Playlist from The Acousmatic Theater Hour with Jason G and Karinne on WFMU, from Nov 30, 2008
Archive for November, 2008
Riding the train home last night, late, when two black guys board. Now, ordinarily this would be my signal to flee, but I decided to risk it because Obama, etc.
One of the guys was carrying a plastic McDonald's take-out bag, I guess because he's one of those people who are too busy to sit down and enjoy a nice meal in the comfort of a McDonald's. In his other hand he was holding a drink. It was some kind of brown liquid in one of those tiny, semi-transparent Dixie cups you get at movie theaters and pizzerias, as their way of shaming you for requesting tap water instead of Sierra Mist.
As the train bumped along, he took small sips from his Dixie cup. Finally, his friend asked, "what's that?" Mr. Sips slowly raised the cup in a toast, and replied, "Courvoisier. Smells like money, don't it?" His friend laughed and heartily agreed; I would have agreed, too, if I had been able to smell the Courvoisier over the stronger, headier aroma of Chicken McNuggets.
The four-day frenzy of food, family and football is about to conclude, and we at Here's What's Awesome aim to ease you back into the regular week with a few awesome links. Just a little something for our peoples.
But what if you feel like chicken tonight?
James Schwarz is an artist who captures and illuminates the paradox of the avatar through his Headshot Series. I first learned of his work through intrepid profile stalking. I noticed that profile pictures taken by Schwarz had more depth than any I had seen before. The faces materialize from twilit dusk and the eyes make direct contact with the viewer. His subjects gaze confidently, coolly, sassily – they’re a bit intimidating. One of his sitters admitted being a bit shy about approaching Schwarz for an appointment (I felt the same way) so it was refreshing to read his follow up comment that he too, may feel a bit of the same when meeting people for a photo shoot. The nervousness comes from mutual admiration. We respect his work, and he respects us for timidly offering ourselves up as subject. He cares for his subjects, smoothing and softening their angles. The portraits are the same in size and presentation, but include personal accoutrements - a ciggy here, a headband there. Some avatars are plain, some are elaborate, each one unique. Take a few moments to view his flickr stream showing the series. It offers a rare opportunity to contemplate and know these personalities who are typically roaming, dancing, shagging, building, or otherwise on the move. I had a moment to catch up with Schwarz and asked him about the Headshot Series. He made an interesting point:
James Schwarz: "SL is pretty much a whole different dimension. The diversity of people…it's like the way each avatar is represented it's not just the work of one person, the owner, but a work of several others. If you think about it, the way you look right now is the hours and dedication put into by the creators of your skin, clothes, hair etc."
I’d never thought about that aspect of an avatar; that each individual represents a communal effort. But this idea is essentially the essence of SL, working collaboratively to achieve your individual vision, which made me think of Thich Nhat Hanh:
“You are me, and I am you. Isn't it obvious that we "inter-are"?”
See Schwarz’s first project – 100 Avatars – a community profile of the metaverse. Schwarz may have expressed being shy, but his artwork is not - it reaches out to each of us with a welcoming embrace. Rad.
A recent study shows that most people rate wine as tastier if it has a fancy label. Jonah Lehrer, from his forthcoming book How We Decide, writes:
Twenty people sampled five Cabernet Sauvignons that were distinguished solely by their retail price, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the people were told that all five wines were different, the scientists weren’t telling the truth: there were only three different wines. This meant that the same wines would often reappear, but with different price labels. For example, the first wine offered during the tasting - it was a cheap bottle of Californian Cabernet - was labeled both as a $5 wine (it’s actual retail price) and as a $45 dollar wine, a 900 percent markup…. Not surprisingly, the subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better. They preferred the $90 bottle to the $10 bottle, and thought the $45 Cabernet was far superior to the $5 plonk.
Of course, the wine preferences of the subjects were clearly nonsensical. Instead of acting like rational agents - getting the most utility for the lowest possible price - they were choosing to spend more money for an identical product.
I think the wine preferences of the subjects were clearly not nonsensical. Maybe an unlabelled $40 bottle of wine tastes no better than a $5 unlabelled bottle of wine. But that’s why people don’t buy unlabelled bottles of wine! The utility of the wine you drink isn’t contained in the molecules striking your tongue and your nose; you’re enjoying the possession of something people have agreed to value. When you travel three hours to eat the best barbecue in Texas, the long drive and the long wait are part of what you’re paying for. If you think that’s nonsensical, you’ve got problems with people’s behavior that go way past their selections from the wine list.
Note also: subjects with an expertise in wine did recognize, and prefer, the pricier wines. So consider the following experiment: give a heterogeneous group of readers a selection of novels by Tom Clancy and F. Scott Fitzgerald, with the covers torn off. You might find that the 14-year-olds in the group rated the two groups of novels equally, while those with an expertise in literature preferred the Fitzgerald, even without the identification. Now suppose one of the 14-year-olds, with knowledge of these results, was offered the choice of a book by TC or a book by FSF for twice the price. And let’s say this 14-year-old reasons, “The experiment suggests I’ll like these books equally; but my teachers and my parents say that Fitzgerald is great literature and Tom Clancy is trash, so maybe I’d better take their word for it and try the Fitzgerald.” Is the teenager’s behavior clearly nonsensical?
Or maybe the example of JT Leroy is a little less scale-thumby. People are less interested in his books now that we know the author isn’t who he claimed to be — isn’t even, in fact, a he. Same books, same sentences. Is that nonsensical?
By the way, I’m not really imputing to Lehrer the view he asserts in his book: in an earlier blog post on a similar study, he writes
What these experiments neatly demonstrate is that the taste of a wine, like the taste of everything, is not merely the sum of our inputs, and cannot be solved in a bottom-up fashion. It cannot be deduced by beginning with our simplest sensations and extrapolating upwards. When we taste a wine, we aren’t simply tasting the wine. This is because what we experience is not what we sense.
which seems to me much more correct.
The wine experiment reminded me of GMU economist Robin Hanson’s blog, Overcoming Bias. I think I’ll write a bit more about this in a later post, but I’ll close with this question: do Robin Hanson and like-thinking economists think it’s rational to believe wine tastes better if you know it’s expensive?
N is for…
Namby-pamby. Nickname of the 18th-century poet Ambrose Phillips, coined by the satirist Henry Careybecause of his sentimental verses
O is for…
Onslaught, from the Dutch aanslag - related to a word in Old High German for a shower.
P is for…
Penguin, a compound of two Welsh words, pen and gwyn, which mean ''head" and ''white" - even though penguins have black heads. It is likely that 'penguin' was at one time the name of similar, now extinct bird which had a white patch near its bill.
Q is for…
Quack can be traced to the Dutch kwaksalver, literally someone who hawked ointments.
