Monday, May 15th, 2023
Monday, May 8th, 2023
There are two kinds of time-travel stories.
There are time-travel stories that explore the many-worlds hypothesis. Going back in time and making a change forks the universe. But the universe is constantly forking anyway. So effectively the time travel is a kind of universe-hopping (there’s a big crossover here with the alternative history subgenre).
The problem with multiverse stories is that there’s always a reset available. No matter how bad things get, there’s a parallel universe where everything is hunky dory.
The other kind of time travel story explores the idea of a block universe. There is one single timeline.
This is what you’ll find in Tenet, for example, or for a beautiful reduced test case, the Ted Chiang short story What’s Expected Of Us. That gets straight to the heart of the biggest implication of a block universe—the lack of free will.
There’s no changing what has happened or what will happen. In fact, the very act of trying to change the past often turns out to be the cause of what you’re trying to prevent in the present (like in Twelve Monkeys).
I’ve often referred to these single-timeline stories as being like Greek tragedies. But only recently—as I’ve been reading quite a bit of Greek mythology—have I realised that the reverse is also true:
Greek tragedies are time-travel stories.
Hear me out…
Time-travel stories aren’t actually about physically travelling in time. That’s just a convenience for the important part—information travelling in time. That’s at the heart of most time-travel stories; informaton from the future travelling back to the past.
William Gibson’s The Peripheral—very much a many-worlds story with its alternate universe “stubs”—takes this to its extreme. Nothing phyiscal ever travels in time. But in an age of telecommuting, nothing has to. Our time travellers are remote workers.
That book also highlights the power dynamics inherent in information wealth. Knowledge of the future gives you an advantage that you can exploit in the past. This is what Mark Twain’s Connecticut yankee does in King Arthur’s court.
This power dynamic is brilliantly inverted in Octavia Butler’s brilliant Kindred. No amount of information can help you if your place in society is determined by the colour of your skin.
Anyway, the point is that information flow is what matters in time-travel stories. Therefore any story where information travels backwards in time is a time-travel story.
That includes any story with a prophecy. A prophecy is information about the future, like:
Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother.
You can try to change your fate, but you’ll just end up triggering it instead.
Greek tragedies are time-travel stories.
Thursday, March 23rd, 2023
The story that “artificial intelligence” tells is a smoke screen. But smoke offers only temporary cover. It fades if it isn’t replenished.
Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023
Marcin’s book is coming along nicely—you just know it’ll be a labour of love.
You’ve never seen a book on technology like this. Shift Happens is full of stories – some never before told – interleaved with 1,000+ beautiful full-color photos across two volumes.
The Kickstarter project launches in February. In the meantime, there are some keyboard-based games here for you to enjoy.
Friday, December 16th, 2022
A look at back at what wasn’t in the headlines this year.
Thursday, April 28th, 2022
The best climate fiction can do more than spur us to action to save the world we have — it can help us conceptualize the worlds, both beautiful and dire, that may lie ahead. These stories can be maps to the future, tools for understanding the complex systems that intertwine with the changing climates to come.
Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021
I love reading about how—and why—people tinker with their personal sites. This resonates a lot.
This website is essentially a repository of my memories, lessons I’ve learnt, insights I’ve discovered, a changelog of my previous selves. Most people build a map of things they have learnt, I am building a map of how I have come to be, in case I may get lost again. Maybe someone else interested in a similar lonely path will feel less alone with my documented footprints. Maybe that someone else would be me in the future.
Oh, and Winnie, I can testify that having an “on this day” page is well worth it!
Sunday, October 3rd, 2021
Twelve short stories of solarpunk cli-fi “envisioning the next 180 years of equitable climate progress.”
Whether built on abundance or adaptation, reform or a new understanding of survival, these stories provide flickers of hope, even joy, and serve as a springboard for exploring how fiction can help create a better reality.
Saturday, October 2nd, 2021
Friday, September 3rd, 2021
On the detail and world-building in 40 years of William Gibson’s work.
Thursday, February 11th, 2021
RFC 8752 - Report from the IAB Workshop on Exploring Synergy between Content Aggregation and the Publisher Ecosystem (ESCAPE)
During the workshop, several online publishers indicated that if it weren’t for the privileged position in the Google Search carousel given to AMP content, they would not publish in that format.
Saturday, November 14th, 2020
The Correct Material
I’ve been watching The Right Stuff on Disney Plus. It’s a modern remake of the ’80s film of the ’70s Tom Wolfe book of ’60s events.
