September 9, 2012

Atheism, feminism

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Over lunch recently, someone from the SSA was telling me about the minor schisms that have been cropping up between feminists and atheists. I don't follow the scene that closely, so I miss out on the drama. io9's got a good summary of the three most notable incidences from ReaderCon, The Amazing Meeting, and DefCon. Dawkins comes off looking the worst in the TAM aftermath. A shame. DefCon security staff creating a game to get conference-goer to coax women to show their tits was pretty awful too. The response--rugby penalty cards handed out to creepers--was perfect (Some of them proudly displayed the cards they'd been given on their name tags. "That's fine -- let them make themselves visible," KC said. "That way we know who to avoid.").

Nico Lang's got a great summary of the Kristen Stewart thing. Another scene I would not normally follow without the keen analysis. Chris Brown can publicly beat the hell out of his girlfriend but ... if you ever cheat on your boyfriend, your life is over and no one will ever want to be associated with you. And the way that young women are turning on her is almost too Lord of the Flies to be believable. (Although, I am tempted to get a "Kristen Stewart is a trampire" t-shirt for novelty reasons.)

I'm about to dive into My People's sacred texts (The God Delusion, God is Not Great, The End of Faith). I'd previously avoided them because there's only so much preaching a choir wants. Reading books five years after they're popular: I'm the bizarro hipster.

posted by sstrader at 11:06 AM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

August 15, 2012

Three recent books

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace. Had this on my bookshelf for a while, and I'm not sure why I put off reading it. Like The Pale King, there were chapters I wanted to send to others because they were just that well written. And the names. My god, the names: Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, Candy Mandible, Mindy Metalman, and of course Norman Bombardini (who plans on eating enough to eventually encompass all space in the universe (and who makes a grotesquely noble effort towards that goal)). Every few chapters could be studied as a Bach-like invention in writing styles and challenges, few being, for all the virtuosity, too challenging. Its inventiveness will have you smiling throughout.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernon Vinge. A year or so ago I'd read and loved his more recent novel Rainbows End, set in a remarkably believable near future. This was set in a future far distant, tens of thousands of years from now. The key conceit--of the many that are truly unique--is that species intelligence and natural laws can change across different zones in the galaxy. Higher level zones allow FTL travel; the highest contain intelligences comparable to gods. The book starts with a short prologue narrating the events--with the right mix of tech and tech-babble--of a high-level intelligence's take-over of an archaeological dig. The outcome, we're told in the first few pages, will destroy several species and last for centuries to come. Needless, there is a grandiosity to the drama.

vN by Madeline Ashbey. In this now (50%) but have no idea why I downloaded it to my Kindle! I must've heard a recommendation somewhere. Probably io9 again, although their last few months of recommendations have been poor. It's a cheap romp around a future where vNs (i.e. John von Neumann), built by an Xtian millenarian cult to look after those "left behind", struggle integrating with society. An unlikely premise but entertaining all the same.

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posted by sstrader at 7:41 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

May 29, 2012

Battle Angel Alita

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I pieced together all of the Battle Angel Alita issues after an io9 thread discussed them favorably. There's also an anime adaptation and a proposed live action version that's been abandoned by James Cameron. To piece together the full run, I had to hop between Amazon and B&N. Used books can sometimes appear for ridiculous prices and although I didn't have to shell out too much, issue 7 was kinda crazily overpriced. I'm reading 6 right now, so we'll see whether 7 is actually that much better.

Mysterious past. Unexplained skills. Oppressive society. The story's a little silly at times, but it's overall a nice diversion.

posted by sstrader at 7:47 PM in Art , Cinema , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

January 28, 2012

Four sci-fi novels

Another batch recommended by io9.

Ship Breakers is the first YA novel from Bacigallupi. It's in the same dystopia as Windup Girl and his collection of short stories. It was an engaging read but didn't captivate me intellectually as Windup Girl did (and as, say, the ideas in the YA Uglies books did). Quick, grim, and solid though.

Ready Player One presents another dystopian future with the world's poor finding refuge in a virtual world. The character relationships are at times a little cartoony, but the book is as much a vehicle for 80s pop-culture as for its plot of David v. Goliath. I missed maybe 1/2 the references, but it was still a ripping good yarn.

After the Apocalypse felt like late-era Southern Gothic almost. Moody and directionless and more depressing about the future than the previous two novels because of that directionlessness. The author really handles pacing and descriptions just perfectly. Well done overall. Her first (?) novel, China Mountain Zhang, will probably be on the next stack of books to read.

Embassytown was as virtuosic, both in writing and ideas, as the first Mieville I'd read: The City & The City. He owes much to Lem's alien environments in Eden or Fiasco, and Embassytown shares to some extent Lem's idea that different species may simply be unable to communicate. A fully realized and very distant future.

