Archive for December, 2010
Japanese novel Harmony is a believable, satiric tale of a false Utopia ruled by "benevolent" health organizations devoted to disease-free life. Until a rash of suicides reveal a conspiracy to exploit this supposedly-perfect system.
Published in Japan in 2009, Harmony was released for the first time in English this year from Haikasoru. It's the last work by the celebrated scifi author known only as Project Itoh, who wrote it while dying of cancer. That biographical detail suffuses this novel with a weird darkness, since the entire story focuses about the suffocating kindness of an international medical system devoted to maintaining the perfect health of every citizen. After suffering through a nuclear disaster called the Maelstrom, the world has found peace by replacing state governments with a set of international health organizations that keep everyone completely disease-free and healthy by implanting them with personal nanobot swarms called WatchMe.
We learn about this near-future Earth in a first-person account written partly in an HTML-like "emotional markup language" by Tuan Nihie, a rebellious member of the World Health Organization's special forces unit. Growing up in Japan, Tuan comes to think of WatchMe as just one piece of a system that demands complete conformity. To prevent another Maelstrom, people in positions of power have interpreted "health" broadly, using it to justify everything from censorship and drug therapies, to blandness in diet, so that people won't become agitated.
The problem is that WatchMe can be hacked, and its healing properties turned inside out. Called in to investigate a rash of suicides, Tuan begins to suspect that a childhood friend she believed dead is behind a conspiracy to hack WatchMe in ways nobody knew were possible. As she gets closer to figuring out why thousands of people committed suicide at once, we learn about all the ways she and her friends have tried to subvert the medical-industrial complex – and why "perfect health" can be a horrific fate.
Action-packed, darkly funny, and philosophical by turns, Harmony is a suspense yarn that's ultimately about the nature of consciousness itself. It's also a just-plain-awesome medico-science thought experiment about what the world would be like if life-extension technology became a reality. Laced with dozens of cultural references – everything from Max Headroom to Nine Inch Nails – Harmony will feed your brain and undermine your faith in Utopia. If you want to know what the transhuman future will really be like, or just want to read a ripping good nanotech thriller, put Harmony on your reading list.
You can pick up Harmony online, or at your local bookstore.
I thought I'd end the year with this quick video of some riverine landscape modeling exercises built through the constant back and forth washes and cross-flows of a self-resurfacing deltaic 3D-printer—and then I'll see you in 2011.
(Video spotted via @clasticdetritus).
I have often seen discussions of what actions to take in the context of rare events in terms of expected value. For example, if a lottery has a 1 in 100 million chance of winning, and delivers a positive expected profit, then one “should” buy that lottery ticket. Or, in a an asteroid has a 1 in 1 billion chance of hitting the Earth and thereby extinguishing all human life, then one “should” take the trouble to destroy that asteroid.
This type of reasoning troubles me.
Typically, the justification for considering expected value is based on the Law of Large Numbers, namely, if one repeatedly experiences events of this type, then with high probability the average profit will be close to the expected profit. Hence expected profit would be a good criterion for decisions about common events. However, for rare events, this type of reasoning is not valid. For example, the number of lottery tickets I will buy in my lifetime is far below the asymptotic regime of the law of large numbers.
Is there any justification for using expected value alone as a criterion in these types of rare events?
This, to me, is a hard question. Should one always, as the rationality gang at Less Wrong likes to say, “shut up and multiply?” Or does multiplying very small probabilities by very large values inevitably yield confused and arbitrary results?
Update: Cosma Shalizi’s take on lotteries and utilities, winningly skeptical as usual.
Jill Magid, I Can Burn Your Face
Clive Thompson’s latest column for Wired picks up on something I’ve noticed:
“I save the little stuff for Twitter and blog only when I have something big to say,” as blogger Anil Dash put it. It turns out readers prefer this: One survey found that the most popular blog posts today are the longest ones, 1,600 words on average.
Setting aside the question of how many of those 1,600 words are actually read, one thing for sure is these are not your slightly older brother’s warblog blogs.
Brief history of blogs:
pre-2002: Geek notes, diaries, frequently updated zines. Things that looked like blogs but went by other names
1999 – (2011?): Perhaps even earlier than 1999. Linkblogs were either quick links or a blockquote and a link. Nothing labor intensive about sharing cool stuff but some people have better taste than others. Are they dying? Maybe? Twitter seems to have taken over for directions on how get lost online
2001 – 2004: You know how everyone has something to say about Wikileaks? Imagine that times twenty and that was the post-9/11 blogosphere. Here’s all you need to know about this frenzied media landscape.
2003-2005: Pre-Facebook, although concurrent with Friendster and Myspace. Years before we had any kind of meaningful public vs private discussion as the sense was, with so much out there on the web, who is going to pay any attention to me? The post-diarists used their blogspot pages as nascent social networks, a way to reach multiple close friends. You probably knew all your best friends’ IP addresses because Sitemeter never clocked more than ten visits a day.
2004 – 2008: Blogs went niche. If you called your blog “Vegan Buddhist Goddess Blog” then CNN and NPR would call for comment if they were doing a story on vegan cooking. You’d be invited to speak on panels, maybe get a book deal. In any case, a blog was a way to establish yourself as a leader in your field.
Mainstream Media Blogs
2007 – current: Apart from the New York Times and The Atlantic, many of these blogs are unremarkable. And readership reflects this. Whenever I go to a newspaper website I’m always surprised at how many in-house blogs exist, but few seem to attract more than a hundred or so RSS subscribers.
First Draft Essays
2008 – current: Now blogging is the habit of those who love the sound of their own fingers banging away on a keyboard.
(Update 1/1/11: I didn’t mean for this to be a definitive list, btw. In any case this is not to ignore that the longest trend in blogging is the kind of shoe leather reporting that is harder to come by in mainstream press. )
Early in the second half of this decade of blogs, Twitter and Tumblr arrived to shake things up.
Twitter launched prior to the iPhone. Many of us set our preferences to receive tweets as text message in 2006. How unpleasant would that be today? I follow over 300 people and if they were all sending me text messages with bit.ly links to see Julian Assange dressed in a santa costume, I’d want to throw my phone against the wall. Today most mobile phones are smart, and web browsing is taken for granted. The shift in content on twitter — from epigrams to links — reflects the change in our gadgetry.
Remember the early criticism of Twiter: “No one cares what you had for breakfast!” Who is tweeting about breakfast anymore? They are linking to an Instagram photo of breakfast or an article explaining how few people eat breakfast and why this is so horrible for the world.
I’m still not a huge fan of links on Twitter. Most of the time I’m checking it on my phone when I don’t have time to read something more than 140 characters. So I favorite-star the tweet and go back to read it later. But then when I go to check that “awesome must read link” it turns out to be…oh, right, Julian Assange in a santa costume. Thanks! But that’s just me. The rest of the web likes using Twitter as a mass-aggregated link stream or it wouldn’t be operating that way.
Meanwhile, Tumblr made blogging beautiful. It makes it so easy to upload or clip and save whatever you come across in your web travels. For the most part, I use it as a visual bookmarking tool. Most Tumblrs are mood boards, a selection of things that resonate in someway to the blogger.
The visual nature of Tumblr is influencing the trend in image-heavy blog posts. But more than that, 2010 is the year the iPad launched.
In March of this year I wrote, “I created The Tomorrow Museum almost exactly two years ago. The name was a pun on the then emerging buzzword: ‘curation.’ I wanted to play with the idea of the blog/internet as physical space and display art as if on the walls of a gallery….. Never would I have guessed that two years later the interplay of text and image would still stand out as unique. Six months down the line — the Internet landscape post-iPad — I expect this won’t be the case.”
I really regret the way I phrased this then as certainly blogging images and text isn’t exactly a eureka moment of mine — This Recording and BLDGBLOG were doing it a few years before me. Nevertheless the post-iPad blogging trend is toward these Tumblr/text blog hybrids. A long text post without an accompanying image now looks stark and unwelcoming.
Images offer punctuation-like interruptions in the text, but they also elongate the body. A post looks far more substantial the more scrolling you have to do. This is really a protip for bloggers: throw in two images and 400 words becomes an “article.”
Going back to the study Clive Thompson cites, images or not, longread blogging is happening. Or are these bloggers — uh, not this again — journalists? As Rex Sorgatz points out, “New Gawker is Old Spin.” That’s the other blog hybrid happening.
That Bruce Sterling Wikileaks piece — is it a blog post? An essay? Would this count toward the average word count in that study?
Whatever it is, Sterling’s take did what a so many long blog posts didn’t: it offered something new to the conversation. Not a sentence was wasted. Right or wrong when you have something to say it sparks a interesting conversation (Here’s a good response, and another.)
The moment Sterling’s article went up, I was bored to tears with weeks worth of so many links offering “balanced” “thoughtful” takes on Wikileaks. These takes were so thoroughly thoughtful and balanced their authors said absolutely nothing at all.
The word you are going to see over and over in 2011 is redundancy. We all hate it and we all fall for it — reblogs, retweets, things you’ve seen a million times before. It’s more than filter failure, it’s having your time wasted.
A number of bloggers might take care to be concise with words and value the time of your readers. The second worst thing you can do on the internet is waste someone’s time.
This reminds me of what Hannah Arendt wrote of Walter Benjamin, that he was a “critic and essayist who regarded even the essay form as too vulgarly extensive and would have preferred the aphorism if he had not been paid by the line.”
Bloggers aren’t getting paid (ha!) by the line and readers aren’t getting paid to read in full. Kerbing one’s hypergraphia is advised.
Some 1,600 word blog posts are better off pared down to epigrammatic tweets.
One piece of writing advice gets held up as more sacred than any other: Show, don't tell. But this maxim can ruin your story-telling, if you treat it like a law. Here are five situations where telling is actually better.