Back in San Francisco, after a 12-hour delay at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London. We sat on the first plane – there were three planes – for five hours before they realized that they couldn't start one of the engines; so we all filed back into the terminal while our luggage was loaded onto a second plane – which was, unfortunately, then hit by a truck (!); so a third airplane was conjured up out of the drizzling darkness of an otherwise abandoned international airport at midnight – I was reminded almost constantly of Iain Sinclair's description of Heathrow as "a Vatican of the western suburbs," a system of piazzas dedicated to geometric worship of the sky – and it rolled over to our gate to collect our bags, the lights in the cockpit still off. It was nearing 1am by then, we'd been given bags of sea-salted potato chips, and bad pop songs were playing on continuous loops though steel security grills pulled down in front of airport music shops. One or two obviously bored employees were performing day-end inventories on refrigerators full of Ribena at Boots, the guitarists for a band apparently based here in San Francisco were throwing an American football around with a kid called Nicholas, and if you stood at the edge of the glass-walled lightwells that cut all the way down to the ground in Richard Rogers's new terminal design you could watch under-oiled escalators squawking their way, from one side to the other, up the nearly five stories to arrive where we were all then sitting, filling out customer complaint forms.
So thanks, British Air, for that odd glimpse of anthropology amidst well-engineered 21st-century architecture after everyone else had gone home – although I would've preferred to arrive twelve hours earlier, on time – and thanks, as well, to everyone who came out to see the variety of BLDGBLOG events last week in London.
The other surprise worth mentioning is that, having landed at the misty, pre-BART hour of 4am, we had to take a taxi home – and as we drove up Fell Street our driver pointed out that gas prices have plunged to a somewhat unbelievable $1.79 a gallon.
Back from Austin and trying to get caught up on various things… Jenny Attiyeh passes along her Thoughtcast interview with Bob Silvers, the founding editor of The New York Review of Books. I’m listening to it now.
Jenny asked if there were anything I would suggest as a question for him, and I said it would be interesting to have him comment on The Gangrene, a book about how torture by the French military in Algeria spread from the colony to the metropolis. Silvers translated it shortly after it appeared and it was published in 1960. It seems odd that it has never been reprinted. Here’s a recent article about it.
Anyway, she says she asked him about the book, and much else besides. Check it out…
My wife Barbara’s latest work is online: the current installment of SmithMag’s Next Door Neighbor series, featuring writers and artists including Harvey Pekar, Rick Veitch, Jonathan Ames, and other smart and funny people.
Barbara’s story centers on our own very special neighbor friend, Glenna Evans, who must be beheld to be comprehended. Besides giving me the thrill of seeing my wife back at the keyboard, the story has renewed my faith in the future of web comics and even personal narrative.
Lou Reed meets the press in 1974:
An homage, of sorts, to this interview from ten years earlier:
As you can see, time is very much on my mind. I was sad to miss Daniel Rosenberg’s talk at USC about the cartography of time in October.
I’ve been reading the posted excerpts from his forthcoming book about the ways the West has mapped time and history and I’m fascinated by the different graphical representations of time that humans have adopted.
I’d always assumed that historical timelines had always been been in use. I remember diligently making them in history classes from 2nd grade on to college. How odd to reconsider habits you’d taken for granted, never really questioning better ways of accomplishing the same aims.
Mapping time… what a new construct for me. I love to map space, so why not map time. Time in Los Angeles certainly needs regulation. I am convinced that there’s a space/time continuum breach here. How else to explain the 17 minutes that I always lose each day, making me late for everything. I don’t know if I lose it on the road or while prepping to leave the house, but I lose it. Do you?
Perhaps that’s why I am so fascinated by the L.A. “Unfolded: Maps from the Los Angeles Public Library” exhibit on view in the Getty Gallery at the library until January 22, 2008. It’s my current favorite time killer. I think it’s one of the best exhibits I’ve ever seen. Gloria Gerace and Glen Creason co-curated an excellent show and programmed really smart supplemental ALOUD conversations to go with it. Trevor Paglen’s talk on the secretmilitary operations hidden in the Southern California landscape blew my mind. I can’t wait to read newest book, Blank Spots on the Map: the Dark Geography of the Pengaton’s Secret World, coming out in February.
I love to stare at the beautiful maps of our city, marveling at the changes in typography, names and spaces. There’s a family fesitival scheduled for January 18th, from 2 to 4 pm, where folks can try their hand at map making.
At 46, Doreen Giuliano reinvented herself. She dyed her hair blond and tanned at a salon. She left her white seven-bedroom, colonial-style house for a spare basement apartment three miles away. She took on a new name, and for about a year, she said, she rode her bicycle around her new neighborhood, trying to attract the gaze of a young man whom she badly wanted to get close to.
This was no midlife crisis, though. It was a one-woman sting operation.
—Kareem Fahim, "Disguised Mother woos Juror in Bid to Free Son," NYT
His writings were not the unpunctuated breathless screedlike verses you might expect, but on the other hand they weren't much better. He had apparently decided that the crime novel was the essential building block of literature, the constituent unit of its DNA, and he had set about reducing and recombining it—I could just about see the wheels turning in his head—much the way punk rockers had cloned and distilled and chopped up the standard Chuck Berry guitar riff. Each story, if that's what those things could be called, was a paragraph long, titled and signed, and each resembled a page of a crime novel if you were trying to read it while it whipped by on a conveyor belt. —Pinakothek
I must now reveal my grievous shortcoming as a cuber: I never learned the algorithms — the sequences of moves that, when performed a set number of times, guarantee that the colored squares will line up right. I worried that these tools, borrowed from someone else, might interfere with the intense intimacy with nonverbal thinking that the cube affords. And when you solve it by your own lights: the relief! When it first clicked for me, in 1983, I allowed myself a moment of pure self-admiration: I had pursued the right roads, doubled back on the right occasions, executed the right programs, kept the right goals in my head and seen the thing through. It seemed amazing: my brain works.
—Virginia Heffernan, The Medium, NYT Mag
IV.As rents have moved up, however, and all I have done is move my bed to where my dresser used to be, those solicitous questions have grown fewer. It’s not rent control, but I am fast approaching the rent level known as “the steal,” the place where one becomes the object of envy.
I have earned this by doing nothing (much like a bottle of fine wine that improves by simply sitting on a shelf, or, more accurately, like the leak in my ceiling that always dries itself out eventually), but that is O.K. Every day in this city, people earn far more doing far less.
—Sloane Crosley, "Little Victories," NYT
Spelt, to my eye, didn’t look like farro, and from a stovetop behavioral standpoint, it quickly distinguished itself. In a panic I called my personal farro expert, Jennifer DeVore, explaining I couldn’t find farro so instead I bought. . . . “Oh, no,” she interrupted. “You didn’t buy spelt.” Farro cooks in about 45 minutes; we cooked our spelt for four hours, and even then the result was extremely al dente. We threw in multiple sticks of butter, gallons of stock and $13 worth of grated Parmesan, but the spelt remained stoically flavor-impervious. We served it anyway. Contrary to the claims of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century spelt enthusiast, our guests did not find that eating it “makes the spirit of man light and cheerful.”
—Heidi Julavits, NYT Mag
It’s December 1st already. The last month of the year. How did 2008 reach this point already? We all know that time flies but now scholars are actually documenting the process.
The USC History Seminar, a forum for discussion of current work by leading historians on emerging questions of historical methods, topics and theories, has dedicated its theme to the historiography of time. From 2008-2010, scholars will present papers at the ≥Its About Time≤ seminar on campus.
On December 1st at 2 PM, Cheryl A. Wells, Associate Professor of History at University of Wyoming, will discuss her essay ‘Suns, moons, clocks and bells: Native Americans and Time.’