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posted by sstrader at 3:12 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

August 30, 2011

Four sci-fi novels

Continuing my run of reading new sci-fi on the Kindle. Insert some insight about medium and message here. All were pulled, again, from io9 bookclub recommendations and there's been some stunning writing. The first time I've read all of these authors.

The City & The City by China Mieville. Mieville's prose hit me immediately: short, noir sentences mixed with inner dialog that reads like a puzzle. Detective on the case of a dead girl must extend his investigation into the antagonistic sister-city. Dashiell Hammett turns magic realism. Once into it, just pages before the Big Reveal was made I started to suspect it, with well-timed intent of the author. I had at first felt it came too early but then became completely wrapped in the brilliant conceit. Though he couldn't deliver an ending to match the earlier promise, I want to buy this book and loan it out to friends (ah, there's the sad insight about medium--the publisher blocks lending for this publication).

Rainbows End by Vernon Vinge. From the skilled prose of Mieville to the more quotidian of Vinge. Rainbows End (intentional non-possessive) is in the group of novels like Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it) where an observer from our time adapts to a strange future. This approach lends itself to the intriguing conversion that happens by the end of the novel: resistance to the change in cultural values eventually becomes understanding and appreciation of those values. The more interesting aspect of the story is the technology: ubiquitous wearable network access includes contacts that repaint the world with virtual presences and instantaneous, pop-up knowledge. Names and biographies are easily accessible; video games are played IRL; non-local communication has lost most of its non-locality. Entertaining.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross. This and the Atwood are the two where I'd heard of the highly praised author yet had never read their work. Title is from rule 34 of the Rules of the Internet: "There is porn of it. No exceptions." and following an SVU-type police department in future-Scotland that investigates grisly, meme-based crimes. Stross's future is more expressively realized than Vinge's more dry telling. One oddly common sub-theme is the potential accidental manifestation of an AI in the global network. Different from Vinge's approach--but the same as one suggested in a Cory Doctorow short story--the AI in Rule 34 may have come from the arms race of spammers creating more and more human-appearing presences to fool people. The novel switches between different characters, and keeps you off-kilter throughout (and long after).

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. End-of-the-world downer-lit. This reminded me of Martin Amis's short story "The Immortals" from his collection Einstein's Monsters. In both, one of the last humans on Earth examines the causes of our extinction. In Oryx and Crake, it is from consumerist genetic engineering. Just the thought of the monstrosity that was created to produce "meat" for Chicken Nubbins (TM) fast food is icky enough. Rule 34 level depravity is rampant and believable and the how-did-we-get-here shock is somewhat Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it). Where Vinge provides the formula for optimism--he's a singularity proponent so it comes naturally--Atwood slippery slopes us into something both unfathomably bleak and sadly of human nature. Her creative spinning was well done even though I felt Vinge's vision that life will be different-but-OK holds a more realistic truth. Still, anti-futures aren't meant to be realism but simply warnings, and this was valid.

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posted by sstrader at 7:07 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

July 19, 2011

The Quantum Thief; Hannu Rajaniemi

Highly recommended heist/detective novel dressed in post-human scifi garb. Our hero gets busted out of a dilemma prison by a warrior from the Oort cloud in order to retrieve a valuable object that a previous version of him had hidden on one of the walking cities on Mars where people use life time as currency before they are harvested by the Resurrection Men to become Quiets, human/machine hybrids that sustain the city and terraform the planet. Not for the technologically squeamish. This was a completely show-don't-tell novel that, despite the maelstrom of undefined terms, provided thrilling action next to thoughtful drama. Another great recommendation from the io9 book club. Moving on to The City and The City next.

See the Wikipedia entry for more details plus keep their articles on characters and terms used for a reference while reading.

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posted by sstrader at 12:23 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

May 7, 2011

God's War: Kameron Hurley

Sci-fi. An amoral, ex-assassin works with her team to track down a missing off-world visitor. Their world remembers vaguely when its first settlers came millennia ago. For almost as long, two countries have been involved in a war of religious differences. The fauna consist mostly of bugs and bugs are a component of everything: vehicles are run based on some organic combinations of swarms of bugs, messages are sent via documents composed of masses of tiny bugs shifting like e-ink, radio is transmitted via swarms. And there is magic of a sort: individuals born with the ability to manipulate nearby insects or born with the ability to "shift" into other animal forms. Social norms fluctuate with odd gender roles across the different nationalities. Much of the background of this future is given in passing, which is nice.

Recommended by Kelly over at io9 where they always have good suggestions (got The Windup Girl based on their reading club).

