it’s street religion

October 6, 2019

Voodou isn’t like that. It isn’t concerned with notions of salvation and transcendence. What it’s about is getting things done. You follow me? In out system, there are many gods, spirits. Part of one big family, with all the virtues, all the vices. There’s a ritual tradition of communal manifestation, understand? Voodou says, there’s a God, sure, Gran Met, but He’s big, too big and too far away to worry Himself if your ass is poor, or you can’t get laid. Come on, man, you know how this works, it’s street religion, came out of dirt poor places a million years ago. Voodou’s like the street. Some duster chops out your sister, you don’t go camp on the Yakuza’s doorstep, do you? No way. You go to somebody, though, who can get the thing done. Right?

William Gibson
Count Zero

It Escaped in 47

September 22, 2019

The first Doctor (William Hartnell): If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds, and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you

The second Doctor (Patrick Troughton): The fools. The stupid fools!

The third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) : A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.

The fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) : Never be certain of anything. It’s a sign of weakness.

The fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) : There’s always something to look at if you open your eyes!

The sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) : Rest is for the weary, sleep is for the dead.

The seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy): Think about me when you’re living your life one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller and his old police box, with his days like crazy paving.

The eighth Doctor (Paul McGann): Gallifrey! Yes! This must be where I live. Now, where is that?

The war Doctor (John Hurt): No. Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame. Whatever the cost.

The ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston): You think it’ll last forever: people and cars and concrete. But it won’t. One day it’s all gone. Even the sky. My planet’s gone. It’s dead. It burned, like the Earth. It’s just rocks and dust. Before its time.

The tenth Doctor (David Tennant): And, I’ll tell you something else: We just met Queen Victoria!

The eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith): Are the peoples of this world guilty of any crimes punishable by the laws of the Atraxi?

The twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi): I’m the Doctor. I’ve lived for over two thousand years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that…

The thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker): Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan.

an ever-changing society

August 6, 2019

Conceive a world-society developed materially far beyond the wildest dreams of America. Unlimited power, derived partly from the artificial disintegration of atoms, partly from the actual annihilation of matter through the union of electrons and protons to form radiation, completely abolished the whole grotesque burden of drudgery which hitherto had seemed the inescapable price of civilization, nay of life itself. The vast economic routine of the world-community was carried on by the mere touching of appropriate buttons. Transport, mining, manufacture, and even agriculture were performed in this manner. And indeed in most cases the systematic co-ordination of these activities was itself the work of self-regulating machinery. Thus, not only was there no longer need for any human beings to spend their lives in unskilled monotonous labour, but further, much that earlier races would have regarded as highly skilled though stereotyped work, was now carried on by machinery. Only the pioneering of industry, the endless exhilarating research, invention, design and reorganization, which is incurred by an ever-changing society, still engaged the minds of men and women. And though this work was of course immense, it could not occupy the whole attention of a great world-community. Thus very much of the energy of the race was free to occupy itself with other no less difficult and exacting matters, or to seek recreation in its many admirable sports and arts. Materially every individual was a multi-millionaire, in that he had at his beck and call a great diversity of powerful mechanisms; but also he was a penniless friar, for he had no vestige of economic control over any other human being. He could fly through the upper air to the ends of the earth in an hour, or hang idle among the clouds all day long. His flying machine was no cumbersome aeroplane, but either a wingless aerial boat, or a mere suit of overalls in which he could disport himself with the freedom of a bird. Not only in the air, but in the sea also, he was free. He could stroll about the ocean bed, or gambol with the deep-sea fishes. And for habitation he could make his home, as he willed, either in a shack in the wilderness or in one of the great pylons which dwarfed the architecture even of the American age. He could possess this huge palace in loneliness and fill it with his possessions, to be automatically cared for without human service; or he could join with others and create a hive of social life. All these amenities he took for granted as the savage takes for granted the air which he breathes. And because they were as universally available as air, no one craved them in excess, and no one grudged another the use of them.

