Most of these dystopian scenarios are, after all, post-apocalyptic: the bad thing happened, the tension broke, and now so much less is at stake. The anxiety and ambivalence we feel toward late-stage capitalism, income inequality, political corruption, and environmental degradation—acute psychological pandemics in the here and now—are utterly dissolved. In a strange, wicked way, the aftermath feels fine.
Monday, January 16th, 2017
Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017
Monday, January 2nd, 2017
2016 reading list
I was having a think back over 2016, trying to remember which books I had read during the year. To the best of my recollection, I think that this is the final tally…
- Endurance by Alfred Lansing
- The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
- The Real World of Technology by Ursula Franklin
- Design For Real Life by Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher
- Practical SVG by Chris Coyier
- Demystifying Public Speaking by Lara Hogan
- Working The Command Line by Remy Sharp
- The Revenant by Michael Punke
- The Adjacent by Christopher Priest
- Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss
- High Rise by J.G. Ballard
- The Affirmation by Christopher Priest
- Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel
- Greybeard by Brian Aldiss
- Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
- The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
- Death’s End by Cixin Liu
- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Seems kinda meagre to me. Either I need to read more books or I need to keep better track of what books I’m reading when. Starting now.
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Reviews of twentieth century science fiction novels and anthologies by women writers.
Monday, December 12th, 2016
A profile of Stanisław Lem and his work, much of which is still untranslated.
Monday, November 28th, 2016
I particularly enjoy teaching people who have zero previous experience of making a web page. There’s something about explaining HTML and CSS from first principles that appeals to me. I especially love it when people ask lots of questions. “What does this element do?”, “Why do some elements have closing tags and others don’t?”, “Why is it
textarea and not
input type="textarea"?” The answer usually involves me going down a rabbit-hole of web archeology, so I’m in my happy place.
But there’s only so much time at Codebar each week, so it’s nice to be able to point people to other resources that they can peruse at their leisure. It turns out that’s it’s actually kind of tricky to find resources at that level. There are lots of great articles and tutorials out there for professional web developers—Smashing Magazine, A List Apart, CSS Tricks, etc.—but no so much for complete beginners.
Here are some of the resources I’ve found:
- MarkSheet by Jeremy Thomas is a free HTML and CSS tutorial. It starts with an explanation of the internet, then the World Wide Web, and then web browsers, before diving into HTML syntax. Jeremy is the same guy who recently made CSS Reference.
- Learn to Code HTML & CSS by Shay Howe is another free online book. You can buy a paper copy too. It’s filled with good, clear explanations.
- Zero to Hero Coding by Vera Deák is an ongoing series. She’s starting out on her career as a front-end developer, so her perspective is particularly valuable.
If I find any more handy resources, I’ll link to them and tag them with “learning”.
Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
A list of books that have been published in their entirety on the web. If you know of any others, please contribute.
Friday, September 30th, 2016
Sci-fi book covers and posters from the 1970s.
Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
I’ve always loved the way that Edward Tufte consistently uses Bembo to typeset his books. Here’s a version made for screen and freely licensed.
Monday, May 9th, 2016
Absolutely brilliant stuff from Mandy (again). A long hard at today’s tech industry’s narrow approach to bots and artificial intelligence compared to some far more interesting and imaginative approaches in fiction:
- Ann Leckie’s superb Imperial Radch series,
- Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, and
- Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.
So in addition to frightening ramifications for privacy and information discovery, they also reinforce gendered stereotypes about women as servants. The neutral politeness that infects them all furthers that convention: women should be utilitarian, performing their duties on command without fuss or flourish. This is a vile, harmful, and dreadfully boring fantasy; not the least because there is so much extraordinary art around AI that both deconstructs and subverts these stereotypes. It takes a massive failure of imagination to commit yourself to building an artificial intelligence and then name it “Amy.”
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
I wrote a little something recently about some inspiring projects that people are working on. Like Matt’s Machine Supply project. There’s a physical side to that project—a tweeting book-vending machine in London—but there’s also the newsletter, 3 Books Weekly.