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February 23, 2011

The Hunger Games trilogy; Suzanne Collins

I've enjoyed several other YA dystopian novels over the past few years. The four Uglies books got me started in 2008 and that led to Feed not long after. Both have stayed with me, and have much to be recommended for. Oddly, Feed had the weaker writing but the more resonant, and bleak, message w/r/t technology.

After a couple of days, I'm nearly finished with The Hunger Games. It's difficult to put down and really does deserve all of the attention it's getting. Despite the grim premise (teens fight to the death as retribution for their geographic regions' past rebellions against the Capitol) this is very teen-friendly and thoughtful.

IO9 just posted an article on the rise of dystopian YA novels titled What would it take for grownups to love dystopian fiction as much as teenagers?. The examination of the history of such works manifests this wry comment:

A lot of people credit Star Wars with destroying New Wave Science Fiction, which means you can add the lapse in dystopian stories to the list of things to blame George Lucas for.

Amen. The author asks why the young are latching on to dystopian stories and adults aren't, pointing out that teenagers often feel thrown into a bizarro world, but: Most of us still have the feeling that things are badly wrong with the world, and that powerful people are able to walk all over the rest of us. If you're a progressive, you probably blame big corporations. If you're a conservative, you probably blame big government.

The article also points to the New Yorker piece from June 2010 Fresh Hell: What's behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers? I tend to agree with the author's assessment of Uglies and Hunger Games: they're less warnings of impending doom than descriptions of specific anguish. Feed--however--was very much warning.

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posted by sstrader at 12:30 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

June 12, 2010

Video: Technotise: Edit and I

Cool Serbian animation, from the graphic novel Technotise, called Edit and I:


Technotise - Edit and I

Prieuré de Sion | MySpace Video

[ via io9: Technotise: What the hell is it and why is Hollywood spending millions to remake it? > io9: Sexy Serbian Vixen Steals McFly's Hoverboard In New Scifi Animation > Quiet Earth: Slick Serbian scifi animation in TECHNOTISE: EDIT AND I (EDIT I JA) ]

The plot is set in Belgrade in 2074. The main character is Edit, a female psychology student. After her sixth failure at the same university exam, she decides to have the chip installed to help her pass. From that moment, her life changes and unusual things start happening to her.

Supposedly, it's getting a live-action remake from Hollywood (yeah, that old thing) and the producers created studio hype by getting someone to make a mock trailer by pasting together clips from other sci-fi flicks. wft?! I'll quote a pithy comment from io9: So let me get this straight - a director used other people's work as a animated storyboard for a trailer to remake an animated film into a live action film? Quite the wtf.

[ updated 3 Jul 2010 ] Added some notes.

[ updated 19 Jul 2011 ]

Full movie up on YouTube now!

posted by sstrader at 12:10 PM in Cinema | permalink | comments (0)

February 15, 2010

The Windup Girl; Paolo Bacigalupi

Heard about this via the io9 book club and so purchased the hardback of it and his short story collection Pump Six. TWG has been praised by Time Magazine as one of the top ten books of fiction for 2009 and by the American Library Association as the best SciFi of 2009. Halfway into the story thus far and it feels very of-a-time with Naomi Klein's and Michael Pollan's ideas, along with (in a more minor fashion) Fukuyama's somewhat older book Our Posthuman Future.

Other links:

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January 30, 2010

Control and the iPad

To paraphrase (myself): a boycott of the iPhone [is] the act of a responsible technology user. Annalee Newitz at io9, among many, many others [ Gizmodo | Mashable ] , has a long rant about the closed nature of the iPad in the article Why The iPad Is Crap Futurism. Newitz points out [t]he iPad has all the problems of television, with none of the benefits of computers. However, Newitz is not of the boycott ilk and instead suggests people... do something else?

I know a lot of otherwise-savvy consumers and hackers who are already drooling over the iPad and putting in their orders. They hate the idea of a restricted device, but they love the shiny-shiny. I'm not saying that they should deprive themselves of this pretty new toy. What I am saying is that this toy represents a crappy, pathetic future. It is no more revolutionary than those expensive, hot boots I bought at Fluevog, and only slightly more useful.

Mashable was more explicit:

You won't be able to drag and drop or share files with other computers like you can with your laptop on your home network. You won't be able to download a program or music file from the web and play it on the spot. You won't be able to use any application that doesn't meet Apple's strict approval guidelines.

And really, if consumers want a deficient-yet-wish-fulfilling device, tech pundits aren't going to stop them. Still, when someone asks you (oh, tech pundit) what specs they should look for in a new home computer or printer, what do you say? First of all, you steer them away from throwing their money away on inkjets. They may not listen and may only think of the $$$s they'll save buying a sleek looking HP DeskJet, but you would at least pass the knowledge along. As before, this necessary-yet-unheeded advice will be the same with the iPad, if a bit more philosophical. User control on the iPad, when included at all, is almost an afterthought. An appendix ready to be excised for it's absence of utility. Home computers gave us power through their mutability; Apple's new devices tell us we aren't responsible enough to install any applications we want. This may be the future of internet appliances, but it should not replace home computers.

