messier object


old news, apparently

Image comics presents: the Soviet Syd Mead!

But there’s a Soviet SF manga?  As bizarre as it seems to me to create socialist-inflected science fiction in this day and age*, it’s certainly interesting both as an aesthetic (ushankas for everyone!) and as a stylistic experiment.   I think the fact that it’s comics makes it even more fun, potentially, in the former – there’s certainly enough neatlooking abandoned Soviet futuristic hardware. But I don’t know how far it actually is going to go as a style experiment.  In Subversive Imaginations: Fantastic Prose and the End of Soviet Literature, 1970s-1990s, Nadya Peterson wrote that (and I think I agree) “the Stalinist novel and Soviet science fiction are both formulaic structures whose protagonists ‘know or discover the laws governing their social existence, and the ultimate outcome of those laws in a Great Society of the future.’ Which, if you’re writing a Soviet-style science fiction history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, leaves you with a pretty depressing Marxist world-system – something that could be cool, but might not be attractive for most authors.  So will it live up to the maxim**?  I dunno, but I just ordered the first volume, so we’ll see.

*and, yes, I’m not counting China Miéville here.

**so, so hard to avoid a Mac Sim/Strugatskys pun.

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hey, look, it’s aelita
2009, December 19, 5:55 pm
Filed under: science fiction | Tags: , , , ,

Hey, everybody, look! It’s Aelita! (The Queen of Mars!)

Wait, it’s not?  But they look so much alike!  Odd.  So far, pretty much every illustration of women in pre- and post-Stalinist SF illustration keeps that same hyperdramatic Weimar cinema look, but I have no idea why.  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.



am i high, 1940s?

Membership [in Mister Mind’s Monster Society of Evil]:

  • Mr. Mind
  • Archibald, a satyr
  • An army of termites and worms
  • Artificial bodies Mr. Mind could mentally inhabit, consisting of:
    • A Goat-Man, half-man, half-goat
    • A robot, seemingly indestructible
    • An octopus with a human face, constantly grinning
    • A circus strongman, with strength rivalling that of Captain Marvel himself
  • Bonzo, fanged hunchback with large eyes
  • Captain Nazi, superstrong Aryan warrior
  • Crocodile-Men, a race of humanoids from the planetoid Punkus
  • Dobbin, Mr. Mind’s seahorse steed
  • Dome attendants who tend to Mr. Mind’s undersea base, consisting of:
    • A pig-man
    • A goblin
    • A werewolf
    • An ogre
    • A midget submarine captain, the last of Mr. Mind’s minions to leave him
  • Dr. Smashi, short Japanese scientist and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Dr. Hashi, spiky-haired Japanese scientist
  • Dr. Peeyu, tall Japanese scientist
  • Dr. Sivana, the “world’s wickedest scientist”
  • Evil Eye, monster with the ability to hypnotize
  • Herkimer, Crocodile-Man and Mr. Mind’s second-in-command
  • Herr Phoul, bald Nazi scientist with a monocle and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Adolf Hitler and all the resources of Nazi Germany
  • Hydra, head-regenerating monster created by Mr. Mind
  • IBAC, criminal who sold his soul for superstrength and durability
  • Jeepers, last of a race of bat-monsters
  • Jorrk, greatest scientist of the Crocodile-Men and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Marmaduke, criminal with big ears and a fat face
  • Monster Brigade, undersea monsters under Mr. Mind’s command, consisting of:
    • A sperm whale
    • A giant octopus
    • A hammerhead shark
    • A huge sea-serpent
  • Monster Professors, teachers at Mr. Mind’s Monster School, consisting of:
    • A human,
    • A Crocodile-Man,
    • A fanged monster,
    • A humanoid with the head of a hippopotamus
  • Monster Students, pupils at the Monster School, consisting of:
    • Human tough guys
    • Crocodile-Men
    • A black, horned demon
  • Mr. Banjo, criminal and leaker of secrets via coded music from his banjo, played on a popular radio show
  • Benito Mussolini and all the resources of Fascist Italy
  • Nippo, master swordsman and spy for the Japanese
  • Sylvester, Crocodile-Man and one of Mr. Mind’s preferred gunners
  • Synthetic animals created by Mr. Mind, consisting of:
    • Oscar, a giant lobster
    • Oliver, a giant octopus with human hands
    • Ophelius, a huge ram
    • Oliphant, a dragon
  • Hideki Tojo and all the resources of Imperial Japan
  • Tough guys, generic human enforcers of Mr. Mind’s wishes, notable ones include:
    • A tommy-gun wielder
    • A cloaked swordsman
    • A beret-wearer
    • A stereotypical “Goomba”
    • A Gatsby cap-wearer

Keep in mind, of course, that Mister Mind is a two-inch-tall caterpillar.



liveblogging “hitler’s stealth fighter”

10:04: Well, that ending was terrible.  Seriously, a Nazi stealth bomber? Even my dad thought that was bullshit.