Olaf Stapledon
Last and First Men

literary categories

July 12, 2019

 

Ian McEwan on literary categories:

I think that the novel — and I think we should usually talk about ‘the novel’ rather than ‘the literary novel’ or ‘the science fiction novel’ — but the novel is a very good means of examining colossal social change, but also of [examining] the moral dilemmas that new technologies are going to make us confront. I think there could be a resurgence, a revitalization, of the form, in which — quite possibly — concepts and categories of ‘literary’ novels up against ‘science fiction’ novels will completely vanish, because we’ll need the technical grasp of technologies that the best science fiction yields to us, and we’ll need the traditional examinations of moral dilemmas that the literary novel has always prided itself upon. So I look forward to these categories just dissolving.

Ian McEwan
WIRED 4th April 2019

Don’t look now, but intelligent robots are about to decide if you live or die.

Somehow, while we weren’t paying attention, we slipped into a universe where the robots from Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” stories are about to surround us by the millions. The self-driving cars being sold by Tesla and other manufacturers aren’t quite there yet, but we are quickly entering a world where AIs will be making moment by moment choices about your survival. Consider this scenario: Your car is driving you down a two-lane highway with concrete dividers on either side when an I-beam falls off the truck ahead of you. In the other lane is a motorcycle. Should your car swerve, missing the I-beam but hitting the motorcyclist? Or try to brake, knowing it can’t stop in time and possibly killing you? A human driver would act on reflex,  but a computer has plenty of time to consider the options and decide who should survive.

David Walton
Interview with John Scalzi, 13th June 2019

Swedish illustrator Simon Stålenhag depicts an uncomfortable collision of present and future where people much like us seem to confront a brave new technological reality. These really are jaw-dropping digital science fiction artworks
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Buy them HERE

In fact, the apocalypse as male paradise is something you’ll run into again and again in this novel.  Huge swathes of text are given over to lasciviously explaining how, in order to re-populate the earth, men will have to sleep with as many women as possible (whether they like it or not – it’s all for genetic diversity reasons, you see). Using the apocalypse as an excuse to basically legitimise rape, or, at best, polyamory, is all kinds of messed up. There are whole chapters that read like a pervy manifesto or teenage sex fantasy (“they’ll HAVE to have sex with me now”). But it’s stupid in a structural sense too: there are long passages of dialogue explaining why all this would be necessary, but such discussions are taking place only days after the arrival of the blindness/Triffids/plague, when surely the more immediate concerns of finding clean water, shelter and other survivors should be taking precedent over long-term plans for coupling and repopulation?

Apocalypse as Paradise: John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids
Tomcat in the red room blog

our heritage

July 4, 2019

Cripes! Life seems so hectic, don’t it? So much to do; so little time to do it. Rushing round trying to save the environment while vacuuming, flossing, cooking meals, writing, and feeling particularly pissed off that a nodding bell-end like Jeremy Hunt (Jessa the Hunt), in his attempt to become prime minister, thinks the answer is to bring back fox hunting!

Using a pack of dogs to rip a fox apart is, according to the Hunt, “part of our heritage.”

It’d appear that molecular biologist Christopher Johnson and his colleagues in the States have created a biological enzyme that can chew efficiently through throwaway plastics like those that make water bottles and soap containers. The team is optimistic they can engineer a world where humans keep using this overabundant material – without winding up literally or figuratively overwhelmed by it. In that world microorganisms will digest polymers into their chemical components so they can turn a profit as new and better products.

Ummm!!?

Anyone remember the TV series Doomwatch? The first episode, The Plastic Eaters was written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. It told of an enzyme that went out of control and gobbled up plastic, including all the plastic parts of an aircraft in flight – oh, dear! what a tragedy –

Pedler and Davis used the same idea in a novel, Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater. Perhaps a copy should be sent to Mr Johnson and colleagues as a warning?

I note the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, condemns all the fiscal proposals/suggestions/promises made by the two candidates hoping to become our future prime Minister. He condemns, too, the economic proposals of the Labour party. Mr Hammond, affectionately nicknamed ‘Spreadsheet Phil’, gives the impression of a monomaniacal sociopath wandering through a wild orgy of the flesh, thinking only about marginal rates of return, regardless of cost to our society as a whole –