Monday, 1 December 2008, 2-4 PM SOS 250,
University of Southern California
Last June, I joined entheo-poet Dale Pendell, his bookmaker wife Laura, my oneironaut wife Jennifer Dumpert, and UC Berkeley prof David Presti for an excellent weekend workshop at the Ojai Institute…
Our friends at Global Voices have put together an extraordinary selection of blog posts on this week's tragic events in Mumbai. As armed terrorists stormed cinema halls, hotels, hospitals, and other public places in the Indian city, killing 195 and injuring more than 300, bloggers responded with real-time updates from the ground and responses from around the world.
Here's a quick supply of rabbit holes to fill out your weekend. The Telegraph newspaper in the UK has an overview of the 30 greatest conspiracy theories of all time. Take your pick...Elvis lives...the moon landings were faked...Jesus was married...AIDS was made in a lab...there's something for everyone.
Is there really a secret supply of government coffins near Atlanta?
We have declared a new financial sobriety in our household. Even though I am finally earning money again, we are still in debt and with the economy in the crapper we've got to cut back even more. So I have decided to brave the crazy lines at Trader Joe's Manhattan for some cheap food, particularly now that the farmer's markets have less and less produce.
Looking for some tips on the best time to go, I happened upon this very cool blog called Tracking Trader Joe's. Featuring recipes using TJ products like quesadillas, plus other random Trader Joe news, it's definitely worth checking out.
Good conversation about netlabels down in the comments on this blog entry by Andrew Dubber.
Meet S.A.M., a subaquatic mech who only looks swaybacked when he's trying to carry his modded bulk around on land. S.A.M. is one of many character creations by Daniel Baker, a concept artist at Blitz games in the UK. Check out some of his strange sea-going ships and military bots below.
Though I wish they were in sharp focus, I understand why Baker chose to shroud these rock-formation boats in misty haze. They look like the kinds of vessels that faeries would ride around in. At the same time, they also look like the perfect camouflage for bots like S.A.M., riding out to sea on an underwater mission.
Also I love these silhouettes of bot soldiers. Something about the stark black-and-white makes them more menacing and evocative.
See more of Baker's work in the forums on Concept Art.
My favorite burlesque queen and Smutzgig promoter, Penny Starr, Jr., presents a Striptease Symposium on December 7 at the Ography Dance Studio on the 2nd floor in the Sunset Plaza mini-mall at Sunset and Highland: 6767 Sunset Blvd, #16, Hollywood.
Retro fans can learn to bump and grind like a professional in a series of workshops presented during the symposium. Experienced performers will be on hand to share their hair, make up and costume secrets.
Thanksgiving may be over, but we still have food on our minds, thanks in large part to the amazing work of Carl Warner, a London-based photographer who makes foodscapes: landscapes made of food. In the picture above, hot air balloons made of fruit hover over fields of corn, beans and asparagus.
Peter Diamandis is the man behind the X-Prize, the 10 million dollar prize that went to the first team to make a 3-person reusable space vehicle that could reach 100 kilometers in altitude twice in two weeks.
To say it was a success would be a tremendous understatement... 26 teams entered the competition, spending more than $100 million dollars in their attempts to win. And the flights of the winning design (by Burt Rutan) captured world-wide media attention.
Diamandis' X-Prize Foundation is building on the success of that first competion, offering X Prizes in lunar exploration, energy conservation, and medicine.
But he's not stopping there. Diamandis wants to launch mega X-Prizes, with purses of up to a billion dollars for solving such seemingly impossible tasks as communicating at speeds faster than light or being able to predict an earthquake.
Diamandis gave a great talk about the future of the X-Prize, as well as what it takes to start your own X-Prize type competition, a couple of months ago at The Long Now Foundation. Read about the talk, watch it, or listen to it.
OK, you're a hot-shot designer in LA (you know who you are) and you'd love to make it big in that design-mecca just across the big pond, Tokyo. But how to go about it?
You could do a lot worse than start with this article from pingmag.jp. Parissa Haghirian studies how small companies fare in Japan...why some make it and others crash and burn. In this pingmag article, she lays out what to expect...
Tokyo is a very competitive place, especially for creative people; it is the hub of all business in Japan and there are many opportunities. However, most people need to find a job to make a living first and can only then slowly start to build a career in a creative field. This may take a year or two. Japanese business is extremely relationship oriented, and it therefore takes a while until a young designer has the right contacts and can earn money with his or her ideas.
With Wall-E director Andrew Stanton starting work on a film based on Edgar Rice Burroughs's 1917 novel A Princess of Mars, and with Hollywood adaptations of Brave New World and When Worlds Collide also in development, it's time for us to give you a crash course in books from this seminal era in science fiction. Welcome to the first episode of an irregular series of posts that will survey science fiction novels published from the beginning of the 20th century until the advent of science fiction's so-called Golden Age. Not to be confused with SF's Pulp Era (i.e., the mid-1920s through the mid-1950s), I've named the years 1904-33 its Pre-Golden Age, or PGA. For our first foray into this era, let's consider ten great novels of the apocalypse.
Hold on, though: The 20th century began in 1901, while the Golden Age is widely agreed to have kicked off in or shortly after '38, when John Campbell became editor of Astounding Stories. So why doesn't the PGA begin in '01 and end in '37? Why 1904-33, instead? Glad you asked. I've got a whole post explaining why this era is meaningful. Click the link if you want more historical background, or just plunge right into the apocalypse below.
Many of these novels are in the public domain, and I've indicated where you can find them in full text online, as well as where you can pick up a printed copy if you like.
1. Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future (1930). In his awe-inspiring, tragicomic first novel, Stapledon, a British philosopher and progressivist, ventriloquizes the future history of humankind as related to him telepathically by one of the Last Men — alien descendants of ours who will inhabit Neptune, where they'll face extinction as the sun burns out, some two billion years hence. So what does fate hold in store for us, the First Men? Well, the post-WWI "passionate will for peace and a united world" won't last long, Stapledon's narrator informs readers. Within a century aerial bombs and poison gas will have laid waste to Europe (including Russia), leaving the Chinese and Americans to compete for global military and economic domination. Eventually, a World State will be founded, and peace and prosperity will reign... until Earth's natural energy sources get used up! At that point, civilization will collapse and the First Men will devolve into superstitious savages living in the shadow of their ancestors' skyscrapers — "though for the most part they were of course by now little more than pyramids of debris overgrown with grass and brushwood" — until, after nearly 100,000 years, they'll re-civilize themselves and discover atomic energy. Which they'll use, "after a bout of insane monkeying with the machinery," to inadvertantly annihilate all but 35 men and women, whose mutated descendants will be the Second Men. This sort of thing goes on, and on, and on, entertainingly and soberingly, for 18 generations of humankind. Multiple apocalypses, and all for the price of one novel! Read more about Last and First Men in the Homo Superior installment of this series.