9:50: ads ads ads ads ads ads ads ads iphone ad

9:48: Has anybody talked up the “legend of the Nazi stealth fighter” before this program? I know I’d never heard of it before.

9:47: I wonder if there are different plans for riggin’ a plane for a radar test range and for hanging in a museum?

9:45: The premise of this program is revealed – “I wonder if it really is stealthy.  I mean, it looks stealthy to me.”

9:44: Oh, c’mon, it’s not like out-dogfighting a Me-262 is tough.  Things could fly fast in a straight line, but they couldn’t turn for shit.

9:42: Shit, the Germans are expecting a NUKE

9:41: They keep saying “generations ahead” but I mean the YB-49 only flew in ’47 and the 229 flew for the first time in December ’44.

9:39: Damn, there are a lot of ads on this.  Maybe Fringe and Kings are spoiling me.

9:33: I’m still here, it’s just hard to say anything about the rush to form a plexiglass cockpit.

9:29: Coatings.  Boo-urns.

9:21: Okay, seriously? 2500 dollars a gallon and that’s easier than a little aluminum pipe?

9:18: I realize there’s a whole history of modeling radar reflection but seriously is it tougher to paint it accurately than it is to fabricate a bit of aluminum piping?  Oh, they’re doing it in three months.

9:17: Plus are we supposed to believe the head of the Luftwaffe had never heard of the preeminent glider designers in all Germany?  And I was under the impression the 229 was designed to be a fighter-bomber, and that the Hortens didn’t claim it could be an interceptor?

9:16: “The Horten 229 was generations ahead of the rest of the world.”  Therefore, it was obviously made for revenge.

9:06:

jeff nagle
stop touching it you dicks

allegra black
eh, at least it’s nat geo and not discovery people
discovery people are assholes

9:05: And it’s right there next to the Mosquito, huh.  But where are the Garber peeps? And why do they keep touching it?

9:04:  Hahahahahahaha, a “secure government facility.”  Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys, but you forgot to mention it’s stored next to a mash tank and the expanded human nervous system.  And then the shot of the cyclone wire, geez.

9:03: Norman Leach’s a Canadian military historian? We’re trusting a Canadian specialist to tell us about German aerospace-science relations?



life has become better, life has become more cheerful

From its beginning at the turn of the 20th century, Russian communist science fiction had a strong focus on the history of the future. This developed through the 1920s before the issues of political correctness and the general crackdown on literature in the Stalinist period ended the publishing of science fiction in 1931 . Until the liberalization following the death of Stalin science fiction publishing was essentially nil, excluding a few stories set in the extremely near future. But this was blown apart by the publication of Ivan Yefremov’s Andromeda in 1957, a work that would inspire the re-creation of a Soviet science fiction writing culture. And with this new culture came new visions of the development of history into the future: long prohibited by code, authors began to not only set their stories in the far future but flesh out the imagined worlds – indeed the entire universes – in which their stories took place.

These universe creators ranged from Yefremov to the politically troubling works of the Soviet Union’s most popular native science fiction authors, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. Coded in these works, were the visions not only of what the future might look like, but how the science of Marxism would describe the progress of humanity. These new works also critiqued the notion of the linear progress of humanity in the strict Marxist mold, its inflexibility and its belief that the Soviet Union marked an endpoint for human history, raised questions of sharing progress and uplifting the less-historically developed states of the world, and reflected the issues and fears of the new generation of intellectuals in the Soviet Union.

The notion of historical uplift in Russian Marxist science fiction begins in 1905 with Alexander Bogdanov’s Red Star. At its core, this 1908 novel is a tour of the futuristic utopia of Mars, a society which has reached its ultimate historical potential – and, thus, a description of what future communist states should be like. In Red Star, these Martians abduct (willingly) a single human of the most developed type: a Russian Bolshevik named Leonid. Their purpose in this is to attempt to acclimate a human to their fully communist society. While the Martians do not feel they can actively force communism on humanity, nonetheless they advocate for doing “the best [they] can to facilitate that development” to a position from which they can be considered by the Martians as equals . In many senses, this first work is a reverse of the situation found in later novels: it is the earthling who is undeveloped in comparison to the aliens, and is about his reaction to the advanced society and the efforts at uplifting him to the level of the Martians. Later works would turn this on its head, with humanity the universal progressor and stories told unfailingly from the perspective of those trying, subtly or not, to bring other societies to their level. Continue reading



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.