Like most rules of thumb, "Show don't tell" is excellent advice most of the time — but people often apply it too broadly, or in situations where it hurts more than it helps. You have to be aware of the spirit, as well as the letter, of this particular law. Writers have a tendency to lecture readers — and this goes double for science fiction and fantasy writers, who have a lot of worldbuildy stuff to get out of the way. It's definitely never a good idea to bludgeon your readers with information.
(And then as soon as you say something like that, people can bring up any one of a number of classics that do in fact bludgeon the reader with information, from Moby Dick to Infinite Jest. Again with the fact that no rule is ever absolute.)
But in a discussion like this one, it's easy to get bogged down in abstractions and axioms. So here are five concrete examples of situations where you really may be better off telling rather than showing — and when showing may make your readers groan with exasperation.
1) Your characters all know something your reader doesn't.
One of the most hideous examples of telling rather than showing is the "As you know, Bob" dialog, where one character tells another something they both know. But it's almost as hideous when an author painstakingly uses dialog and action to convey something the characters all know.
Say, for example, that your character Diana is a mutant, on an all-human crew. You can convey that fact by having your characters refer to it obliquely — but that's just a more subtle version of "As you know, Bob." You can have someone make a joke about it. You can introduce a character who doesn't know Diana's a mutant, so someone can tell him/her. You could introduce a plot device, like a bar that doesn't allow mutants, and then have Diana feel bad about not being able to get in.
Or you can just rip the bandaid off, and have the narrator/POV character drop in the information that Diana's a mutant. "Diana was a mutant, but so far the only mutant power she'd manifested was passive-aggressiveness."
It really depends how important this information is to your story — perversely, the less vital it is to the plot, the better it is just to come out with it. If your story's not about Diana being a mutant, then the less time you spend on it the better. Which brings us to...
2) There are too many mysteries.
Chances are, at the beginning of your story, there are important facts that your characters don't know.
(Unless the whole story is just your characters sitting around obsessing about information they've already learned before the story began. In which case all of your dialog should consist of wistful half-sentences: "If only we could..." said Mary. "But no," said John. "Alas, there is nothing to be done, because..." said Pierre. "Alas, yes. I guess I'll just..." said Mary.)
In many science fiction/fantasy stories, there's an element of mystery, as the characters figure out a new phenomenon, or unravel clues. The reader is going to be learning new facts alongside your characters — and if you've done your job right, these discoveries will be as important to your reader as they are to your character.
That's why it's important to ask yourself up front: What do you want to make a mystery in your story?
I read a lot of short stories — indeed, I've written some stories — where the opening of the story creates a mystery about just who these characters are, and what they're doing, and why they're so concerned about this mystery they're investigating. Sometimes it's more exciting to start with action, and let your reader figure out along the way what's going on, before getting plunged into the mystery. But sometimes, making your reader figure out what's going on with your characters is just one mystery too many, amongst a bunch of others.
Suppose Diana the mutant is part of a crew of mutants and elves, who are part of a mutant/elf alliance that's fighting a war against cyborgs. (All the regular humans are dead or whatever.) They're searching in deep space for a lost hyper-sloop that may contain the technology that will help them understand the cyborgs' new weapon. But instead of the hyper-sloop they're looking for, they find a giant floating head of Dorothy Parker, made of titanium. What does it mean? The elves and the mutants have very different opinions, and divisions among the crew along elf/mutant lines become ever more acute.
So. You have the mystery of the floating Dorothy Parker head in space, and what happened to the hyper-sloop that our heroes were searching for. Do you also want to make your readers pick up the fact that these people are mutants and elves, and they're fighting the cyborgs, etc. etc.? Sometimes a story that tries too hard to be mysterious about just what the heck is going on here can feel like it's making me, the reader, do too much heavy lifting for not enough reward. I've literally quit reading short stories after a page, because I couldn't get into the characters — I was too busy trying to figure out who the blazes these people were, from all the little clues, to care about whatever they cared about.
It's the difference between:
The giant head floated, its gaze serene as if it were basking in the certainty that no eyeglasses would keep men from making passes at it. "It must be a cyborg trap," said Lt. Diana Mintz, passive-aggressively. "They must have known we were coming here."
"Typical mutant thinking," said Lt. Commander Aelreth from her tactical station. "An elf would know better."
The giant head floated. "Could that cigarette holder in its mouth be some kind of weapon?" Lt. Diana Mintz wondered. "Scans don't show any power source, but you never know." The blunt metal face seemed to taunt them, with its dark eyes. "It could have been here for aeons, just waiting for someone to give it a light."
"Passive scans only," said Lt. Commander Aelreth from her tactical station. "It could be dangerous." Weeks of skirmishes with the Cyborg Phalanx had left the crew of the Elf/Mutant Alliance cruiser twitchy.
Okay, so both those examples are horrendous and should be taken out and shot. I'm sorry. One of these days I'll learn to write example paragraphs that don't seem hideously clunky. But it won't be today. Anyway, the point stands — sometimes if you're dropping your readers in, "in media res," and you need to focus your reader's attention as fast as possible on the mysteries that actually are mysteries.
3) You have too much insane backstory.
Sticking with the elfs and mutants versus cyborgs thing — what if, in your universe, the elves were created via genetic engineering by a group of renegade scientists who realized the human race would soon be dead or whatever? And these scientists intended for the elves to fight the mutants and save humanity — but instead the elves wound up joining forces with the mutants. That's a lot of backstory, right there, even before the cyborgs show up.
So you can sprinkle in bits of this backstory here and there, like breadcrumbs. But then your readers may get confused about what order things happened in. Like, did the elves come first, or the mutants? Were the scientists who created the elves cyborgs? Or are the cyborgs totally separate? Was Dorothy Parker a scientist?
Also, sometimes a story that tries to work in bits of Byzantine backstory here and there can feel like a game of charades, or pictionary. Like we're trying to guess if the creator of the elves was a horse or the state of Alaska. How many vowels does it have? Is that a tree or a hat?
So sometimes it's better to just drop in a paragraph that lays it out, coherently, so people who get confused have something to refer to. A nice clean infodump sometimes can be more reader-friendly, and take up less time and space, than a treasure hunt. (Click here for our roundup of great info-dumps from SF novels.) If you can make an infodump entertaining enough, that is. Which brings us to...
4) You can think of a more entertaining way to tell than to show.
Sometimes showing can be super-entertaining. Instead of explaining that mutants and elves have an uneasy alliance, have Lt. Commander Aelreth punch Lt. Diana Mintz in the mouth. Instead of discussing how the cyborg phalanx perfected miniaturization technology, and in fact the cyborgs have been hiding aboard the Elf/Mutant Alliance cruiser all this time, show Diana looking down at her comb and seeing a flotilla of cyborg deathships hiding amongst her hairs. She has cyborg deathship headlice!
But there are times when telling can be more entertaining than just boring old showing. Douglas Adams is the gold standard for this, of course, but lots of other writers also do a lovely job of handing you dollops of story in a lively, fun way that's better than boring old showing.
Plus, showing just shows you one thing, or one image, or one idea. A well-crafted paragraph of narrative neurosis can drop in tons of stuff. Like not just the fact that the cyborgs are hiding on Diana's scalp, but the added detail that she's very self-conscious about her hair and uses a special shampoo to try and make it shinier, but the chemicals in the shampoo make her hair look garish and too bright to the elves' sensitive eyes. Not to mention that Diana has a miniaturization fetish, and anything tiny gets her very excited. And the whirring of the cyborg deathships' tiny engines makes her think about the pasta-maker her non-mutant mom used to use when she was a child, and how much she misses her mom's pasta. But no time for that, the ship's in danger from tiny death-ships!
The point is, telling can be a form of texture in the same way that physical description can. They can both be fun and entertaining, or dreary and tiresome.
5) It gets in the way of the emotional potency of your story.
This is really the only one that's life or death, to be honest. The first four items are a matter of personal writing choices, and there's no right or wrong way to do it. But you absolutely have to do whatever makes your story pack more of a kick emotionally. And sure, plenty of times, the best way to smack your reader in the face with pure emotion is to confront them with an image, a moment, that illustrates something.
But there are also a bunch of times when your reader may not be emotionally invested in what's going on because they're still trying to decipher all your clever sign-posting. If the reader is confused or the stakes in your story are unclear, then your emotional payoff will fizzle.
Say we discover that the missing hyper-sloop is actually disguised as Dorothy Parker's cigarette-holder. But the cyborgs are going to blow it up, and our heroes along with it. But Diana the mutant saves the day — and simultaneously has a deeply personal catharsis in which she gets over her hang-ups about her hair and elves and stuff. This is really the part where it's helpful to have laid the groundwork in a way that makes the stakes clear.
Especially if you're trying to do both things at once — reveal that the hyper-sloop is the cigarette lighter, and give us the emotional kick. If you're only showing, it may come across somewhat like this:
Diana touched her hair. Her hair felt soft. Like her mother's hands when she made pasta. Diana felt her eyes grow wet.
"I'm sorry my hair-care products made your elven eyes hurt," Diana said. "I think it's important for everybody to see clearly, or sometimes we miss what's right in front of us Like that cigarette holder." She brushed tears from her eyes. "Look at those ridges. Almost like... a hyper-sloop's main dark-matter-intakes."
"It's been here all along!" Aelreth cried. "By the elfstar! Diana, your hair is beautiful!"