With netbooks now nearly as powerful as full-sized laptops and costing < $300 (cf. a $500 iPad), it may be time to replace my humble 2-year-old first generation Asus Eee.

[ updated 1 Feb 2010 ]

The backlash backlash has begun with Gizmodo's article iPad Snivelers: Put Up or Shut Up. A poorly written rant against those who criticize the iPad saying, basically, that using other flawed hardware or software--along with failure to create your own hardware (no, I am not making this up)--bars you from complaining about the iPad's flaws. If this is the state of the art of Apple defenders, we critics should feel vindicated. The iPad is a platform that, if it dominated households, would have prevented the creation of the Firefox browser. How railing against such an environment can be called noxious ... childish ... defeatist is beyond me.

[ updated 2 Feb 2010 ]

Two more interesting takes (with further backlash backlash showing up in the comments). The iPad's Closed System: Sometimes I Hate Being Right at Popular Science questions the choice of iPhone OS over OSX, reemphasizing the gripes that Mashable had: [With OSX,] you can download and install any program you want. You can watch TV shows and movies from a variety or sources. You can purchase and listen to music however you prefer. Heck, you can poke around a file system. But you can't do any of this on the iPad. Google's Tablet versus Apple's iPad: Open versus Closed? at RWW goes further afield and examines how each is closed in different ways, offering a choice between the one that watches your activities everywhere on the web [Google] and the one that wants to control what the web even is [Apple]. However since Google's offering is not even an offering yet, much speculation is contained.

posted by sstrader at 10:43 AM in Home Network & Gadgets , Phones | permalink | comments (0)

January 8, 2010

Assault Girls

I'd first heard about the movie Assault Girls (Asaruto gâruzu) [ IMDB ] from a couple of io9 articles last year. Out on 19 December in Japan but no sign of it here except for the two stylish and trashy trailers. Looks like a lightweight story of giggly girl adventure on Arrakis; lush yet throwaway. Twitchfilm has a comprehensive review describing it as, ultimately, a flick for fans only with (much) more style than substance. Still, I'll be looking for a copy in the future. At ~65 minutes, it's too short for a feature, but maybe Plaza Theater will pick it up for a double-feature with Oshii's Avalon [ IMDB ].

The first clip is an 8-minute segment featuring one of the main characters and pretty much defines style over substance--with a Japanese wtf at the end.The second is the official trailer:

posted by sstrader at 5:27 PM in Cinema | permalink | comments (0)

March 20, 2009

Millenarianism

I was regaled recently about the plight of society and its economic turpitude. Because of factors that have never before occurred in the history of societies [emphasis definitely not mine], we're surely on the road to a pre-industrial primitivism. My insistence that such worries are unfounded in historical example was met with, simply, disbelief. There was no common ground. What arguments are there against such a card house of conditionals that find destruction in every flawed system of human society? The polysci maven's response to the--obvious--impending doom was to search for ways to distance themselves from dependencies on the specialization that results from community. Learn to live off the land and you won't have to put up with allowing your tax dollars to be used or misused by atheists and the lazy.

I had always blamed this worldview on too much Ayn Rand and too much being a male. More seriously, I felt that it went back to the noble savage ideal and the belief that, somehow, society has corrupted the individual by making them dependent on others. However, I'm beginning to think that it's as much influenced by millenarian tendencies. There's an aching desire, when presented with complex systems beyond your control, that there must be a simpler way and a teardown is in order. In programming land, this leads to the inescapable desire to rewrite everything. In life, you yearn for revolution.

[ updated 31 Oct 2009 ]

io9 has an article on trends in the last 200 years of post-apocalyptic fiction. The author provides a graph of the relative importance of religious eschatology or post-nuclear wastelands or zombies. One comment suggests an alternate explanation for the desire for an apocalyptic tabula rasa: Frank Kermode's The Sense of an Ending traces the apocalypse - or end of history - as a basic western need through the beginning of its literature. I'm not doing justice to his thesis. But basically, he says we fear becoming insignificant in the infinite, and need an end point.

posted by sstrader at 11:03 AM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

April 16, 2008

GitS. Prepare to die.

Live-action Ghost in the Shell. From Dreamworks. In 3-D. Gah. Expect Hanna Montana as Kusanagi and The Rock as Batou with the Tachikomas sounding even more kawaii than they do in the TV series.

A more reasoned analysis over at io9. Best comment from the thread: Will he replace all the guns with walkie-talkies?
posted by sstrader at 8:59 AM in Cinema | permalink | comments (0)