are a happy family, Blanket."
Oh yes, the last part of Jury Service, Charlie and Cory's short story, is up, and it's quite good.
Oh yes, part 3 of Jury Service is up.
"But from traces of carapace scraped off the walls of the Bey residence nursery, we have obtained a partial genotype. Tell your guidebooks or familiars or whatever to download Exhibit B for you. As you can see, the genome of the said item is chimeric and shows signs of crude tampering, but it's largely derived from drosophila, mus musculus, and a twentieth-century situationist artist or politician or something called Dan Quayle. Large chunks of its genome appear to be wholly artificial though, written entirely in Arabic, and there's an aqueous phase Turing machine partially derived from octopus ribosomes to interpret them. It looks as if something has been trying to use the shari'a code as a platform for implementing a legal virtual machine. We're not sure why, unless it's an obscure joke."
Ah yes; the second part of Charlie and Cory's post-singularity story Jury Service is out, and it's a corker.
Jury Service, a (so far) pretty doovy post-singularity scifi story by Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow, with biotech, nanotech, Welsh and Islamic cultures, airships and more. Pretty nifty, but the following paragraph struck me as a bit incongruous:
"Monkeys! You think I'm worried about monkeys? Brother, I once spent a month in a Tasmanian work-camp for public drunkennessimagine, an Australian judge locking an Englishman up for drunkenness!"
Falling into the myth that Australians are more accomplished drinkers than the English, where in fact Australians drink their beer in wimpy little half-pint pots (or slightly larger glasses in Sydney), while in England you don't get through life (or university at least) without learning how to down the pints like nobody's business before the pub closes at 11pm and still manage to stagger home. (Or so a friend of mine with a hollow leg tells me.)
Then he's over the wall and yelling and charging straight at the machine guns and somehow the bullets aren't hitting him. Gone is the Santa of old: fat, jovial, and bearded. Now he's clean-shaven, square-jawed, buff and barrel-chested in his signature red and white uniform, and the colors blaze amongst the desert browns and greys. And his bag, painted bright blue with little white stars to show his national pride, is slung over his shoulder. He's like a beacon, a big banner that says shoot me, I'm American.
(via bOING bOING)
0wnz0red, a pretty doovy new short story by Cory Doctorow (of bOING bOING), touching on transhumanism, "trusted computing", secret military biotech projects, and a lot of hacker-culture references. Go read.
Read: Seventy-Two Letters, a great, vaguely steampunkesque short story by Ted Chiang, combining kabbalah, 17th-century naturalism and the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution:
Robert Stratton went on to read nomenclature at Cambridges Trinity College. There he studied kabbalistic texts written centuries before, when nomenclators were still called baalei shem and automata were called golem, texts that laid the foundation for the science of names: the Sefer Yezirah, Eleazar of Worms' Sodei Razayya, Abulafia's Hayyei ha-Olam ha-Ba.
(via bOING bOING)
An amusing and illuminating article on Harry Stephen Keeler, the mad genius of crackpot pulp fiction often compared to Ed Wood Jr.:
eeler transcended deus ex machina, deploying regiments of metaphorical robots to keep things moving along all sorts of bizarre tangents. The seemingly rickety labyrinth is held together by a fantastic agglomeration of weird wills, lunatic laws, kooky contracts, idiotic oaths, and some of the most outrageously beautiful multilayered, interlocking coincidences ever devised by the human mind. The mystery is ultimately resolved by an exquisitely unreal solution with all the wacky ingenuity of a flawlessly conceived Rube Goldberg device.
(The standard Keeler protagonist) may be the unwitting victim of a nefarious capitalist plot to foreclose on his mortgage, steal his inheritance, or defraud him of his patent. Through a bizarre chain of coincidences, he finds himself implicated in some crime. His alibi is worthless, for his witnesses are invariably dead, abroad, or otherwise incommunicado. He is deeply in love, but his fiancé can never simply tie the knot. She has pledged to stay single until some rare book is stolen or a one-act vaudeville play is produced... Standard subplots involve weird curios, circus freaks, concealed identities, and mysterious (but not sinister!) Chinese laundries. It's the stuff of pure pulp fiction, but zanily transformed as if it's gone through the looking glass once too often.
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