messier object


normally i am not wild about TED

but still, I gotta post this:

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the first science fiction novel i remember reading

This eluded me for years, what it was called.  It wasn’t this edition, though, but a library edition of the original hardback with the blue cover – on the lower left.

The part I remembered best was the part where they fly around the space station on giant pogo sticks. And where they meet old people who grow huge in space. One of those is an exaggeration, but which? Also I really don't think it was dangerous at all. I mean, they sent a kid up there for a quiz-show prize.

Thanks, parochial school library’s lack of attention to weeding!  You made me what I am today, kinda.



yellow blue tibia, pt. 1

Yellow Blue Tibia is probably the most (personally) important book I didn’t get to read last year because Amazon was shitty at mailing it to me from the UK – a science fiction novel about Soviet SF authors secretly convened by Stalin in ’46 to think up a new threat after America collapses.  The opening is equal parts Bakhnov-style riff on politically correct Soviet science fiction and wide-eyed parody of Herman Kahn’s nuclear planning and wargaming at RAND, which should sound more promising than it is.  So far Adam Roberts seems to have a pretty shaky grasp on Soviet SF culture; the world he’s created has no notion of the “near target” (blizkaia tsel’) or Stalin’s conflicts with SF authors that led to the end of all SF publishing before the Great Patriotic War.  Also, it brings up a question I’ve never pondered before: can an author make references to real figures he probably doesn’t know exist?  The narrator, Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky, appears to be something of a vague parody of Ivan Yefremov, having written science fiction about alternate classical worlds, while another seems to be a vague reference to Vladimir Obruchev.  Of course, I’m only about a third of the way through, so we’ll see how it develops…



new men & “kings”
2010, January 14, 2:42 pm
Filed under: teevee | Tags: , , , ,

While Kings is now long-canceled, the shitty fly-by-night DVD is out.  And, as much as it pains me to say it, you really shouldn’t buy it.  No, I’m not kidding.  I’d say anything to support them, but NBC continues its late series of fuckups here.  Seriously, it’s sixty bucks and the special features are like four deleted scenes and one commentary.  One.  Kings was really the sort of show that was supposed to blossom on DVD – they created a lot of content for the website and there are all sorts of tantalizing hints to the greater world in the show bible in the commentary (like, what’s the deal with Austeria?), but right now Hulu actually has more extra content than the DVD set.  I’m sad to say that this set is an unabashed disaster, and totally not worth watching.

On the other hand, now I can watch it whenever I want.  Now you know where I’ve been all week.



What man could resist a shaving lotion so laden with futurity?

It’s the future’s future now, but I just want to remind you why you should be reading Brett Holman (who seems to be a nice fellow, too)’s Airminded instead of this blog in the coming second decade of the third millennium*:

Are you going to wait — or be one of the ‘Moderns’? For the sake of your skin and your razor-blades do step out of that rut.

So how is the future invoked here in the pursuit of higher sales figures for Field-day? Most obviously, the city of the future has giant skyscrapers, with aeroplanes (and giant tubes of shaving lotion, ridden by a man who is clearly accustomed to boldly taking charge of his destiny in his dressing-gown) flying in between them. In fact, one of the skyscrapers is also an airport: there’s an aeroplane just taking off from it, and at the top of the tower is a windsock. Aside from the odd heliport or two, downtown airports have failed to materialise, but they remained a possibility in the 1930s. The text mentions such wondrous technological possibilities as glass houses, autogiros, and wrist televisions.

Then there is the rhetorical, almost ritual, use of the names of those two great novels about the future to come out of Britain in the 1930s, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and H. G. Wells’s The Shape of Things to Come (1933) (or rather, the 1936 film-of-the-book, Things to Come). Neither of these can be said to look forwards to the future without any misgivings, however; the one is a dystopia (albeit one masquerading as a utopia), and the other might as well be, at least for the hundreds of millions of people killed along the road to a technologically-sophisticated, tunic-wearing paradise. So they might seem an odd choice for a straightforwardly optimistic (if not entirely straightfaced, perhaps) depiction of the future. But that’s par for the course: the titles of both books very quickly became a shorthand for the unknown future, often with little relation to anything in Huxley or Wells.

Finally, there are all the key words defining the attributes which are to be associated with the future, and with Field-day: it will be revolutionary, incomparably better, different, faster, longer lasting, simple and safe. What man could resist a shaving lotion so laden with futurity? It is indeed the shave of the future, NOW. I do so want to be one of the Moderns, and I’d buy it myself, for sure — except that judging by Google, it looks like neither Field-day nor J. C. and J. Field, Ltd., its manufacturer, actually made it into this future. O brave new world, that doesn’t have such things in it!

*and, yes, I realize we aren’t there yet.



Jan’s Atomic Heart (АТОМНОЕ СЕРДЦЕ ЯНА)

Jan’s Atomic Heart (АТОМНОЕ СЕРДЦЕ ЯНА)
by Simon Roy
New Reliable Press, 2009

Frankfurt.
Some time in the far-ish future.