Whereas, if you are able to narrate what's going on with Diana bit more, you can set up the whole hair-related conflict as well as her elf issues more elegantly. And maybe Diana's moment of personal breakthrough, combined with the plot-related breakthrough, can feel a bit more believable if you're able to delve a bit more. What I guess I'm seeing sometimes is that people are letting the prohibition on "telling" extend to emotional, psychological and introspective stuff — the things that let us get inside your characters. Which is silly — telling about your characters' emotional and mental processes isn't really the same as telling about plot or backstory, but I think sometimes people conflate the two things.
I guess the bottom line is, both showing and telling can be done badly, and you have to decide which one gives your story the maximum amount of oomph. And sometimes, instead of being coy, you should just come out and tell your readers what's going on, so they can go back to being spellbound by the story of Diana and the giant head of Dorothy Parker. In space.
More writing tips from io9's "Free Advice" feature:
Leafing through the pages of Green’s Dictionary, one accumulates a stock of favourite oddments: an “Oklahoma credit card” is a siphon tube for stealing petrol, a “knocking-jacket” a nightdress, and a “fogle-hunter” a pickpocket who specialises (or really “specialised”, one imagines) in stealing silk handkerchiefs. Some of the illustrative quotations are equally droll: one letter-writer recalls that “I told you in my last how she gave the athletic stockbroker at Hove the mitten” – to be given the mitten is to have one’s proposal of marriage rejected – and another makes the seemingly far-fetched claim that “Penrith is becoming a real funk-hole”, though a funk-hole is here a place of refuge rather than somewhere James Brown might have frequented.
Below please find the books I read in 2010. Only four of these came out this year, and two of those were books I reviewed; so I think I’m officially out of touch again. (Though four more on the list came out in the second half of 2009.)
Best of the Year: Tough choice: I read a lot of novels this year which had great features but made bad choices, too. In the end, I’ll pick the one book I unreservedly liked all the way through, Matthew Derby’s Super Flat Times. There is this genre that Ben Marcus invented for The Age of Wire and String, and Derby is the first person other than Marcus to use it. Maybe more precise would be to say that Super Flat Times is the proof that the genre is a genre, adaptable to different purposes, and not just the class of books Ben Marcus can write. From “The Sound Gun” (click to read the whole story at Conjunctions)
The Sound Gun has four settings. The first one is Make Scared. Make Scared makes a big loud noise that makes people scared. It is louder and scarier than the noise a bomb makes as it explodes, because the people we’re fighting have not been scared by that sound for three wars. The sound that Make Scared makes is like a herd of elk tumbling into a cauldron of hot, resonant dung, or, at night, the frail puff of air conjured up by a dying child. Make Scared worked for a while, but then the enemy started putting soaked wheat pods in their ears, so we had to move on to Hurt.
Should have blogged about but didn’t: The Halo Effect, a bracingly skeptical business book that dares to ask whether we have any way at all of telling good CEOs from bad ones in real time. The charming American Nerd, from which I learned that Continental literary theory is now an important part of high-school debate.
Books mentioned on the blog are linked, as usual.
28 Dec 2010:Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
22 Dec 2010:Colors Insulting to Nature, by Cintra Wilson.
1 Dec 2010:Fame, by Daniel Kehlmann. (Carol Janeway, trans.)
24 Oct 2010:The Bridge on the Drina, by Ivo Andric. (Lovett Edwards, trans.)
4 Oct 2010:Eating the Dinosaur, by Chuck Klosterman.
28 Sep 2010:Shut Up, I’m Talking: and other diplomacy lessons I learned in the Israeli government, by Gregory Levey.
24 Sep 2010:Stalag Wisconsin: Inside WWII Prisoner-of-War camps, by Betty Cowley.
18 Sep 2010:Tragic Magic, by Wesley Brown.
4 Sep 2010:Under the Dome, by Stephen King.
1 Sep 2010:Proofiness, by Charles Seife.
25 Aug 2010:The Halo Effect: and the eight other business delusions that deceive managers, by Phil Rosenzweig.
11 Aug 2010:My Life As a Fake, by Peter Carey.
9 Aug 2010:The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter.
2 Aug 2010: Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin.
29 Jul 2010:Eat the Document, by Dana Spiotta.
25 June 2010:Duel at Dawn: Heroes, Martyrs, and the Rise of Modern Mathematics, by Amir Alexander.
27 May 2010:Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris.
11 May 2010:American Nerd: The Story of My People, by Ben Nugent.
7 May 2010:The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte.
18 Apr 2010:A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore.
11 Apr 2010:Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville.
23 Mar 2010:The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope.
8 Feb 2010:His Illegal Self, by Peter Carey.
20 Jan 2010:Super Flat Times, by Matthew Derby.
16 Jan 2010:In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders.
Now, this is what I call extraordinary rendition.
We’ve seen—and loved—Cablegate Comix, A Leaky World, and other examples of Wikileaks cultural hacks. Contrast those knowing efforts with this bizarre Newsweek slideshow, an un-ironic clusterfuck of crisscrossing, simulacrum-generating signifiers. We see Julian feeding the chickens, chucking organic firewood, and tucking into a scrumptious holiday feast at Ellingham Hall, whilst modeling a tasteful selection of tweeds and wellingtons—as Martha Stewart could have told him, wellies are great for hiding those unsightly electronic monitoring cuffs.
The caption for the above photo reads as follows: “After a long day of work on the farm, Assange kicks off his shoes and strikes a lordly pose. He’s due back in court on Jan. 11 for his pretrial hearing on extradition.” We suggest an alternative: Ceci n’est pas un zeitgeist!
Can you imagine a fashion-plate treatment of the plight of Bradley Manning? No. You. Can’t.
[via the indispensable Tim Maly]
New and newish 'literary' novels: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall; Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (I'd had this lying around forever, somehow didn't quite pick it up, but I really loved it); Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (couldn't put it down); Michelle Huneven's Blame (this book deserved more attention than it got, I thought it was very good indeed, at least as good as Kate Christensen's Trouble). Sam Lipsyte's The Ask belongs in this group too, only I read it in the form of an advance reading copy in 2009!
I thoroughly enjoyed Justin Cronin's The Passage, and do not agree with the verdict of it offered in this hilarious albeit mean-spirited list of the 10 worst novels of 2010 (but I do agree with one of his assessments, a book I read only a chunk of but disliked so much I haven't even mentioned it on my blog!).
Lewis Shiner's Black & White (you can get here for free!) is stunningly good and generically unplaceable; it could have been published as literary fiction or crime or fantasy, it is just when it comes down to it an excellent novel.
I liked Sebastian Faulks' Human Traces quite a bit, only it is sadder and thus less fully immersive than some of his other novels; I also enjoyed Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood.
Connie Willis's Blackout and All Clear, highly recommended but with the proviso that they are definitely really one long novel and should be read consecutively. I also finally read Octavia Butler's Seed to Harvest books, which are much to my taste.
Some rereads: Mary Renault's Alexander books, favorite novels by Cintra Wilson and Helen DeWitt and Alan Hollinghurst. Also, and amazingly immersively (especially the first, which is one of my favorite novels of all time): War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
I continued to read Thomas Bernhard with amazement; this year's discovery was The Loser.
I loved, loved, loved reading Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo and Lymond books; they are not my perfect books, there is something overly complex (almost abstruse) about them, but they are spectacularly good light reading, particularly because of volume. Am tempted to get them for my Kindle and periodically reread; would be nice, anyway, to know that they were there for an emergency! (Also thinking about purchasing Susan Howatch's books for same purposes - or Trollope would work too...)
I also loved Donna Tartt's The Little Friend.
Sigrid Nunez's new novel Salvation City could (appealingly) have been published as YA. Joshilyn Jackson's Backseat Saints is a good example of a book that only contingencies of publishing stopped from making literary fiction/best of year lists.
I loved two strange novels about open-water swimming by Jenifer Levin, Water Dance and The Sea of Light. 2010 turned into a year in which I didn't swim nearly as much as I would have liked, but I will hope to remedy this in 2011...
I discovered F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack novels and Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series.
Elif Batuman's The Possessed was quite magical; it even reminded me of my favorite novel of all time, Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows! John Waters' Role Models was also altogether charming.
Some good nonfiction I read (I always read a ton more novels, though): Claire Tomalin's Pepys biography; Loic Wacquant's Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer, which made me wish I were a sociologist. Michael Lewis's The Blind Side does not have the depth of either of those two, but I enjoyed it a great deal, despite knowing virtually nothing about football.
Two other important books for me this year as I began work on a new novel: Andrew Dolkart's book about the architectural history of Morningside Heights and the really wonderful book Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (and to a lesser extent the book by 'Ninjalicious' called Access All Areas); also, of course, the Euripides play The Bacchae, which I think I might reread for the eighth or ninth time later this afternoon.
New and newish books by Jo Walton, Diana Wynne Jones (one of my particular all-time literary heroes), Robin McKinley and Terry Pratchett in the fantasy/YA realm (and I also finally got around to reading the fourth installment of Lian Hearn's lovely Tales of the Otori), and by a host of excellent crime writers already known to me: Kate Atkinson, Ken Bruen, Lee Child (times two!), Robert Crais, Tana French, Deon Meyer, Arnaldur Indridason. Also read, for the first time, the crime fiction of Liz Rigbey, Caroline Carver, David Levien, Ake Edwardsson, Asa Larsson, C. J. Sansom and Jo Nesbo.
Joe Hill's Horns was very good but not as much to my particular personal tastes as Heart-Shaped Box. Robert Harris's Pompeii was not at all bad but not as good as his best books. I liked Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim novels very much indeed. Jilly Cooper's Jump! did not live up to my hopes but was still an enjoyable read.
I was mesmerized and delighted by Keith Richards's Life.
I thought Kristen Hersh's Rat Girl was a considerably better book than Patti Smith's Just Kids.
Indispensable: Gail Steketee and Randy Frost's Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.