FULL TEXT | FIND A COPY
2. William Hope Hodgson, The Night Land: A Love Tale (1912). Hodgson, a British sailor, strongman, and visionary, paints a macabre, fascinating portrait of a frozen future Earth whose few remaining human inhabitants live in a vast underground space created by earthquakes, lit by the glare of lava bubbling up from below, and inhabited by dinosaurs. Worse, at some point in the distant past, overreaching scientists breached "the Barrier of Life" that separated our dimension from one populated by "monstrosities and Forces" — Watching Things, Silent Ones, Hounds, Giants, "Ab-humans," Brutes, enormous slugs and spiders — collectively known as the Slayers. (At least one of them, as far as I can tell from the 1972 Ballantine paperback cover shown here, resembles Pac-Man.) The unnamed narrator, along with apparently every other surviving human, lives trapped in the Last Redoubt, a eight-mile-high metal pyramid-city constructed by their ancestors using now-forgotten technologies. The pyramid is protected from the Slayers, who surround and observe it constantly, by mysterious Powers of Goodness, and also by a massive force-field powered by the "Earth Current" — a Tesla-esque force drawn from the planet itself. Our hero is telepathic, and one day he receives a distress signal that appears to issue from a woman living in a long-forgotten community of humans sequestered in a distant Lesser Pyramid whose power supply is running out. Arming himself with a lightsaber-meets-brushcutter gizmo called a Diskos, and eating nothing but protein pills and powdered water, he sets forth on a mission impossible — into the Night Land.
FULL TEXT | FIND A COPY
3. M.P. Shiel, The Purple Cloud (1901; read why I consider this a PGA novel here). When Brian Aldiss quipped, in reference to PGA SF, that "the period was a welter of variously colored plagues," this is one of the two catastrophes that he must have had in mind; Jack London wrote the other one. Not a pandemic but a deadly vapor that sweeps across the planet — perhaps as some kind of chthonic punishment (as in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening) for humanity's failure to respect Nature's mysteries — the purple cloud leaves behind only one living human, Adam Jefferson, who'd been away in the Arctic. Sporting an Englishman's idea of a Turkish pasha's get-up (complete with mustachios not shown here, for some reason, on the cover of the June '49 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries), Adam divides his ample time between roaming the world in search of other survivors, building himself a tropical-island castle that would have made Mad King Ludwig jealous, speculating on the nature of the Earth itself (is it intelligent? out to get him?), and burning cities down for fun. It's not much of a plot, but the writing is a delight, as purple as the poison cloud itself: "For oftentimes, both waking and in nightmare, I did not know on which orb I was, nor in which age, but felt my being adrift in the great gulf of space and eternity and circumstance, with no bottom for my consciousness to stand upon, the world all mirage and a strange show to me, and the frontiers of dream and waking lost." (This is how reading the best PGA SF makes you feel, in my experience.) Adam eventually discovers his Eve... but refuses to mate with her, because the human race doesn't deserve a second chance. Will he change his mind? Fun facts: Shiel was an Englishman born and raised in Barbados, an anti-Semite and racist (he coined the phrase "Yellow Peril"), and — according to some critics — a fascist. Ironically, this novel was an inspiration for the classy, anti-racist SF movie, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, in which Harry Belafonte won't mate with the world's last woman... because she's white.
FULL TEXT | BISON EDITION | FIND A COPY
4. Karel Čapek, The Absolute at Large (1922 as Továrna na absolutno; in English in 1927). In the near future (i.e., the Thirties), a Czech scientist invents "perfect combustion," and an industrial concern starts manufacturing an atomic reactor that provides cheap energy — with an unexpected byproduct: God. To be precise, it's the Absolute, the spiritual essence that permeates every particle of matter... or did, anyway, until matter began to be annihilated by the super-efficient Karburetor. Instrumental rationality, and the capitalist cult of efficiency, are satirized brilliantly by Čapek, the Czech absurdist whose 1921 play R.U.R. first gave us the word "robot." As they're released from imprisoning matter by the Karburetors and Molecular Disintegration Dynamos cranked out in the thousands by Ford Motors (the novel's Czech title means "the factory of the Absolute") and other manufacturers around the world, God-particles infect humankind with wonder-working powers and ecstatic religious sentiments. What's more, the Absolute begins operating factories itself, producing far too many finished goods for anyone to consume: "It wove, spun, knitted, forged, cast, erected, sewed, planed, cut, dug, burned, printed, bleached, refined, cooked, filtered, and pressed for twenty-four to twenty-six hours a day." As a result, economies collapse, unemployment is universal, and from 1944 through 1953, fanatical sects whose -isms (including rationalism, nationalism, and sentimentalism) are religious only in the broadest sense do battle. Every single country on the planet is drawn into the Greatest War, during which everyone invades everyone else, atomic weapons are deployed, and civilization collapses. Now, that's instrumental rationality operating at peak efficiency.
FULL TEXT (CZECH) | BISON EDITION | FIND A COPY
5. Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Moon Maid (1926). Those of us who grew up reading apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic potboilers like Lucifer's Hammer or Battlefield Earth might find the preceding four titles — as fun to read as they are — a tad slow-moving. Perhaps that's because they weren't written by Americans, or serialized in American pulps? Burroughs's The Moon Maid is a multi-generational, three-books-in-one saga that literally gallops from Julian 5th's crash-landing on the moon, where he makes a daring getaway (with a moon maid in tow) from subhuman Kalkars who dwell in the asteroid's hollow interior; to the same Julian's doomed effort to defeat a Kalkar invasion of Earth; to Julian 9th's failed but inspiring rebellion against the mongrel descendants of the Moon Men, who've presided over the Earthlings' return to a medieval agrarian lifestyle; to the final triumph of Red Hawk (Julian 20th), the leader of a primitive tribe of freedom-fighters who, 400 years after the invasion, finally defeats humankind's overlords — Battlefield Earth-style — in the ruins of Los Angeles. The Julian 9th story, one hears, was originally written after the Bolshevik revolution, and was rejiggered later to fit into the Moon Maid saga: it's a red-blooded example of anticommunist SF that predates Ayn Rand's We the Living and Orwell's Animal Farm by decades. ("We would slay all the Kalkars in the world, and we would sell the land again that men might have pride of ownership and an incentive to labor hard and develop it for their children, for well we knew by long experience that no man will develop land that reverts to the government at death, or that government may take away from him at any moment.") No matter what you may think of its politics, The Moon Maid has been described as "Burroughs' masterpiece of science fiction and a too-often overlooked pioneer work of social extrapolation in science fiction" — which is true.