It’s okay. The main challenge, as a viewer, is keeping track of which of the seven homogenous white guys is which. It’s like Merry, Pippin, Ant, Dec, and then some.
It’s kind of fun watching it after watching For All Mankind which has some of the same characters following a different counterfactual history.
The story being told is interesting enough (although Tom has pointed out that removing the Chuck Yeager angle really diminishes the narrative). But ultimately the tension is manufactured around a single event—the launch of Freedom 7—that was very much in the shadow of Gargarin’s historic Vostok 1 flight.
There are juicier stories to be told, but those stories come from Russia.
Some of these stories have been told in film. The Spacewalker told the amazing story of Alexei Leonov’s mission, though it messes with the truth about what happened with the landing and recovery—a real shame, considering that the true story is remarkable enough.
Imagine an alternative to The Right Stuff that relayed the drama of Soyuz 1—it’s got everything: friendship, rivalries, politics, tragedy…
I’d watch the heck out of that.
Thursday, November 12th, 2020
Good news: as of May 2021, page speed (or core web vitals, if you must) will be a ranking factor in Google Search.
Even better news: at the same time, Google AMP will lose its unfairly privileged position in the top stories carousel. Hopefully this marks the beginning of the end for Google’s failed experiment in forcing publishers to use their tech.
Sunday, October 25th, 2020
Free Download of Africanfuturism: An Anthology | Stories by Nnedi Okorafor, TL Huchu, Dilman Dila, Rafeeat Aliyu, Tlotlo Tsamaase, Mame Bougouma Diene, Mazi Nwonwu, and Derek Lubangakene
Here are 8 original visions of Africanfuturism: science fiction stories by both emerging and seasoned African writers staking a claim to Africa’s place in the future. These are powerful visions focused on the African experience and hopes and fears, exploring African sciences, philosophies, adaptations to technology and visions of the future both centred on and spiralling out of Africa. You will find stories of the near and almost-present future, tales set on strange and wonderful new planets, stories of a changed Earth, stories that dazzle the imagination and stimulate the mind. Stories that capture the essence of what we talk about when we talk about Africanfuturism.
Thursday, June 25th, 2020
Here then are 10 stories of remaking the future that contain hope — or at least stability.
- The City and the Stars by Arthur C Clarke
- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
- Revenger by Alastair Reynolds
- Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
- Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
- Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks
- Natural History by Justina Robson
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
- Way Station by Clifford D Simak
- News from Gardenia by Robert Llewellyn
Wednesday, June 17th, 2020
Well, this is timely! Cassie mentioned recently that she was reading—and enjoying—the Earthsea books, which I had never got around to reading. So I’m reading them now. Then Craig mentioned in one of his newsletters that he’s also reading them. Now there’s this article…
To white protestors and accomplices, who say that they want to listen but are fearful of giving up some power so that we can all heal, I suggest you read the Earthsea cycle. You will need to learn to step away from the center to build a new world, and the Black majority in this fantasy series offers a better model than any white history.
Friday, May 29th, 2020
This is excellent news for sites that were strong-armed into creating AMP pages just to get into the Top Stories carousel:
As part of this update, we’ll also incorporate the page experience metrics into our ranking criteria for the Top Stories feature in Search on mobile, and remove the AMP requirement from Top Stories eligibility.
This update doesn’t arrive until next year, but the message is clear: fast websites will be rewarded in search. I’ll be glad to see an end to AMP’s blackmail tactics.
Tuesday, May 26th, 2020
It went unnamed by Doris Lessing and Cormac McCarthy. William Gibson called it The Jackpot:
On the one hand, naming the crisis allows one to apprehend it, grasp it, fight back against it. On the other hand, no word can fully encompass it, and any term is necessarily a reduction—the essence of “it” or “change” is not any singular instance but rather their constancy.
Memoirs Of A Survivor, The Peripheral, Parable Of The Sower, New York 2140, The Road, Children Of Men, Station Eleven, Severance, The Rapture, Ridley Walker:
Fiction can portray ecologies, timescales, catastrophes, and forms of violence that may be otherwise invisible, or more to the point, unnameable. We will never grasp the pandemic in its entirety, just like we will never see the microbe responsible for it with the naked eye. But we can try to articulate how it has changed us—is changing us.
Saturday, May 23rd, 2020
Sunday, April 26th, 2020
Digital preservation of dead-tree media:
The Stacks Reader is an online collection of classic journalism and writing about the arts that would otherwise be lost to history. Motivated less by nostalgia than by preservation, The Stacks Reader is a living archive of memorable storytelling—a museum for stories.