I enjoyed autobiographies by Monica Seles and Andre Agassi (the latter is particularly worthwhile), as well as Nick Flynn's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. And like many other readers, I was fascinated and touched Tony Judt's memoirs, composed and published in pieces in the last months before he died of ALS.
I am sure I have left some important things out, but these are some of the books I loved in 2010....
This photograph shows a Russian scientific-imperial entourage observing a solar eclipse on January 1, 1907, from Uzbekistan’s Tian-Shan mountains on the Golodnaia Steppe. It’s one of the incredible color photographs made by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, photographer to the Czar, in the last years of the Russian Empire. Prokudin-Gorskii made his images by combining three black-and-white shots taken with red, green, and blue filters; the resulting transparencies were viewed in projection, using a “magic lantern” device that superimposed the color-filtered images on a screen. (This image is a digital color composite made for the Library of Congress by Blaise Agüera y Arcas in 2004.)
The party has gathered around a pair of telescopes to view the eclipse; they’re standing in front of a yurt, the classic portable dwelling of the Eurasian steppe. The colorful blanket draped on the yurt looks uncannily like a color-correction card. It doesn’t show up in Prokudin-Gorskii’s other photographs, though; I wonder if he placed it there to help color-correct an otherwise monochromatic scene; perhaps it was on hand to help discriminate the colors in solar flares made visible by the eclipse. Or perhaps the people of the Golodnaia steppe made blankets that happened to look like TV test patterns.
Regardless, the scene is a clash of contrasting nature and technology. The photographic process that recorded it was both a harbinger of twentieth-century imaging and a dead end—color photography would emerge not as an optical but a chemical process, itself now being superseded by digital means. The telescopes are a Galilean technology, improved but little changed since the seventeenth century. The yurt is a technology that stretches back to prehistory; for all its primitiveness, it seems beyond innovation and obsolescence in some intangible way.
Socially, too, the people in the photograph stood on the brink of change; the relations of feudal and imperial patronage that knit this scene together would soon be eclipsed by a transit of political innovation as dubious as it was deadly.
The eclipse Prokudin-Gorskii and colleagues had gathered to observe took place on the first day of the new year—reckoned in the Julian calendar, which was two weeks “behind” the Gregorian calendar observed in the West. Russia switched to the Gregorian calendar after the October revolution in 1917; one of the first sacrifices of the new Soviet people was a temporal one, sublimating two weeks of their lives into history for the sake of progress.
Of course, such niggling differences in calculation have no impact on orbital declination or lunar transits of the sun. From a sufficient distance—say, 31 million miles away—the Earth, its moon, and their orbital habits appear as quaint and timeless as yurts on the steppe.
Like the yurts, of course, these things too will one day be swept away. But on a more comprehensible time scale, we mark the passing of 2010, and wonder—humbly, hopefully, guardedly—what changes 2011 will bring.
While science has the power to improve our lives and cure disease, it can also be used to torture, murder, and brainwash. Here are 25 scary experiments that destroyed lives, or have the potential to unleash doomsday.
Creepy animal experiments
From the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, comes regenerative powder. Cells are scraped from the lining of a pig's bladder, the tissue is decellulised, and then dried. From this they managed to regrow a finger. There is something chilling about the idea that dried pig organs will be used to regrow human limbs.
Pit of Despair
Psychologist Harry Harlow induced clinical depression in monkeys by taking young macaques that had bonded with their mother, and placing them in complete isolation, in a darkened cage, for up to ten weeks. Within a few days they became psychotic, and most could not be treated.
Source: American Journal of Psychiatry
Russians re-attaching dog heads
This infamous propaganda film from 1940 shows Soviet Dr Sergei S. Bryukhonenko removing the head of dogs, and keeping them alive on a heart-lung machine. While possibly a Soviet fake, it produced a major stir in the west.
Source: Time Magazine
Nexia Biotechnologies developed a transgenic goat whose milk contains proteins like that of spider silk. The milk can then be refined into superstrong biosteel polymers. We crossed spiders with goats, with no idea of how these could impact the ecosystem. Unsurprisingly, DARPA funded it.
Horrifying human experiments
THN1412 Drug Trial
In 2007, drug trials started for THN1412, a leukemia treatment. It had been tested previously in animals, and was found completely safe. Generally a drug is deemed safe to test on humans when it is found to be nonfatal to animals. When testing began in human subjects, the humans were given doses 500 times lower than found safe for animals. Nevertheless this drug, safe for animals, caused catastrophic organ failure in test subjects. Here the difference between animals and humans was deadly.
Source: New Scientist
A human brain - trapped in a mouse!
Researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla discovered how to grow human brain cells by injecting embryonic stem cells into fetal mice. This combines the twin horrors of stem cells and transgenic research to give us either supersmart squirmy mice babies, or people with rodent brains.
Sources: Salk Institute and Washington Post
Implantable Identity Code
The first RFID implant in a human was in 1998, and since then it's been an easy option for people wanting to be a little bit cyborg. Now companies, prisons, and hospitals have FDA approval to implant them into individuals, in order to track where people are going. A Mexican attorney general got 18 of his staff members chipped to control who had access to documents. The prospect of a business forcing its employees to receive an implant of any type is creepy and totalitarian.
Stanford Prisoner Experiment
Philip Zimbardo's Stanford prisoner experiment took place in the 1970s. The psychiatrist took 24 undergraduates and assigned them roles as either prisoners or guards, in a mock prison on campus. After just a few days, 1/3 of the guards exhibited sadistic tendencies, two prisoners had to be removed early due to emotional trauma, and the whole experiment only lasted six of the planned 14 days. It showed just how easily normal individuals can become abusive, in situations where it is encouraged.
Source: Stanford University
The infamous "shock" experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s showed just how far people would go, when ordered to hurt somebody else by an authority figure. The well-known psychological study brought in volunteers who thought they were participating in an experiment where they would deliver shocks to another test subject. A doctor requested that they deliver greater and greater shocks, even when the "test subject" started to scream in pain and (in some cases) die. In reality, the experiment was to see how obedient people would be when a doctor told them to do something that was obviously horrific and possibly fatal. Many participants in the experiments were willing to shock the "test subjects" (actors hired by Milgram) until they believed those subjects were injured or dead. Later, many participants claimed they were traumatized for life after discovering that they were capable of such inhumane behavior.
Source: Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology
Hofling Hospital Experiment
In a similar vein is the Hofling hospital experiment, which involved nurses being told to administer a dangerous dose of a drug to a patient. In the Milgram experiment, it could be argued the participants didn't really know the danger of what they were doing. With Charles Hofling's work, the nurses knew exactly how toxic the dose would be, yet 21 of the 22 would still have performed the injection.
Source: Hofling CK et al. (1966) "An Experimental Study of Nurse-Physician Relationships". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 141:171-180.
Sigmund Freud and the case of Emma Eckstein
In the late nineteenth century, Eckstein came to Freud to be treated for a nervous illness. He diagnosed her with hysteria and excessive masturbation. His friend Willhelm Fleis believed that hysteria and excessive masturbation could be treated by cauterizing the nose, so he performed an operation on Eckstein where he essentially burned her nasal passages. She suffered horrific infections, and was left permanently disfigured as Fleiss had left surgical gauze in her nasal passage. Other women suffered through similar experiments.
Source: Freud, Surgery, and the Surgeons (via Google Books)
The medical atrocities performed by the Nazis are well-documented, and undeniably horrifying, with Josef Mengele's work on twins being especially disturbing. What's also terrifying is how useful this information was to medical science. A large amount of our knowledge about how hypothermia and cold effect humans is based on this data. Many have raised questions about the morality of using data gathered under such horrific circumstances.
Slightly less well known than the Nazi experiments were the ones inflicted on the native Chinese population by the Japanese in WWII. These included vivisection without anaesthesia, induced gangrene, live weapons testing, germ warfare infections, and worse. General MacArthur granted immunity to these doctors in exchange for helping America with biological warfare research.
Source: New York Times
The Tuskegee Syphilis experiment
Between 1932 and 1972, 399 impoverished African-American farmers in Tuskegee, Alabama, with syphilis were recruited into a free program to treat their disease, but were denied effective treatment (penicillin) even after it existed. This was done as an experiment by scientists who wanted to see how the disease would progress if untreated. The leaking of this event lead to major changes in American laws on informed consent in medical experiments.
Source: Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved
A biotech system that allows scientists to turn neurons in your brain on and off using different colors of light. The technique, which requires brain implants, already works in rodents, who can be compelled to turn in a specific direction. Imagine what would happen if optogenetics were used to regulate human behavior.
José Delgado, a Professor at Yale, invented the Stimocever, a radio implanted in the brain to control behavior. Most dramatically, he demonstrated its effectiveness by stopping a charging bull with the implant. Except this thing could control peoples actions. In one case, the implant caused erotic stimulation for a woman, who stopped looking after herself and lost some motor functions after using the stimulator. She even developed an ulcer on her finger from constantly adjusting the amplitude dial.
Source: Pain journal
MK-ULTRA was a code name for a series of CIA mind-control research experiments, heavily steeped in chemical interrogations and LSD dosing. In operation Midnight Climax, they hired prostitutes to dose clients with LSD to see its effects on unwilling participants. The very concept of a Governmental agency trying to control minds, both to boost the mental abilities of its friends, and destroy those of its enemies, is suitably horrific.
Source: CIA Library
Our new robot overlords
Robo-Rats and Cyber-Beetles
Ready for remote controlled animals to keep an eye on you? Researchers have already found ways to create cybernetic rats and beetles, both controllable via remote. If the concept of beady eyed rats watching form the shadows doesn't scare the hell out of you, then flying bugs might. Of course, the army is very, very interested in both.