MOON MAID — FULL TEXT | MOON MEN — FULL TEXT | RED HAWK — FULL TEXT | BISON EDITION | FIND A COPY
6. Philip Gordon Wylie & Edwin Balmer, When Worlds Collide (1933). Wylie and Balmer's masterpiece is, for the most part, a pre-apocalyptic novel. The plot details the efforts of The League of the Last Days — an international band of 1,000 brilliant scientists, action heroes, and fertile women (I exaggerate, but not much; the main female character is named Eve!), who've discovered that two rogue planets are entering the sun's orbit, and that while one of these planets (Bronson Alpha) will collide with the Earth, a remnant of humankind might be able to survive on the other (Bronson Beta) — to design, construct, and outfit rocket-arks that will transport a few of their number to safety. We are treated to two terrifying apocalyptic scenes: One, when the rogue planets first pass by the Earth, triggering stupendous cataclysms; and the other, when worlds collide: "The very Earth bulged... It became plastic. It was drawn out egg-shaped. The cracks girdled the globe. A great section of the Earth itself lifted up and peeled away... The two planets struck." But it's the post-apocalyptic scenes that I enjoy most: a deserted, Ballardian Chicago whose skyscrapers are knocked out of plumb; violent, half-naked mobs battling the National Guard in Pittsburgh; an army of hate-filled Midwesterners that nearly succeeds in wrecking the rocket-ship project. Plus, I dig the quasi-Nietzschean philosophizing: "What are morals, fundamentally, Tony?" demands Eve of the novel's protagonist, her fiancé. "Morals are nothing but the code of conduct required of an individual in the best interests of the group of which he's a member. So what's 'moral' here wouldn't be moral at all on Bronson Beta." Eve is explaining, you see, why she won't be faithful to Tony even if they do survive doomsday. Sequel: After Worlds Collide (1934). Fun facts: The book influenced the strip Flash Gordon, while Siegel & Shuster lifted key ideas from both When Worlds Collide and Wylie's earlier SF novel, Gladiator when they created Superman. George Pal's 1951 movie adaptation of Worlds is a sci-fi classic (it inspired the Rocky Horror lyrics "'But When Worlds Collide,'/Said George Pal to his bride,/'I'm gonna give you some terrible thrills'"); one fears that Stephen Sommers's forthcoming adaptation won't be an improvement.
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7. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Poison Belt: Being an account of another adventure of Prof. George E. Challenger, Lord John Roxton, Prof. Summerlee, and Mr. E.D. Malone, the discoverers of "The Lost World" (1913). Doyle's first Professor Challenger tale, The Lost World, was a romp through a South American jungle crawling with prehistoric monsters and beast-men. Why, critics have wondered ever since, did he follow it with a yarn that takes place almost entirely in a locked room? (That's Challenger, et al., crowded comically together on the book's spine.) Challenger discovers that the planet is about to be engulfed in a poisonous belt of "ether" (astrophysicists now prefer the term "dark matter"). Inviting his comrades to his home outside London, where he and his wife have laid up a supply of oxygen canisters, which may or may not save their lives, Challenger tells them: "We are assisting at a tremendous and awful function. It is, in my opinion, the end of the world." Barricading themselves into his wife's boudoir, like astronauts strapping themselves into a rocket, the adventurers sit and wait, debating everything from the possibilities of the universe to the "abysses that lie upon either side of our material existence," to the "ideal scientific mind"; meanwhile, the world goes to rack and ruin. True, Poison Belt is a Wellsian exercise, i.e., not nearly as action-packed as Doyle's usual output. But unlike other apocalyptic fictions, which model proper (heroic) action in the face of certain disaster, Doyle's novella models proper behavior — think of Nevil Shute's On the Beach ('57), for example. Also, the coda, in which humankind becomes more socialist, less fanatically religious and political, and generally wiser, is sweet; and Challenger's personal qualities — his scholarly sprezzatura, overweening egotism, and nerves of steel — make him fine company, whether in the jungle or in his wife's boudoir.
FULL TEXT | BISON EDITION | FIND A COPY
8. Jack London, The Scarlet Plague (1915). Although Mary Shelley and M.P. Shiel beat him to the punch, London's post-apocalyptic plague novel has proved more influential on subsequent SF apocalypses — from Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz ('59) to Hoban's Riddley Walker ('80), to Mike Judge's 2006 movie Idiocracy, for example — whether they're of the pandemic, atomic, or natural-disaster variety. One suspects that Scarlet Plague influenced the
FULL TEXT | FIND A COPY
9. Edward Shanks, People of the Ruins (1920). Like London's Scarlet Plague, Shanks's pessimistic postwar novel explores a western society in steep decline. During a workers' strike in 1924 London, our protagonist — Jeremy Tuft, an "investigator in physics" — is accidentally frozen by an experimental suspended-animation ray (as demonstrated on the cover of the June 1947 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries); he wakes up in a medieval-style idiocracy, 150 years hence. Not only have his fellow Englishmen forgotten most of what they used to know, before a worldwide workers' revolution and famine led to civilization's collapse, but they don't particularly care to re-learn any of it. People of the Ruins is, I'd say, an early Sleeper- or Idiocracy-like satire on Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward or Wells's The Sleeper Wakes, novels in which a Rip Van Winkle figure finds himself in a wonderful techno-utopia. However, though he is at first disconcerted by the failure of his era's doctrine of Progress ("He had held the comfortable belief that mankind was advancing in conveniences and the amenities of life by regular and inevitable degrees"), Tuft soon decides that post-civilized life is simpler, more peaceful, safer ("We used to feel that we were living on the edge of a precipice — every man by himself, and all men together, lived in anxiety"). In this sense, People of the Ruins is an early example of the "cozy catastrophe." Either way, it's worth reading — but doesn't get exciting until the brutish northern English tribes join forces with the Welsh and invade London!
10. H.G. Wells, The World Set Free (1914). "It is full of lively ingredients; it has no organic life," writes Aldiss of this book. "Wells the One-Man Think-Tank has burst into view. His books are no longer novels but gospels." Yeah, I probably wouldn't include this book in this Top Ten list if I'd managed to acquire and read J.D. Beresford's Goslings (a plague kills every male in London), or Cicely Hamilton's Theodore Savage (a post-apocalyptic novel by a noted feminist), or John Collier's Tom's A-Cold (I like the title). But I haven't — they're very rare. Also, The World Set Free is the best of Wells's four(!) PGA apocalyptic novels, so its lively ingredients are worth a look. Building on the recent discovery that "the atom, that once we thought hard and impenetrable, and indivisible and final and — lifeless — lifeless, is really a reservoir of immense energy," Wells conjures a 1950s England in which clean, efficient atomic engines have transformed life for the better. Alas, government and education, not to mention social justice, have not kept pace with advances in science and technology, and in the late '50s a world war breaks out. Atomic bombs that never stop exploding wipe out the world's great cities. Worldwide civilization is on the brink of collapse — "the community as a whole was aimless, untrained, and unorganized to the pitch of imbecility"; "there were rumors of cannibalism and hysterical fanaticisms in the valleys of the Semoy and the forest region of the eastern Ardennes" — when, miraculously, a New World Order is formed. But more about that another time. Fun fact: Hungarian-German-American astrophysicist Leó Szilárd, who worked on the Manhattan Project, claimed that The World Set Free helped him conceive of the nuclear chain reaction.