I was honoured to be asked by Matt to contribute three book recommendations. That newsletter went out last week. Here’s what I said…
A book about the history of telegraphy might not sound like the most riveting read, but The Victorian Internet is both fascinating and entertaining. Techno-utopianism, moral panic, entirely new ways of working, and a world that has been utterly transformed: the parallels between the telegraph and the internet are laid bare. In fact, this book made me realise that while the internet has been a great accelerator, the telegraph was one of the few instances where a technology could truly be described as “disruptive.”
After I finished reading the final Iain M. Banks novel I was craving more galaxy-spanning space opera. The premise of Ancillary Justice with its description of “ship minds” led me to believe that this could be picking up the baton from the Culture series. It isn’t. This is an entirely different civilisation, one where song-collecting and tea ceremonies have as much value as weapons and spacecraft. Ancillary Justice probes at the deepest questions of identity, both cultural and personal. As well as being beautifully written, it’s also a rollicking good revenge thriller.
China Miéville’s books are hit-and-miss for me, but this one is a direct hit. The central premise of this noir-ish tale defies easy description, so I won’t even try. In fact, one of the great pleasures of this book is to feel the way your mind is subtly contorted by the author to accept a conceit that should be completely unacceptable. Usually when a book is described as “mind-altering” it’s a way of saying it has drug-like properties, but The City & The City is mind-altering in an entirely different and wholly unique way. If Borges and Calvino teamed up to find The Maltese Falcon, the result would be something like this.
When I sent off my recommendations, I told Matt:
Oh man, it was so hard to narrow this down! So many books I wanted to mention: Station 11, The Peripheral, The Gone-Away World, Glasshouse, Foucault’s Pendulum, Oryx and Crake, The Wind-up Girl …this was so much tougher than I thought it was going to be.
And Matt said:
Tell you what — if you’d be up for writing recommendations for another 3 books, from those ones you mentioned, I’d love to feature those in the machine!
Station Eleven made think about the purpose of art and culture. If art, as Brian Eno describes it, is “everything that you don’t have to do”, what happens to art when the civilisational chips are down? There are plenty of post-pandemic stories of societal collapse. But there’s something about this one that sets it apart. It doesn’t assume that humanity will inevitably revert to an existence that is nasty, brutish and short. It’s also a beautifully-written book. The opening chapter completely sucker-punched me.
On the face of it, this appears to be another post-Singularity romp in a post-scarcity society. It is, but it’s also a damning critique of gamification. Imagine the Stanford prison experiment if it were run by godlike experimenters. Stross’s Accelerando remains the definitive description of an unfolding Singularity, but Glasshouse is the one that has stayed with me.
This isn’t an easy book to describe, but it’s a very easy book to enjoy. A delightful tale of a terrifying apocalypse, The Gone-Away World has plenty of laughs to balance out the existential dread. Try not to fall in love with the charming childhood world of the narrator—you know it can’t last. But we’ll always have mimes and ninjas.
I must admit, it’s a really lovely feeling to get notified on Twitter when someone buys one of the recommended books.
I just vended The City & The City, by China Miéville http://machine.supply/books/genmon/167— Machine Supply (@MachineSupply) March 30, 2016
I just vended The Victorian Internet, by Tom Standage http://machine.supply/books/genmon/165— Machine Supply (@MachineSupply) March 31, 2016
Tuesday, April 5th, 2016
Now that Five Simple Steps has closed down, the individual authors are in charge of distributing their own books. This site links to all of those books.
Monday, March 21st, 2016
Making things happen
I have lovely friends who are making lovely things. Surprisingly, lots of these lovely things aren’t digital (or at least aren’t only digital).
A small conference based in Reykjavik, Iceland, looking into the concept of the Web as a Material — 22nd July 2016, https://material.is
Here’s the twist: there’s going to be a Machine Supply pop-up bookshop AKA a vending machine in Shoreditch. That’ll be rolling out very soon and I can’t wait to see it.
My friend Josh made a crazy website to tie in with an art project called Cosmic Surgery. My friend Emily made a limited edition run of 10 books for the project. Now there’s a Kickstarter project to fund another run of books which will feature a story by Piers Bizony.