Source: Technology Review and Nature
Robots That Eat
The EATR robot (Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot), is a DARPA funded robot meant to forage for itself, by devouring biomass. While the developers swear it's strictly vegeterian, that's hardly comforting in the face of inevitable robot intelligence, and it possibly eating all our forests.
The Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV)
This robot is a cluster of warheads on a single vehicle, each of which uses jets to hover, track, and then destroy incoming missiles. Just watch the YouTube video of the test of its hovering abilities, and imagine that thing coming after you.
Source: Missile Defense Agency
The RepRap project seems relatively innocent - it's just a cheap and easy program that allows hobbyists to build 3D printers. But it's main goal is to become a self-replicating device: A replicator that replicates itself. A self-replicating system, which can create mechanical objects? This could get ugly.
Source: Rep Rap Homepage
Take a bunch of cute, round robots, give them a generation lifespan two minutes, and after a few hundred generations, they evolve to cooperate, find food, and avoid pitfalls. These robots can evolve communication and intelligence, to some degree. Incredibly short lived, with the ability to evolve greater intellect. Just wait till they break out of the lab.
Sources: Technology Review and Science Direct
It could destroy the fabric of space-time . . . or not!
The Demon Core
During experiments with a sphere of plutonium nicknamed the "demon core" at Los Alamos laboratory, scientist Louis Slotin died when a screwdriver slipped and the sphere went supercritical. After the room grew hot and was suffused in a 'blue glow,' he saved the lives of seven other people, but died from severe radiation exposure.
Sources: Trinity Atomic Website and Wikipedia
The Death Ray
In his last years, mad scientist Nikola Tesla was working on a death ray (sometimes called a "peace ray"). It was a particle beam weapon that supposedly could bring down a fleet of 10,000 airplanes at 200 miles. He tried to sell the weapon, which he claimed ran via "teleforce," to the USA and a number of European countries, but none of them would take it. When your death ray is too terrifying for the US military to take, you know that's worrying.
Source: New York Times and Nikola Tesla's scientific proposal about the weapon.
Physicist Ronald Mallett's work is based on using a ring laser to create closed timelike curves, which may allow time travel. Possibly you would only be able to travel back in time to the point when the device was turned on. What could go wrong?
Source: Mallett's proposal for the time machine [PDF]
Large Hadron Collider
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located in an underground facility in Switzerland, is the world's largest particle accelerator, designed to ram protons or lead nuclei into each other at ludicrous speeds. The LHC has suffered a series of delays, and is meant to be back online in November 2009. Physicists admit there is an infinitesimal chance that it will generate a black hole that could destroy the Earth - or possibly another kind of anomaly that would eat the universe. Two scientists have even put forth the theory that the LHC is sabotaging itself from the future, to prevent us unearthing the elusive Higgs Boson particle; others have sued in the hope that they can shut down the LHC before it destroys the world.
Source: Large Hadron Collider at CERN
Additional reporting by Tim Barribeau.
Around the same time Ralph McQuarrie's concept art was helping make Star Wars a reality, he was designing a new Enterprise for a Star Trek movie that didn't get off the ground. Check out his radically different, Imperial Destroyer-esque starship.
Reading through the articles at Memory Alpha and Forgotten Trek, it sounds like Star Trek: Planet of the Titans went through a variety of different script drafts, some of which were pretty off the wall and none of which would have been that great. In one version, the Enterprise crew would have been sent back in time a few thousand years, to become the legendary Titans that they were sent to find. In another version, Kirk would have gone missing, presumed dead — but actually living on a primitive planet as a wild man — while a discredited Spock would have gone back to Vulcan to purge his human half.
Director Philip Kaufman, who also took a crack at writing one of the script drafts, explains what his version would have focused on:
My version was really built around Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Toshiro Mifune as his Klingon nemesis... My idea was to make it less "cult-ish", and more of an adult movie, dealing with sexuality and wonders rather than oddness; a big science fiction movie, filled with all kinds of questions, particularly about the nature of Spock's [duality]-exploring his humanity and what humanness was. To have Spock and Mifune's character tripping out in outer space. I'm sure the fans would have been upset, but I felt it could really open up a new type of science fiction.
Spock and a Klingon played by Toshiro Mifune "tripping out" in space? It would have been memorable, at least. In any event, the Planet of the Titans movie was shelved in favor of the Star Trek: Phase Two television series — which in turn was converted into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But during the time that Planet of the Titans was in the pipeline, McQuarrie did some designs for a new Enterprise, along with production designer Ken Adam, who'd worked on some James Bond films. These designs were never used, although they wound up being seen in the background in Star Trek III and one Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. And McQuarrie went on to work on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Here are some images of McQuarrie and Adam's reimagined Enterprise, including some images that show the saucer section separating from the main hull. [via The Mehallo Blog]
Separated saucer section of the Enterprise, image by Ralph McQuarrie
More images of the saucer section
A shuttlecraft design by Ralph McQuarrie, among other things
Enterprise interior by Ralph McQuarrie
Look at this weird, forbidding landscape — it's not a newly discovered cave system on Mars, it's a microscope image of a human eye. Suren Manvelyan's arresting photographs will make you never want to stare into someone's eyes again.
Manvelyan, a physics teacher from Yerevan, Armenia, took these microscope pictures of the eyes of his friends, colleagues and students. He told the Daily Mail:
I was not aware they are of such complicated appearance. Everyday we see hundreds of eyes but do not even suspect they have such beautiful structure, like surfaces of unknown planets.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1342468/Eye-catching-Incredible-pictures-time-reveal-human-eye-glory.html#ixzz19giq02pX
Here I am at an antiwar rally in Central Park (that’s me with the peace button on my shirt). I have arrived at what I think of as the summit of the world. Everything is within my reach in New York, and the intoxication of it is such that I will be expelled from that high school before the end of the year. —Luc Sante, "This Long Century"
In the latest Lapham's Quarterly, Paul Collins writes about child prodigy Barbara Newhall Follett, who published her first novel, The House Without Windows, to acclaim at age 12; at 26, she disappeared. An excerpt from Lost Island, her third novel:
Not even a cat was out. The rain surged down with a steady drone. It meant to harm New York and everyone there. The gutters could not contain it. Long ago they had despaired of the job and surrendered. But the rain paid no attention to them…New York people never lived in houses or even in burrows. They inhabited cells in stone cliffs. They timed the cooking of their eggs by the nearest traffic light. If the light went wrong, so did the eggs…
“I don’t like civilization,” she said, to the rain.
(Shades of Daisy Ashford...and Lee Tandy Schwartzman...)
Adam Kempa, who wrote about unusual vinyl-groove techniques in the Believer's music issue, has picked his top one book of 2010: Touchable Sound: A Collection of 7-Inch Records From the USA. Adam's recommendation turns into an interview turns into a multimedia extravaganza...
There's so much wrongness — and so much greatness — in this scene from Planet Terror. Quentin Tarantino proves, once again, he's willing to go places most actors would steer clear of... culminating in history's second-best zombie-penis scene. Possibly NSFW?
You have to love Sayid's deadpan attitude at the impending explosion of Quentin.
The best zombie penis scene, of course, has to be the "zombie rat vs. zombie severed penis" fight from Beyond Re-Animator, which is amazingly on Youtube:
But the structural failure of Tarantino's manhood — which must be some kind of metaphor, but I can't possibly imagine for what — is definitely a close second, especially given that it's followed by his entire body turning into slush and then being blown through a metal door by Rose McGowan's newly attached machine gun leg. That denouement to the scene just elevates the whole thing to the level of High Art.
While at Lady Mendl’s recently, I realized the silverware was the same as the set I’d grown up with, sort of a Doric column motif, very striking, and, be assured, that knife was my madeleine, although, humorously enough, now, it made me think of my father ordering us all out to weed his beloved putting green with them because he was too cheap to hire a gardener. I didn’t give another thought to flatware until I received a half-dozen silver spoons for Christmas, perfect for tea but so small they are probably for caviar or some more archaic purpose… most are an Oneida/1881 Rogers pattern called "Enchantment" aka "Londontown" (c. 1952), one is from the Mayflower Hotel in my native Washington, and one is by Reed & Barton, with a bold "R" engraved on the underside, quite tastefully. It brought to mind that endless flotsam of quizzes that purport to give some keen philosophical insight to the taker. I’d propose just one, with just one query that reveals everything necessary to know of the subject’s true nature (be honest): Which Mrs. DeWinter Are You?
["R" monogrammed 1930s linen sheet set, $120 at Antique Arts]
Windowlicker – from the French for window shopping: faire du lèche-vitrine – often appears on Tuesday and Thursdays at 10am EST-ish.
The lyrics are coming from the Mississippi Sheiks version of the song, the original and very first. This song became a bluegrass, blues and folk standard over the decades. There might be some significance to the fact that the Sheiks were black and their version predated the many countryish versions by whites. For example, Turner might identify with the Sheiks more than with Bill Monroe.
The way the slide and quills work together is great.
Update later: it seems most likely to me that it’s Otha Turner’s *age* causing him to use the original Mississippi Sheiks lyrics. It took a while for this song to spin off all the related versions, and in the meantime it was a great song just as it was. The original came out around 1930. Turner was born in 1907, so was around 23 when the Sheiks were doing their thing. That would be a perfect age for him to learn the original just as it was.
It takes many galaxies' worth of amazing people to make science fiction and fantasy rock our world... but every year, there are some people who stand out as especially influential. Here's this year's list of the genre's movers and shakers.
As with the previous two years' power lists, these aren't our favorite people, or the people we wish were powerful. They're people who can make things happen in the genre — or help the genre reach a wider audience of people who don't consider themselves fans. These are the people who've used their power in the industry to help make science fiction and fantasy stories a national obsession — as well as helping to fuel our personal obsessions. Because we do the power list every year, we tend to focus on people who've particularly stood out in the past year.