FULL TEXT | FIND A COPY
ALSO OF INTEREST
THE NINETEEN-OUGHTS (1904-13):
* Gabriel Tarde, Underground Man (1904 as Fragment d'histoire future; 1905 in English)
* George Long, Valhalla: A Novel (1906)
* Van Tassel Sutphen, The Doomsman (1906)
* H.G. Wells, In the Days of the Comet (1906)
* H.G. Wells, The War in the Air (1908)
* James Elroy Flecker, The Last Generation: A Story of the Future (1908)
* George Barr McCutcheon, Her Weight in Gold (1911; novella: The Wrath of the Dead)
* Garrett P. Serviss, The Second Deluge (1912)
* J.D. Beresford, Goslings (1913, pub. in US as A World of Women)
THE TEENS (1914-23):
* George Allan England, Darkness and Dawn (1914)
* Herbert Gubbins, The Elixir of Life, or 2905 A.D.: A Novel of the Far Future (1914)
* Maurice LeBlanc, The Tremendous Event (1920 as Le Formidable Evenement; 1922 in English)
* Cicely Hamilton, Theodore Savage (1922)
* Ella Scrysmour, The Perfect World: A Romance of Strange People and Strange Places (1922)
* C.F. Ramuz, The Triumph of Death (1922 as Presence de la Mort; in English, 1946; pub. in US as The End of All Men)
* J.J. Connington, Nordenholt's Million (1923)
* P. Anderson Graham, The Collapse of Homo Sapiens (1923)
THE TWENTIES (1924-33):
* H.M. Egbert, Draught of Eternity (1924)
* Martin Hussingtree, Konyetz (1924)
* V.T. Murray, The Rule of the Beasts (1925)
* Edgar Wallace, The Day of Uniting (1926)
* Shaw Desmond, Ragnarok: The Armageddon of the Gods (1926)
* C.E. Jacomb, And A New Earth: A Romance (1926)
* S. Fowler Wright, Deluge: A Romance (1927)
* Charles J. Finger, The Spreading Stain: A Tale for Boys and Men with Boys' Hearts (1927)
* Pierrepont B. Noyes, The Pallid Giant: A Tale of Yesterday and Tomorrow (1927)
* Philip Francis Nowlan, Armageddon 2419 A.D. (August 1928, novella in Amazing Stories)
* J.W. Chancellor, Through the Visograph (1928)
* Paul Creswick, The Turning Wheel (1928)
* S. Fowler Wright, Dawn (1929)
* Lionel Britton, Brain: A Play of the Whole Earth (1930)
* F. Wright Moxley, Red Snow (1930)
* Thomas Alva Stubbins, The Story of the Tomb of Gold (1932)
* John Collier, Tom's A-Cold (1933, pub. in US as Full Circle)
* Helen Simpson, The Woman on the Beast: Viewed from Three Angles (1933)
* Neil Bell, The Lord of Life (1933)
* H.G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution (1933)
Paolo Bacigalupi's smart, worldly writing has made him the new darling of the literary scifi scene, and now you can read his latest story online - it's a very plausible tale about blogger newsrooms of the future, including Gawker. In "The Gambler," our hero Ong works at a media conglomerate competing with Gawker, but he just can't keep his feed numbers up. Bacigalupi's written a keenly-observed story about an unpopular but idealistic writer in a media landscape dominated by celebrity news and gadget reviews.
Here's a great scene where Ong talks to his editor, who is upset because our hero refuses to write about celebrities and "news you can use." Instead, he focuses entirely on environmental issues:
I try to protest. “But you hired me to write the important stories. The stories about politics and the government, to continue the traditions of the old newspapers. I remember what you said when you hired me.”
“Yeah, well.” She looks away. “I was thinking more about a good scandal.”
“The checkerspot is a scandal. That butterfly is now gone.”
She sighs. “No, it’s not a scandal. It’s just a depressing story. No one reads a depressing story, at least, not more than once. And no one subscribes to a depressing byline feed.”
“A thousand people do.”
“A thousand people.” She laughs. “We aren’t some Laotian community weblog, we’re Milestone, and we’re competing for clicks with them.” She waves outside, indicating the maelstrom. “Your stories don’t last longer than half a day; they never get social-poked by anyone except a fringe.” She shakes her head. “Christ, I don’t even know who your demographic is. Centenarian hippies? Some federal bureaucrats? The numbers just don’t justify the amount of time you spend on stories.”
“What stories do you wish me to write?”
“I don’t know. Anything. Product reviews. News you can use. Just not any more of this ‘we regret to inform you of bad news’ stuff. If there isn’t something a reader can do about the damn butterfly, then there’s no point in telling them about it. It just depresses people, and it depresses your numbers.”
There's a lot of good stuff in Bacigalupi's story, and he offers a pretty accurate sense of how it feels to try to write good stories while tracking audience attention at a micro-level. Interestingly he doesn't take the easy route and set up the Gawker-esque new media companies as the bad guys. The celebrity stalkers and gadget hounds aren't craven idiots - they're good reporters, too, in their own way. One even tries to help Ong get his numbers back up.
But Ong only wants to focus on stories that are beloved by scientists and policy wonks, and they don't represent a demographic the advertisers care about. Interwoven throughout Ong's tale of his struggle to stay competitive in the newsroom are his memories of his father, kidnapped by the secret police during a future Laotian revolution that puts a conservative monarchy in power. Ong's past and political interests are about to propel him into the biggest celebrity gossip news story to hit the feeds in hours . . .
I knew Carluccio's brother slightly in high school. We weren't friends, and I didn't even know of Dave's existence until half a decade later, when he showed up at my apartment one day with a group of people who were looking for a party. I wasn't giving a party and wasn't in a hospitable mood, which is probably what impelled them to hang out somewhat longer than necessary, opening the beers they had brought, lighting joints, and putting records on the turntable. While most of the five or six of them were having a high old time and I was calling around trying to find the party, or any party, to get them out of my hair, Carluccio was looking through my books. Finally, when their beers were drained and before they could go for seconds, I pretended someone had given me an address on the other side of town and sent them on their way. A week later I received an envelope from Carluccio containing a sheaf of tiny stories typed on the backs of pink "While You Were Out" notes. It was the first of more than a dozen such envelopes.
As it turned out, I was to meet Carluccio only twice more. The first time was about a year later. I was coming out of a party in Tribeca, one of those huge, brawling things where maybe ten percent of the guests had actually been invited. I had no idea who the hosts were and didn't know anybody there, but on my way down the stairs some guy I didn't recognize rushed to catch up and immediately started talking at me. He had sent me the stories because I had Bataille and Artaud and Mayakovsky on my shelves and he knew I'd understand. He talked from Franklin Street up to Canal, east to the Bowery, north to St. Mark's Place, and would have talked me all the way home if I hadn't suddenly ducked into a tenement behind somebody who had just been buzzed in. His talk was all very much checklist literature--you know, the kind of thing young guys do, like throwing names of bands at each other in lieu of conversation. He was very excited about Lautréamont and Cendrars and Traven and Burroughs and Ballard and Iceberg Slim. He wanted to celebrate murder and burn down churches and throw up barricades and liberate the zoos. He wanted to invent a new language, a new literature, make the future happen today. He was talking as fast as a sports announcer in a foreign language, sweating even though it was February. But I already knew the song by heart. I had been there.
His writings were not the unpunctuated breathless screedlike verses you might expect, but on the other hand they weren't much better. He had apparently decided that the crime novel was the essential building block of literature, the constituent unit of its DNA, and he had set about reducing and recombining it--I could just about see the wheels turning in his head--much the way punk rockers had cloned and distilled and chopped up the standard Chuck Berry guitar riff. Each story, if that's what those things could be called, was a paragraph long, titled and signed, and each resembled a page of a crime novel if you were trying to read it while it whipped by on a conveyor belt.