For a science fiction graphic novel set in the distant future, the world of Jan’s Atomic Heart seems surprisingly like our own: the moon may be colonized and people may telecommute as robots, but they still jog, go to egg restaurants, and drink lukewarm coffee.  While it obviously takes design cues from classic cyberpunk sequential art like Ghost in the Shell, the world Roy imagines is different from the Gibsonian dystopias of infinite darkness and a neon light flashing in a human face, forever.  It’s not steampunk, or biopunk, or magickpunk, it’s… normalpunk. (Please, kill me now.)  For all technology has changed, it doesn’t seem to have changed Jan, the titular human waiting for a new body after a car crash teleprojecting into an old android, his mysterious friend, Anders, or the society they find themselves living in. Continue reading



Man Will Conquer Boners Soon!

So apparently ABC’s bringing back the “hard science of the near future… in space!” form of television they started way back in 1955.  While 42 million viewers is pretty respectable for the Eisenhower administration, I can’t imagine this is going to get too far off the ground.  Even if they do have lots of fucking in space.  After all, we all remember how well Torchwood turned out, right?  And how popular Enterprise was.  And how Farscape totally didn’t get canned.  Okay, so maybe those examples were all over the place.  But still, there doesn’t seem to be much of a place for decidedly futuristic SF on television these days (as opposed to say Lost or Chuck or even Abrams’ X-Files calque Fringe).  Well, maybe expect a liveblog of some sort of the premiere tonight, and maybe I can get into why that is.  It can’t be worse than the last third of Sunshine, after all.

Or Century City.  It totally can’t be worse than Century City.  And I watched that willingly!  Why I cannot say now, because the memories are too terrible for me to retain.  If you care enough, though, you can apparently watch it on Hulu now.



kings & new men

Here’s one of the biggest differences that’s struck me since I’ve started reading science fiction written the the USSR & East Bloc states: the future histories are uniformly – completely uniformly – republican & democratic & optimistic.  Communist, of course, but the rule is always by interested parties who self-select from the masses to engage in rule.  In the west, though, there’s not only a strong, strong tradition of future monarchy (Herbert, Foundation, Pournelle’s CoDominion series where the monarchy is formed out of the leadership of the combined militaries of the United States and the Soviet Union, of all things), never mind Heinlein and his wa-a-acky elitism (which, I think, I will get to later).

Of course, some of these are more anarchistic than others – in the Noon Universe of the Strugatsky brothers, easily the most popular Soviet SF shared universe, rule is essentially anarchistic – there’s a few committes that take care of important stuff that can’t be left to chance, like first contact with aliens or licensing starship pilots, but even those are just made up of interested citizens and seem to have relatively little power, at least in the early stories (the increasing dystopia of the shared 22nd century of the Strugatskys isn’t so much a theme in their work as it is their increasing distress as they realize that their imagined universe just won’t ever work, and can’t actually be a future history – but more on that distinction between imagined future history and fictional future history later, too).

In this sense, it shares a lot with Iain Banks’ Culture novels and more modern western SF generally – especially stuff written after the end of the Cold War.  Meanwhile, everyone on earth seems to live happily in houses on plenty of land and grow food as their good Marxist labor – something the brothers caught a fair amount of flak for, when they weren’t catching flak for being Jews or criticizing working conditions for the intelligentsia or any number of other things.  The houses, that is, not the return to the land – the line was still that, by 1980, every Soviet citizen would have an apartment, so why go rushing ahead with things?

Efremov’s Andromeda shows a governance that is similarly democratic, if somewhat less anarchistic – there seems to be evidence of plenty of freedom of rule, although there is still a world government of some sort, run by all the racial stereotypes of the world.  But everyone seems to be equally able in this far-distant future (some time in the fourth millenum), in distinct difference from western authors of the same period.  And unlike all those western authors, who at some point or another reason that a single strongman has to rule humanity because that’s the only power that can – as Herbert, I think, makes clear in Dune although it’s been a while since I’ve done that book right by itself – humanity has never been ruled by a dictatorial figure since the long-gone ages of capitalism and emergent socialism.

On the other hand, the western SF tradition is full of supermen and monarchs and collapses of great societies and rebuildings, with, well, I can’t actually think of any major exceptions among authors who tried to do future histories – even Le Guin had the Hainish society collapse from some high where they could manipulate whole planets down to their colonies forgetting about each other for millenia.  Why so much more pessimism in the west?  There are a lot of parts, I think, but there are two that I think are especially key – Spengler and, after the Second World War, more open fear of the bomb.

SF, like pretty much all writing in the USSR, had to go through ideological censorship, so it more or less always ended up conforming to Marxist ideas of the progression of the future.  The only real western-comparable pessimistic societies we see come before the harshest censorships or were writings destined for the desk-drawer: things like Tolstoi’s Aelita (where the Marxists lose but there is some hope for a second revolution at the end) and Zamyatin’s We, the direct predecessor to dystopias like 1984.  But all the full-blown future histories, like Efremov and the Strugatskys, had to conform with the constant upwards developement of humanity.

In the west, this was not nearly the most popular idea: even in The First & Last Men humanity rises and falls and rises again, palingenetic, to even higher heights (on Neptune).  While this is getting longer than I thought it would, why?  Partially, I think, because I think a lot of these authors were influenced by early fantasy writers, and because a galatic Empire allows for Galactic Knights and other sorts of Galactic Hero Figures and just strikes you as somewhat alien compared to what you’re used to now; partially because the rise of science fiction sees the end of the last western empires after the First World War.  But I’ll expound on these reasons more fully next time.