And as always, feel free to debate our choices in the comments, or suggest your own candidates for the power list. We had to whittle down a list of dozens of names to get to 20 people, so we're aware we've left out some great choices.
Anne Sweeney and Jeff Bader, ABC television
Straight-up science fiction, that wears its genre credentials on its sleeves, is becoming an endangered species on network television these days. So it's a minor miracle that ABC is continuing to stand behind overtly SF shows like V and No Ordinary Family. We have ABC President Sweeney and Scheduling Chief Bader to thank for that — and here's hoping their gamble pays off.
Up next: ABC has a number of SF or quasi-SF shows in the Fall 2011 pipeline, including Marvel shows AKA Jessica Jones and Incredible Hulk, plus Being Erica, Hallelujah, Once Upon A Time and Patient Zero.
He damn near stole Inception from its all-star cast. And now, the man we used to think of as Picard's shoulder-pad-hobbled clone has become 2010's new hotness.
Up next: He's got an unspecified role in The Dark Knight Rises, and he's starring in the delayed Mad Max: Fury Road.
John Lasseter, Pixar/Disney
As creative director of both Pixar and Disney, Lasseter deserves a great deal of the credit for some of 2010's most high-profile science fiction and fantasy films, including Toy Story 3, Tangled and Tron Legacy. Lasseter, who was inspired by the original Tron as a young animator, was part of a group of Pixar pioneers who viewed an early cut of Tron Legacy and suggested reshoots that, by all accounts, helped improve the story.
Up next: Fanciful Disney and Pixar movies in the pipeline include Cars 2, Mars Needs Moms and Tim Burton's Frankenweenie.
This was the year of the Moff. He took over as showrunner of that great British institution, Doctor Who, and propelled it to new heights of popularity overseas. And he co-created a new Sherlock Holmes series that reinvented the great detective for the modern era.
Up next: Another year of Doctor Who, plus Moffat helped with the scripting of the new Tintin movie.
He's been powerful forever, but lately he seems to be wielding his power for the benefit of science fiction. He's got three television shows in the pipeline, including Falling Skies and Terra Nova. He's signed on to direct Robopocalypse. And he's inspired pop culture's great remixer, J.J. Abrams, to create the Spielberg tribute Super-8.
Up next: Robopocalypse, plus the Tintin movie with Peter Jackson.
His adult novel The Windup Girl has won almost every major science ficiton award and "stomped the competition" (as Locus puts it) on the trade paperback bestseller list five months running. More than that, though, he's brought hard science fiction back, helping to prove that hard SF can still be relevant and popular. Meanwhile, his YA novel Ship Breaker was a National Book Award finalist and brought new smarts to the "dystopian YA" trend.
Up next: He keeps tweeting that he's hard at work at another project. Work faster!
We already had him on our 2008 power list, but the incredible success of Inception — almost $300 million in U.S. ticket sales — proves that his strength goes beyond merely recharging the superhero genre. The fact that a big-budget weird-fest like Inception even got made, much less that it became such a huge hit, is a minor miracle. People have been saying this means Hollywood will green-light more big films by quirky auteurs — but really it remains true that a few people, like Nolan, can make something like Inception happen.
Up next: The Dark Knight Rises.
Tim Holman, Orbit Books
Orbit launched its U.S. imprint in 2007, with Holman relocating to New York to head it up as publishing director. Since then, its list has grown rapidly and Orbit has been scoring bestseller after bestseller. Looking at Orbit's 2010 titles, too, you're struck by their range, from hard science fiction icon Greg Bear to space opera master Iain M. Banks, and from postmodern epic fantasy author N.K. Jemisin to steampunk innovator Gail Carriger. Not to mention a lot of weird zombie books, from Mira Grant's Feed to Jesse Petersen's Flip This Zombie. Holman has been instrumental in making Orbit a force to be reckoned with in the United States.
Up next: Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes, and Walter Jon Williams' long-awaited sequel to This Is Not A Game, Deep State.
Diane Nelson and Geoff Johns, DC Entertainment
DC Comics and its parent company, Warner Bros., have lagged behind Marvel/Disney in putting their classic superheroes on screen lately, apart from Smallville and Nolan's Batman films. That's about to change — Nelson signaled a shift in the company's priorities when she moved all its multimedia operations to L.A. Nelson and Johns are the president and chief creative officer, respectively, of DC Entertainment, and their only mission is to make DC's universe into the next Harry Potter. A lot depends on how the Green Lantern movie, which was already in production when they stepped up, performs.
Up next: A Flash movie, a Wonder Woman TV series, and probably a number of other projects yet to be announced.
He's the publisher at Tor Books, which he founded and still runs, and he also owns 1/3 of Baen Books. His influence can be felt in every area of science fiction and fantasy, as much today as 30 years ago. And this has been a banner year for Tor — out of Kirkus Reviews' top 15 SF/fantasy books of the year, nine of them came from Tor, including books by Kage Baker and Mary Robinette Kowal. The publisher also had a record 20 books on the New York Times bestseller list this year. Meanwhile, Tor's magazine, Tor.com, has continued to set the conversation among science fiction and fantasy readers and writers.
Up next: John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation, Hannu Rajaniemi's acclaimed The Quantum Thief, and George R.R. Martin's Fort Freak.
Richard Pleper and Michael Lombardo, HBO
HBO's True Blood was already a pop-culture phenomenon, and becoming more overtly fantasy-oriented with the inclusion of fairies 'n' stuff, when Pleper and Lombardo decided to take a chance on a second fantasy series: Game of Thrones, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin.
Up next: Winter is coming! Game of Thrones launches next year.
The Archandroid is appearing on lists of the year's best albums all over the place, and she's influencing a whole generation of futuristic pop and R&B artists, with her cyborg visuals and her ultra-eclectic sounds. Plus she's witty, clever and she claims Octavia Butler as her great inspiration.
Up next: She's touring Europe after doing a show in New York with Prince.
In 1999, Aronofsky saw The Matrix, and it inspired him to think about new ways to reinvent science fiction. The result was The Fountain, a movie that seems to divide people about evenly into evangelists and iconoclasts. But Aronofsky's never stopped thinking about how to tell other-worldly stories in a new way, and the proof is Black Swan, the ballerina movie about horror and art that's getting Oscar buzz.
Up next: The Wolverine — and let's hope Aronofsky's got enough power to keep the suits from messing this Wolverine film up. Plus Machine Man, based on the cyborg novel by Max Barry.
Some people are on this list for work they did in 2010, but others are mostly on here for work that was announced in 2010 — and Bullock is definitely in the latter camp. She's one of the most powerful actresses in Hollywood, but this was the year she chose to use that power for good — she's starring in Gravity, the new space movie by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), and that film would not be getting made if Bullock wasn't in it. (Already, some are comparing Bullock's move to Halle Berry making Catwoman right after winning an Oscar.) We can't think of a movie project we're more excited about than Gravity, and Bullock has rescued it from development hell.
Up next: She's also filming Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the 9/11 movie based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel. Gravity is supposed to start filming in the Spring.
Iron Man 2 was one of the year's most successful movies, and one of the biggest comic book adaptations of all time. And now Favreau is setting out to reinvent the Western and the alien-invasion movie in one movie with a silly title: Cowboys and Aliens. It's a testament to his clout that he was able to get Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig on board this wagon.
Up next: After Cowboys and Aliens, he's taking on an even more daunting task: making Disneyland cool, with The Magic Kingdom.
We loved The Hunger Games, but with the third and final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, Collins showed that she's got the potential to join J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer in the ranks of authors whose books people camp out for. We still hear people debating that ending — no spoilers here — wherever we go. And now it's going to be a movie, from Gary "Pleasantville" Ross.
Up next: Whatever Collins writes next, we'll be first in line to read it.
He has a successful TV series — that he made without any studio input — on the air, with two more series (a live-action Star Wars show, and Seth Green's Star Wars comedy) in the pipeline. Plus, he still controls the multi-squillion-dollar Star Wars brand including hit games, books and comics, and his Industrial Light & Magic effects shop is the essential ingredient in countless science fiction blockbusters.
Up next: Clone Wars returns next week, and we're still hopeful the live-action Star Wars series gets off the ground despite some delays. (A "movie of the week" plus 50 other episodes are already scripted, they just have to wait for technology to advance enough to make it cheap enough to film, says Lucas.) Plus the original films are coming to Blu-Ray and being converted to 3D. He'll just take your wallet now, for safe-keeping.
He's writing two of Marvel's biggest titles (Iron Man and Thor) to critical acclaim and commercial success — and he's in charge of Marvel's grand crossover for next year ("Fear Itself"). And he consulted on set during Iron Man 2. He's established himself at Marvel, in a position that at one point was Brian Michael Bendis' purview.
Up next: Fear Itself, plus hopefully more Casanova, now being published by Marvel's Icon imprint.
Jennifer Brehl and Diana Gill, Harper Collins
Between the two of them, these editors are publishing some of the most exciting science fiction and fantasy authors out there — including Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, Richard Kadrey, Terry Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. But also, in 2010, they worked with Harper's editors in Australia and the U.K. to create a global science fiction imprint — Harper Voyager, with Gill serving as the Executive Editor in the U.S. This means that any title published by Harper can have support in all of the biggest English-speaking markets simultaneously.
Up next: Harper Voyager has already signed two authors for their worldwide debut, Karen Anziger and David Wellington (writing as David Chandler).
Gale Ann Hurd
The legendary producer of The Terminator was instrumental in getting The Walking Dead on our television screens this year, and it became one of the biggest new shows of the Fall season, proving that zombies — and relatable survivors — could carry an ongoing television series.