It wasn't much, I thought. Oh, he had a good ear and all--maybe he should have been writing song lyrics. And maybe the French would appreciate it. But it hardly amounted to any kind of revolution, literary or otherwise. I can't say that I was really disappointed. What more could you expect from the typical punk-rock overgrown juvenile, too hopped up to sit still long enough to write more than 150 words? On the other hand, he was writing something, which was considerably more than I was doing at the time, for all my knowingness and jadedness and the seniority of my 25 years. Maybe Dave Carluccio was onto something, however long it would take him to get there.
As the envelopes kept coming, their contents changed. The stories grew in length, formed series, were incorporated into collages. And Carluccio, who always wrote in the first person, became a character of his own devising, the hero of his stories, addressed by name by the other characters. One envelope consisted entirely of a sheaf of author's bios: he was variously a rogue CIA agent, a Vietnam War deserter, a drug trafficker operating out of the Golden Triangle, a con artist masquerading as a movie producer, a public-relations expert simultaneously working for and working to undermine every unsavory public figure in the world, a chameleonic and indiscriminate traitor to all sides.
I published some of Carluccio's work in an occasional zine I put out then, but I never managed to run into him again. My friends, who never met him at all, became convinced that I had invented him and was using the name as a pseudonym. I laughed along at first--if I had wanted a pen name, wouldn't I have come up with something more clever? But it started to grate a bit. I wouldn't have admitted it then, but my condescension toward Carluccio began shading into a feeling of rivalry, gradually deepening into jealousy. Meanwhile, the envelopes, which at first had all been posted in Manhattan, started appearing with more far-flung and even unlikely postmarks: Lincoln, Nebraska; Guelph, Ontario; Truckee, California; Guadalajara, Jalisco; Merida, Yucatan; Punta Gorda, Belize; Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Was he attempting to enact the character he wrote about? Or was it that his writing in some way reflected what his life had become?
1980 was an insane time, at least for me: drugs were spiraling up, romance was spiraling down, and melodrama was abundant. I had gotten a job in the mailroom of a prominent literary journal, a job that permitted me to arrive at noon--since my co-worker had to leave early to attend music lessons--and then not return after taking the mailbag to the post office, which I usually contrived to do before four o'clock. I was not serious. I was fucking around heavily, not writing, pretending to be a musician but not managing to practice. I walked around in a daze of self-kidding. Late one night in early summer I was perhaps on my way to or from a party, probably high, when I happened to pass the 24-hour copy shop on Mercer Street just south of Eighth. I glanced in briefly--it was the place where I had put together my zine, and I knew most of the employees. A few doors south I felt a hand on my shoulder. Once again I didn't recognize him. I've never been good with faces, but this time there was an additional reason. Carluccio had grown, broadened, darkened--he was very nearly a different person altogether. He led me back to the copy shop, where he was collating and folding stacks of sheets laid out in a row. He finished assembling one, stapled it, signed it, and handed it to me. We must have made some sort of conversation, but I remember none of it. I didn't even remember the chapbook until days later, when I picked my jacket up off the floor next to the bed and discovered it sticking out of the side pocket.
The book collects all the contents of all those envelopes, along with a sampling of other matter--letters, pronouncements, manifestos, poems, all of it strung together apparently in chronological order. It is hasty, confused, random, jejune--and it is bursting with every kind of world-beating youthful energy. It would have made a fine first effort for anybody, the sort of thing that sits unsold on the consignment shelves of bookstores for months and even years, and then suddenly is changing hands for four figures, and eventually cannot be obtained at all unless some major collector dies. But Carluccio's slim volume is both exceedingly rare and exceedingly obscure. For all intents and purposes it doesn't exist. He will never produce a follow-up. It was my friend G., then working for the AP, who spotted the item on the teletype in 1983. I've managed to lose the printout he sent me, but the gist was that a corpse of foreign appearance, found at a border station near Antombran, Guatemala, just across from El Salvador, had been indentified as a certain David Carluccio, 24 years old, of Scotch Plains, New Jersey. He had been killed with a machete. Local police were investigating the matter.
Retailers are crossing their fingers that today American consumers will bail them out of a tough past few months. Black Friday is the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, though bargain-hunters looking to avoid being trampled to death may wait it out and spend Cyber Monday shopping from the comfort of their office.
This is the ninth part of a presentation I gave to the German Book Office directors a couple weeks ago. Earlier sections of the speech can be found here. There are still a number of parts left to post, but these should all be up before the end of the month.
Stage Four: What Happens Next?
Although it seems that everything is doomed (remember what I said about publishing folks?), I believe that amid all this chaos, potential or otherwise, there are reasons to believe that independent publishers, booksellers, and works in translation all could thrive.
Assuming Borders doesn’t make it, or at least a significant shrinkage in chain stores, an opportunity will open up for independent bookstores to make a comeback. For years these stores have been battered out of business due to the volume discounts, enormous floor space, and nationwide branding efforts of the major chains. But at this time, when, thanks in part to the greed that destroyed the financial sector, people are focusing more on “buying local,” independent bookstores can fight back. There have been a number of studies on the economic impact of buying books from a local store, including one conducted last year in San Francisco that found that a 10% increase in book sales in the local market would result in increased economic input of $3.8 million, 25 additional jobs, and $325,000 in additional retail activity. These arguments should appeal to a larger segment of customers than usual during this current/forthcoming recession. In the wake of a Borders collapse there would be a lot of underserved book communities where a niche store could step in and succeed.
One reason indie stores could make it in this sort of climate is the modest nature of their business model. Rather than try and be everything to everyone, stores with specific identities that are integrated into the local community—like St. Mark’s, City Lights, McNally Jackson, Shaman Drum—tend to succeed by cultivating and serving a specific group of loyal customers. Additionally, a number of stores are playing around with the idea of becoming nonprofits. Shaman Drum is transforming into the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center and expanding its community activities and offerings. The indie store as literary center is the antithesis of the box store, and exactly what we need in our world today.
In terms of niche marketing, Amazon UK recently announced a “Literature in Translation” store highlighting works of international authors and presses that publish a lot of translations. This isn’t dissimilar from the annual Reading the World program in which independent bookstores display a host of translated titles in order to draw the attention of readers to the wealth of great books that are available from writers born outside of our borders. This sort of niche marketing—or not even marketing, just providing information about a particular type of book—is highly effective and can make a big difference sales.
It might seems self-serving (or self-delusional), but I think that independents on the whole—nonprofits publishers especially—are in a better position to weather this storm than anyone else. I’ve long believed that the role indies play in book culture would continue to grow in the future, mainly because these presses are branded, they have a particular mission and vision, and their expectations are modest enough to allow for them to publish “real” literature instead of books that seem profitable.
Our latest review is of Skunk: A Life by Peter Aleshkovsky. This book was published by Glas years ago, but since Glas books generally don’t get the attention they deserve, we thought it would be a good idea to cover it.
Jennifer Cunningham, a language student here at the University of Rochester wrote this piece.
The LCD inverter board on my laptop is dead. I am in the middle of nowhere and cannot find a replacement. Not at Fry’s. Not anywhere. Efforts are still being made to find a replacement part, but I have learned that inverter boards are generally ordered through mail. What this means is that I’m more or less out of commission until Tuesday. So blog updates and emails replies will happen sometime next week. Bear with me.
