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
Sunday, January 15th, 2017
A 1983 article from 73 Magazine on the surprisingly plausible Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson device created by E.T. to call home.
Friday, January 6th, 2017
As always with sci-fi interfaces, the important part is telling the story, not realism or accuracy. Personally, I liked the way that the World War II trappings of Rogue One extended to communications and networking technologies.
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Ten years on from Afonso Cuarón’s masterpiece.
Reviews of twentieth century science fiction novels and anthologies by women writers.
Monday, December 26th, 2016
A lovely piece of design fiction imagining a project where asteroids are shaped and polished into just the right configuration to form part of an enormous solar-system wide optical telescope.
Once they are deployed in space, a celestial spiderweb of crisscrossed laser beams can push around clouds of those microscopic optical sensors to desired locations.
Friday, December 23rd, 2016
Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
I love this project by Brendan—a kind of retroactive design fiction featuring boarding passes from airline travel referenced (but never seen) in films like Die Hard, The French Connection, and Pulp Fiction.
Compare and contrast Alien, Starship Troopers, and The Thing with 2001 and Roadside Picnic (and I would throw Solaris into the mix).
Plugging in a monster moves a plot right along, of course, but if that’s all it’s doing, the plot is neglecting to examine how a real biosphere would work. That would be a sensationally complex task, but given the amount of research now going on in astrobiology and exoplanetary science, the suspicion here is that experts could be summoned who could produce such a film. Even so, there is something to be said for not seeing aliens.
This article examines what I thought was the most interesting aspect of Rogue One—the ethical implications for technologists.
Don’t dismiss this essay just because it’s about a Hollywood blockbuster. Given the current political situation, this is deeply relevant.
Monday, December 12th, 2016
A profile of Stanisław Lem and his work, much of which is still untranslated.
Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
Interviews with the designers who make on-screen interfaces for sci-fi films.
Friday, September 30th, 2016
Sci-fi book covers and posters from the 1970s.
Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game. On the face of it, it seems like little more than a cow-clicker, but the way that the plot and the gameplay unfolds is really delightful.
This feels like the kind of game that would only work on the web—keep it in a browser tab in the background, revisiting occasionally throughout the day.
Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
Friday, July 1st, 2016
A cautionary tale of digital preservation.
.generation is a short film that intimately documents three millennials in the year 2054 - uncovering their relationships with technology in the aftermath of the information age.
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
I’ve seen letterforms you people wouldn’t believe…
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.”
Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Discover exotic places with local hosts in a galaxy far, far away.
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