An Icelandic conference, a vending machine for handpicked books, and a pop-up photo book …I have lovely friends who are making lovely things.
Saturday, December 19th, 2015
Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
Translating Gender: Ancillary Justice in Five Languages Alex Dally MacFarlane | Interfictions Online
A fascinating look into the challenges encountered translating Anne Leckie’s excellent Radchaai novels into Bulgarian, German, Hebrew, Japanese, and Hungarian.
What is clear in all of these responses is that by examining the notions of ‘neutral’ and ‘feminine’ in grammar and gender through the lens of translation, we reveal their complexity – and some of their possible futures in languages, in both literature and speech.
Monday, September 14th, 2015
John expands on just one part of his superbly dense and entertaining dConstruct talk.
Sunday, August 23rd, 2015
I was a guest on the Boagworld podcast—neither Andy nor Richard were available so Paul and Marcus were stuck with me. We talked boring business stuff, but only after an extended—and much more interesting—preamble wherein we chatted about sci-fi books.
When prompted for which books I would recommend, I was able to instantly recall some recent reads, but inevitably I forgot to mention some others. I’m not sure if I even mentioned William Gibson’s The Peripheral, an unsurprisingly excellent book.
I’m pretty sure I mentioned The Girl In The Road. It has a magical realism quality to it that reminded me a bit of Lauren’s Zoo City. Its African/Indian setting makes for a refreshing change. Having said that, I still haven’t read Ian McDonald’s Indian-set River Of Gods or Cyberabad Days, both of which are sitting on my bookshelf alongside McDonald’s Out On Blue Six, which I have read and can heartily recommend—its imagining of a society where the algorithm decides the fate of all feels very ahead of its time.
One book I recommended without hesitation was Station Eleven. Maybe it was because I read it right after reading a book I found to be so-so—Paul McAuley’s Something Coming Through—but the writing in Station Eleven sucker-punched me right from the first chapter. Have a listen to the Boagworld podcast episode for some more ramblings on why I liked it.
Somehow I managed not to mention Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. That’s unforgivable. They are easily amongst the best works of sci-fi I’ve read in a read long time. It feels quite exciting to be anticipating the third part in what will clearly be a long-time classic series, right up there with the all-time greats.
I first came across Ancillary Justice through some comparisons that were being made to Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels. I was reading his final work, The Hydrogen Sonata, trying to take it slow, knowing that there would be no further books from that universe. But I ended up tearing through it because it was damned enjoyable (not necessarily brilliantly-written, mind; like most of Banks’s books, it’s a terrific and thought-provoking romp but missing the hand of a sterner editor). Anyway, I heard there were some similarities to the Ship Minds to be found in Leckie’s debut novel so I gave it a whirl. As it turns out, there are very few similarities and that’s all for the best. The universe that Leckie is describing has a very different but equally compelling richness.
I read Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy—Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance—and while I can’t say I enjoyed them as such, I can recommend them …though they are insidiously disturbing, dripping with atmosphere. I’m very intrigued by the news that Alex Garland is working on a screenplay.
So if you’re looking for some good recent speculative fiction, try:
- The Peripheral by William Gibson,
- The Girl In The Road by Monica Byrne,
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel,
- Ancillary Justice and
- Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie and
- The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer.
Alongside the newer stuff, I’ve been catching up with some golden oldies in the form of tattered second-hand novels like Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, Stanisław Lem’s The Futurological Congress, and Brian Aldiss’s Hothouse. I’m currently working my way through Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and loving every minute of it.
Monday, June 15th, 2015
The many benefits of an analogue detox. There’s neuroscience and everything.
It’s so important that we take the time to connect and switch on.
Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
100 words 044
I was also able to offer some more contemporary books thanks to the generosity of A Book Apart who kindly donated some of their fine volumes to Codebar.
Saturday, April 25th, 2015
Here’s a lovely project with an eye on the Long Now. Trees that were planted last year will be used to make paper to print an anthology in 2114.
Margaret Atwood is one of the contributors.