Up next: She blew up the internet the other day by suggesting she'd like to take the Terminator series back under her wing. Make it happen, Pacificor!
Thanks to Annalee, Meredith, Alasdair and Cyriaque for helping to brainstorm and cull this list. Thanks also to Diana Gill, Lou Anders, Ginger Clark, Jonathan Strahan, John Picacio, Jennifer Heddle and Liz Gorinsky for invaluable help, advice and suggestions.
2010 wasn’t a great year for the economy, which puttered along like a zombie from the Walking Dead. But some companies delivered some notably strong performances, and the technology-heavy NASDAQ stock exchange was up more than 16% over the course of the year. Here we take a look at a basket of of the biggest technology companies in the world.
The biggest surprise to me? Yahoo’s shares outperformed Google’s on the year. That’s wild. The other (mildly) unexpected fact: the highest-flying stock we looked at wasn’t Apple, but the Chinese company Baidu, which more than doubled Apple’s share price growth.
That said, we can’t sell Apple short (hah). They managed to launch a great new product (the iPad), keep momentum with the iPhone, and delivered massive growth for a company that’s already one of the most valuable in the world.
On the losing side, Nokia, HP, and Adobe had the toughest years, each dropping more than 15 percent on the year.
Remember to read from right to left.
You can find the complete English translation of Junji Ito's Frankenstein here.
Previously on Monster Brains, Junji Ito's Thing That Drifted Ashore.
I encourage everyone who is a fan of Ito to purchase physical copies of his works, you can start by browsing the selection on Amazon.
Greet the new year by discovering new worlds. January brings tons of conventions, plus the return of all your television favorites, the Green Hornet movie, and new books from Carol Emschwiller and Gene Wolfe. Discover the future — today!
Amazing design and layout by Stephanie Fox, and research/reporting by Michael Ann Dobbs.
This month, a loosely affiliated group of Internet volunteers targeted PayPal for denial-of-service attacks. They organized online in chat rooms and voted on which targets to hit. Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says that the commands that launched the distributed attack, which harnessed computers from around the world, came from an IP address in a Texas server farm. Now, the FBI has obtained a warrant to search the facility’s computers looking for evidence, Ars Technica reports.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is targeting a Texas-based computer network that the government thinks was hijacked for the Anonymous group’s Operation: Payback DDoS attack on PayPal.
“As part of the process of identifying the computer system that I seek to search, I may be forced to check each system belonging to the target customer until I have determined that it is the computer to be searched,” the author of the FBI’s Affidavit in Support of a Search Warrant of the facility explains.
The FBI’s request was obtained by The Smoking Gun news site. It comes following Anonymous or 4chan’s attempt to bring down various financial service companies that refused to do business with Wikileaks, most notably PayPal and the Swiss bank PostFinance.
Read the full story at Ars Technica.
Made from recycled wood pulp, these sticky-note pads are designed to evoke the origins of their source material in home construction waste. They’re also reminiscent of the house-shaped reading lamp we posted about yesterday. Is the design world’s embrace of the burgeoning cottage meme a harbinger of the coming Singularity? As we prepare to upload our minds to the network, do we feel pangs of domesticity, incipient nostalgia for our domiciles in meatspace? Perhaps—but according to Naruse-Inokama Architects, the Japanese firm that designed them, the peaked shape serves another purpose: the notes don’t dog-ear the way conventional leaves with squared corners do. And as the slide gallery at the firm’s web site seems to show, it’s hard to avoid the tempatation to arrange the pads into little villages. [via Core77]
This composite image of Jupiter, a mosaic of 27 images taken ten years ago by the Cassini spacecraft, is a true-color image, meaning that it’s a fair approximation of what you would see if you were to visit the Jovian system (buyer beware: many astronomical images come in false colors; interplanetary probes and telescopes tend to see in more colors than we do). But what really strikes me about it is this: when this image was taken, Cassini was 6.2 million miles from Jupiter—its closest approach to the gas giant, some 26 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. Ten years on, Cassini is still doing science in the
Jovian outer solar system; it has 53 flybys of Saturn’s moon Titan scheduled before the end of its mission in 2017. For more on Cassini, visit here.
Forget hacking into the ENCOM mainframe; if you have an enemy to chase down, the nearest wall will do. For anyone who looks around and sees pixelated platforms and barriers even in an everyday windowscape, this video offers a satisfying reverie—plus, it packs a punch. [via Geekosystem]
By modifying off-the-rack mobile phones to turn them into network “sniffers,” a pair of researchers showed the Chaos Computer Club Congress meeting in Berlin a start-to-finish hack they used to eavesdrop on text messages and voice calls sent over the GSM network, according to Jon Borland of Wired.com.
The researchers laid out a hack consisting of three stages: an Internet search to locate a specific phone’s region; a “sniffer” transmitter that sends “silent” messages to the target phone to prompt a response without the user’s knowledge; and decryption software that takes advantage of most carriers’ use of random or repeated characters in the “padding” interspersed in encrypted transmissions.
As mobile networks mature, legacy systems become embedded in the infrastructure, providing easy entry points for malicious hackers hunting up security loopholes. Although considered a second-generation or 2G standard, GSM remains the most widely used protocol in mobile communications globally; many higher-speed systems using 3G standards for data transmission still rely on GSM for voice and text. [via ars technica]
Behavioral economics, summarized.
For generations of kids in Britain (and elsewhere) Elisabeth Beresford's creations, the Wombles, were a palpable presence that you suspected were always burrowing just underfoot, waiting to put all our rubbish to good use. Beresford died last week, aged 84.
DNA recovered from a 40,000 year old pinkie bone found in Russia’s Denisova cave links a newly-described extinct line of Neanderthal-like human ancestors to Melanesian populations of the South Pacific.
The Denisovans remain an exceedingly enigmatic branch of the human family tree. Evidence of their existence consists of two bones: the pinkie, which scientists believe was that of a girl who died around 6 years of age; and a single tooth from another individual, an adult. DNA sequencing from those samples suggests that the Denisovans separated from the Neanderthal line some 350,000 years ago, and that they passed some four to six percent of their genetic material to humans living in present-day Melanesia, according to a study published in Nature. With a previous study showing that one to four percent of of all modern human DNA can be traced to Neanderthals, the picture of humankind’s ancient past becomes complicated indeed.
Paleontologists have long suspected that populations of what seemed like difference species of Homo interbred throughout evolutionary history; the proximity of Homo sapiens and other groups over long periods of time provides powerful circumstantial evidence. But only these recent studies have offered crucial genetic confirmation of such matchings. Such evidence also calls into question the species designations of Neanderthals and a broad variety of other near-human relatives discovered in recent years—if they were truly separate species, their offspring could not have reproduced to pass on a complicated genetic heritage to the present day. It’s a reminder that the tent of human evolution is very big, with lots of room for connections to be forged over the shifting millennia. [via National Geographic]
An aside: it seems clear to me that the blog is a medium curiously well suited to my modes and interests (I include Tumblr-type things under the category of blogs, but not Twitter, which I cannot find any way of feeling enthusiastic about, either as consumer or producer).
I quite like Facebook, though I wouldn't miss it much if it suddenly went away again; but the thing I most regret about it is that it seems clear that most people strongly prefer a social media-Facebook-type format to blogging - whereas to my mind, the way a blog lets you get to know its author over time is uniquely appealing, and the expressive possibilities of blogging also seem unmatched by anything Facebook and its ilk have to offer.
This is a roundabout way of saying that I have two good links to offer that come by way of Facebook status updates: a vegetable orchestra (courtesy of Charles Flatt); the eclipse in Biblical and Mesopotamian thought (courtesy of Seth Sanders). Alas, I fear it is the end of an era...
Pulp science-fiction icon John Carter of Mars has never been more colorful than in the comic-book versions written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Howard Chaykin and others. Check out exclusive preview pages from a new collection reprinting these gems.
The Wolfman-scripted John Carter comics, adapting the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, were published in the early 1970s by DC Comics. According to Wikipedia, Wolfman went on to write an original John Carter comic for Marvel from 1977 to 1979, which wasn't based on Burroughs' stories. Perhaps those issues will see print at some point too.
Here are some more details about the reprint, coming from Dark Horse Comics on January 12:
John Carter of Mars: Weird Worlds
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Howard Chaykin, Murphy Anderson, Gray Morrow, Sal Amendola
Inker: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Joe Orlando
Since his serialized debut in All-Story magazine in 1912, the spacefaring adventurer John Carter of Mars has become one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' most beloved characters. The star of decades worth of novels and comic books, he's soon to be immortalized on the silver screen as well, in the upcoming Walt Disney Pictures major film release John Carter of Mars! In this volume, John Carter, an ex-soldier turned prospector, is transported to Mars—"Barsoom," as it is known to its natives—under mysterious circumstances, and becomes a champion dedicated to protecting his new home and newly found love, the princess Dejah Thoris, from warring alien civilizations and a host of deadly Barsoomian beasts!
Publication Date: January 12, 2011
Format: FC, 112 pages, 7" x 10"
The very last roll of Kodachrome film will be delivered today in Parsons, Kansas. Kodak has slowly phased out the materials needed to make and develop the film. Only a single operation in the world — Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons — had continued to develop Kodachrome.
First introduced in 1935, the death of the film stock has generated an outpouring of emotion from several generations of photographers, for whom the particular hues generated by Kodachrome define the look of midcentury America.
As much as I love digital cameras and tools that allow you to mimic the old film stocks like Hipstamatic and Instagram, there is just something special about the way Kodachrome captures light. To remind you of what these photos look like, we’ve assembled a gallery of the best Kodachrome photographs we could find. To point out that Kodachrome could be used for motion pictures, too, we’ve included a promotional film from the Florida State Archives above. (It’s amazing.)