A remake of British flick Day of the Triffids promises to restore the monster plant genre to its rightful place after the upset of The Happening. The new Triffids, a 3-hour BBC miniseries, has a few interesting twists on the original book, as well as the early-1980s BBC version of the tale about a meteor shower that blinds nearly everyone in the world.
Being blind, of course, leaves everybody vulnerable to large, flesh eating plants. While the 1950s novel hints that the plants may be some kind of Soviet experiment, the subsequent BBC series makes it clear they're GMO plants that produce oil. (The early-60s movie suggests the plants are from spores that originated in space.)
The new series, however is about peak oil in the year 2011. This very-near future world gets its oil from the Triffids, and it almost sounds like you'll be rooting for the human-eating plants by the end. After all, they're reacting to years of being enslaved by humans just to get oil. Of course they're going to stick it to the homo sapiens.
Triffids Remake [via Survivors blog]
I’ve heard that today is a big shopping day (or used to be at least, pre-everyone losing all their money and jobs), so to get in on the action I thought I’d point out the “First Annual Secret Santa Gift Exchange” that is orchestrating:
Here’s how it works:
1) If you want to participate, email your name and mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: SECRET SANTA. The due date for this is Midnight on Friday, December 5th.
2) As soon as possible, we email you the name and address of your assigned gift recipient.
3) We assign your name and address to another Secret Santa.
4) By Christmas, you purchase for your gift recipient a wonderful gift and email us to let us know what you got him or her.
5) You simultaneously enjoy the gift that you receive from your own Secret Santa.
I wonder how many people will sign up for this. It sounds somewhat intriguing, and I’m all for people buying books as presents . . . In fact, I think the perfect Secret Santa Gift would be an Open Letter book . . .
(Thanks to Literary License for bringing this to our attention.)
Looking like a cross between a UFO and a giant glass bead, this mountain cabin is perfect for entertaining both human and alien guests. Moritz Craffonara, who lives in the Italian Alps, wanted a hideaway where he could see the stars. So he hired experimental designer Ross Lovegrove, whose design for the "alpine capsule" will give him a 360 degree view through the glass walls.
Says green design blog Inhabitat:
The Alpine Capsule is an 8-meter wide structure with a double-glass skin that is covered with a special reflective coating. The coating meant to reflect the structure’s surroundings and blend in with the environment.
The capsule runs off the grid, drawing all its energy from solar and wind. Mostly though, the point of the capsule is sleep naked on a weird bulgy thing - as you can see in the interior design mockup below. Craffonara will begin construction on the cabin in the Alps in 2010.
Solar Powered Alpine Capsule [via Inhabitat]
For the second consecutive winter, Debbie McMahon brings her fractured fairy tales to the Los Angeles stage in “A Grand Guignol Children’s Show” that definitely not for the kiddies.
Bright Lights After Dark: An Evening With Kenneth Anger reports on Anger’s recent appearance at the REDCAT this month. I can’t belive I missed it. That will teach me not to scan the REDCAT calendar months in advance.
Sounds like the Maestro was in usual, cranky form.
Last year at this time, I invented a new measurement to express how far one’s Thanksgiving diverges from the media ideal. This year, our holiday is also nontraditional. The menu: lamb stew and tabbouleh. The tabbouleh is from the Nile Spice box, with some fresh mint added. I found a lamb stew recipe on the Internet and messed with it some:
Lamb Stew with Chickpeas, Golden Raisins and Figs
* 1 teaspoon olive oil
* 1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cubed
* 4 cups onion
* 1/4 cup water
* 5 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1 teaspoon ground ginger
* 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
* 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
* 1 teaspoon ground red pepper
* 1 teaspoon cinnamon
* 32 ounces chicken broth
* 1 (15 1/2-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
* 2 cups baby carrots
* 1 cup golden raisins
* 1/2 cup dried figs, halved
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
* Salt to taste
Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Sauté lamb until browned. Add onion, 1/4 cup water, and garlic; cook until the onions are softened, scraping the pan to loosen browned bits. Add cumin, coriander, ginger, saffron, allspice, pepper, and cinnamon; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour. Stir in chickpeas, carrots, raisins, and figs; cover and simmer until carrots are tender. Stir in mint and salt.
We had the stew over couscous, and it was delicious.
For dessert, the one traditional element of the meal: Laurie Colwin’s gingerbread. Over at Paper Fort, that’s one of the things I said I was thankful for. Click that link above to read what else, and what some other Oregon authors had to say.
How were/are your Thanksgivings?
American Vintage Home has added a photo to the pool:
During World War I, there were relatively few color ads in the home magazines, so this advertisement for Congoleum Rugs was pretty extravagant. This was a popular, easy to maintain, and affordable flooring solution for the bungalow homeowner.
American Vintage Home has added a photo to the pool:
If the range of roofing styles is any indicator, 1920s home owners took great care to select just the right roofing material and color for their homes. The ads were often quite wonderfully illustrated. This one appeared in House Beautiful.
Seeing as that today is a national holiday, we’re not going to be posting anything new today. We’ll be back tomorrow with a review and the next part of the “Publishing Model” speech. Next week is a big week for Three Percent, with the announcement of the Best Translation Book of 2008 fiction longlist . . .
It's all in the Park Rapids Hockey Players' Cookbook (ca. 1980), at Practice Space.
Sometimes Space Troopers force bloggers to take the day off and eat brains or maybe plants from another dimension. Today is one of those days. We'll be back in 24 hours! In the meantime, check out these awesome Space Trooper toys, going on sale tomorrow. [via ToyCyte]
Jeffrey Inaba of Inaba Projects has a new pavilion on display now in Rome, sponsored by Enel, Italy's largest utilities provider. Because of that sponsorship, Inaba "wanted to use numerous forms of alternative energy applications," but, in the end, decided to apply "just one that was highly productive and cost effective." The pavilion is thus solar-powered – Inaba describes it as an "Alice in Wonderland mushroom meets solar-ray chomping Pac-Man."
[Images: The Waiting Room, Rome, by Jeffrey Inaba/Inaba Projects].
So what is the project? Solar-powered and lit from within, with a DVD player and monitors, it tries to rethink the hospital waiting room; in fact, the cartoon-like, festive structure with a kind of external tattoo of abstract graphics, is "sited at Policlinico Umberto 1, Rome's largest public hospital, and one that has been recently controversial because of scandals of unsafe and unsanitary conditions."
- As an "enlightenment" era hospital, it was planned in a decentralized way, with specialities (pediatrics, respiratory maladies, contagious diseases) distributed throughout the campus, with no single central space. The project attempts to create a centralized space for all kinds of waiting (waiting for an appointment, to be picked up, the diagnosis of a loved one, for treatment, convalescing to recover).
All of which is another way of saying that it enlivens the experience of waiting inside architecture – highlighting the general but overlooked surreality of the waiting room, as a space in which you simply wait for something else to happen.
[Images: The Waiting Room, Rome, by Jeffrey Inaba/Inaba Projects].
It's up until February 2009 – so if you're in Rome, check it out.
[Image: The Waiting Room, Rome, by Jeffrey Inaba/Inaba Projects].
[Earlier on BLDGBLOG: Trash Mandala].
Decepticreep has added a photo to the pool:
My Local Wal Mart finally put these out for sale! Some cool stuff if you already have some Joes with wintery outfits.