And if I can be permitted one moment of philosophizing before you click through all the beautiful pictures, it’s worth reflecting that it took 75 years for the first successful color film to actually exit the market. On the rare occasions when technologies actually die, they go slowly and leave much behind.
Update: This article originally stated that the last roll of Kodachrome would be developed today — as per Dwayne’s site — but Erin McCann pointed out that it actually takes some time to develop the rolls, and they were still taking deliveries today. So it may be a few days yet before the machines are turned off.
Yes, this is essentially an advertisement for Europe’s linen industry. But it’s also a marvelous combing-through of the processes that turn a field of dancing purple flowers into a “noble” textile. The first fifteen minutes of the film are the most fascinating, as bales of flax stalks are plucked from dusty Norman fields, cleaned, combed and carded, gradually transforming into a shining, voluptuous fiber. As endless ropes begin to flow like auburn treacle from combing machines, it hits you that these gleaming manufactories translate the fairy-tale tasks of spinning and weaving into the industrial vernacular of the information age. Rumplestiltskin never had it so good.
It may be true that Doctor Who's mysterious time-traveler has gotten way better at steering his phone-booth time machine, the TARDIS, as we pointed out yesterday... but not that much better, as this hilarious BBC America trailer shows. [Thanks, Alessar!]
Dionysus, the lovely Greek lad responsible for wine and madness, was what was known as a “god of epiphany” — as in, he took time out of his busy deific schedule to appear, in the flesh, to humans. And of course he would; drinking booze in correct amounts generally leads to all kinds of epiphanies.
Since 2000, Canada has had its own alcohol-incited epiphany, thanks to the Canadian division of the Molson Coors Brewing Company and its popular beer, Molson Canadian.
Molson Canadian is responsible for arguably the most ambitious campaign to create, and confirm, the Canadian identity — something that on a good day eludes easy definition, and on a bad day seems to barely exist at all. We have bland aesthetic signifiers: Our national symbol is a leaf, our national bird is the loon, there’s a moose on one side of our quarters and on the other side is the queen of another country.
But Molson tells a different story. In a series of quick, athletic cuts, the ad shows off Canada’s theatrical topographic beauty: a barren, rugged playground that only the godlike can navigate. The narrator explains, “It’s this land that shapes us.” Four ecstatic people sprint off the edge of a cliff, into a lake… “There’s a reason why we run off the dock instead of tippy-toe in. It’s because that water is frozen six months a year.” And, according to our “yeah, DUDE!” narrator, it’s not just the great outdoors we Canadians are chasing, it’s freedom itself.
It’s the kind of self-mythology one associates with America, not timid ol’ peacekeeping Canada, the country with tidy cities where people apologize for just about everything.
In fact, the ad is so concerned with kicking up some nationalistic spirit that the mention of the actual product comes at 0:47, almost as an afterthought. “There’s a beer that comes from the same land that we let loose on, and it’s proved to be as clean, crisp and fresh as the country it comes from.”
There’s no doubt that the ads have done their job. The grandfather of the campaign was the legendary (in Canada) “I Am Canadian” advertisement that depicted a character called Joe Canada doing a rant on the finer points of being Canadian. “I’m not a lumberjack, or a fur trader. And I don’t live in an igloo or eat blubber or own a dog sled… I believe in peacekeeping, not policing, diversity, not assimilation and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.” It remains one of the — if not the — most famous television ad in Canadian television history.
And, fittingly, it was announced just this week that Jeff Douglas, the actor who plays Joe Canada, will take over as the co-host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship radio program, As It Happens. Perhaps his experience in beer-based pride-mongering will give Canadians a cleaner, crisper, more refreshing take on themselves… With only 5% alcohol, and no aftertaste.
"In 1968 Opta published this Dracula edition. Limited to 3700 copies and illustrated by the young (24 years old at this time) and already talented Philippe Druillet." - quote and many of these images taken from deadlicious.
Other images found at bxzzines. Beware that bxzzines and deadlicious contain not safe for work material.
Visit Philippe's official site here to see more of his art.
The end of the Hall & Oates era came in a hotel bathroom in 1990 in Tokyo, where they had just performed at a Yoko Ono–sponsored concert commemorating the death of John Lennon. There, in a sad, reflective moment, John Oates said good-bye—to the mustache.
“It really was a kind of spiritual moment for me,” Oates says, laughing. “The mustache represented a me I no longer was. I shaved it off and never looked back.” The next day, he and Hall were waiting at the Tokyo airport for a flight back to the States when Miles Davis appeared. “He came up to me with those red eyes of his,” says Oates. “He got like three inches from my face and kinda drew his finger across his own upper lip, as if he was shaving, and he said to me [in a deep, raspy voice], ‘Now the lovin’s gonna be better.’ ” Oates pauses. “And then he went up to Daryl and said, ‘I used to tell my hairdresser, I want my hair to look just like Daryl’s.’ ” —New York
I kind of love 12:01, the TV movie which had the misfortune to appear in the same year as Groundhog Day, which had the same basic plot. Because 12:01 uses its premise well, and has a pretty sweet love story.
Okay, so it's a slightly cheesy moment, especially if you haven't seen the rest of the film. But I still really like it, both for the explanation of why the whole world being stuck in a time loop would be so terrible, and for the sweet way that Jonathan Silverman rattles off all the stuff he's learned about Helen Slater: her favorite number, her favorite color, her favorite band, and what she wrote on the gravestone of her pet canary when it died.
I also like the fact that this movie has a science fictional explanation for the "time bounce" — it's a supercollider thingy gone wrong — and that Helen Slater gets to be a kick-ass physicist prodigy. A much better use of her talents than Supergirl.
The thing that 12:01 does that's really neat, and different from Groundhog Day, is that the main character is a nerdy but decent person who gets his heart broken every day. Every day, around 6 PM, Helen Slater's character gets gunned down by people who turn out to be connected to the reasons for the time bounce. For a good part of the movie, no matter what the hero does, he can't stop Helen Slater from getting killed over and over. And meanwhile, he's in love with her, even though she starts each day not knowing who he is.
It's not the greatest movie ever, but if you see 12:01 airing on Syfy in one of its occasional late-night repeats, it's definitely worth watching. And given that there are a few new movies that use the "Groundhog Day" concept coming out in the next year or two, this is a good movie to watch for comparison purposes. (There's also this and this.)
In case you missed our definitive list of "Groundhog Day" time loop stories, it's here.
Here's a review of the DVD, from DVD Talk.
While concept videos offered the bright prospect of a future of smoothly-functioning digitized prostheses, artists like Olafur Eliasson challenge us with uncanny sensuous experiences that force the doors of perception. Thanks to the remarkable Abler, I’ve learned about Eliasson’s installation Your Blind Passenger at Denmark’s Arken Museum, which consists of a ninety-meter tunnel filled with fog. It’s a compelling instantiation of art that works not by expanding sensuous possibilities, but by restricting them.
Interestingly, Eliasson sees his tunnel as a portal to Utopia—
For me Utopia is tied to our ‘now’, to the moment between one second and the next. It constitutes a potential that is actualized and transformed into reality; an opening where concepts such as subject and object, inside and outside, proximity and distance are thrown up in the air only to be defined anew. Our sense of orientation is challenged, and the coordinates of our spaces, collective and personal, have to be renegotiated. Mutability and motion lie at the core of Utopia.
Eliasson’s formula for instant Utopia reminds me of Charlie Stross’ post yesterday aguing for a kind of utopian realism—also of what Slavoj Žižek says about Utopia as “a matter of innermost urgency—you are forced to imagine as the only way out.”
Wirelessly connected to an iPhone, the Thimble would be an interface of parts: scanner, translator, voice-activated command module… perhaps the most enticing application is as a sort of Braille ebook reader—a prospect charismatic enough to make me want to learn to read Braille.
Alas, a refreshable haptic Braille display remains a holy grail of sorts; attempts to create readable Braille outputs using vibrating dots or electrical pulses or tactile illusions remain evocatively fictional. Another concept device, the Haptic Braille, which won a Red Dot Award for design, would incorporate a Braille readout in a mouselike device; scanning text and translating it as a series of Braille impulses rendered on the device’s soft, biodegradable surface.
Of course, any good concept device should incorporate biodegradable material—or Kryptonite, or Unobtanium—wherever possible. There’s a whole growing rhetoric unique to design fiction, a poetics compounded of scifi, aesthetics, and marketing pitch; it makes me wonder what university will be the first to offer an MFA in concept-video production.
On the other hand, it’s a marvelous techno-cultural impulse to see the differently-abled—the blind, the deaf, the whole spectrum of what conventionally gets called disability—as avatars of compelling sensory and kinesthetic worlds instead of objects of revulsion and pity. At its worst, such curiosity focuses on sensuous exotica; at its best, it gives birth to transformational technologies.
The Illusive Man, introduced in Mass Effect 2, may have the voice of Martin Sheen, but who is he really? A new comic book, Mass Effect: Evolution, reveals his secrets — and we've got the first exciting preview pages.
Mass Effect: Evolution is on sale January 19, 2011 from Dark Horse Comics, but you can view two cover images and five preview pages below. And here are the details:
Mass Effect 2 Lead Writer Mac Walters reveals the origin of our galaxy's most mysterious powerbroker—The Illusive Man!
With co—writer John Jackson Miller (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) and artist Omar Francia (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2), Walters chronicles humanity's first deadly days on the galactic stage and uncovers the pivotal role The Illusive Man played in it all! Available only in comics, this essential piece of Mass Effect canon offers new insights for existing fans, while the focus on humanity's first steps into the wider Mass Effect universe provides a riveting story of action and intrigue for sci-fi readers of all stripes!